Marketers of the Next Generation
BrandWeek, November 8, 1999
Unique on-air promos and off-air partnerships have made Cartoon Network a destination.
If there's one thing most everyone knows about Cartoon Network, it's that, as the name implies, it serves up endless reams of cartoBut what viewers might not know is exactly what shows are on the air, classic animation like Scooby-Doo or originals such as Ed, Edd 'n Eddy, and during which time periods.
A viewer analysis done early this year showed that 20% of Cartoon's audience is, as the doe-eyed, butt-kicking Powerpuff Girls would say, hard core. The other 80% are casual viewers, surfing to the cable network without knowing what they'll find at any given time and, as a result, not necessarily sticking around.
"They didn't have a specific destination, and they were tuning into the network haphazardly," said Michelle Allario, the vp-marketing who has been a prime mover behind the network's distinctive on-air promotions and off-air partnerships with the likes of Pepperidge Farm, General Mills and Hasbro. "We wanted to give the network and our marketing a focus."
Thus, in June, Cartoon Cartoon Fridays were born, a block of original shows stacked atop each other, intended to create appointment viewing and provide a promotional platform for the rest of the schedule. The target: the core 6- to 11-year-old Cartoon audience likely to be home on Friday nights, young adult animation fans and parents.
Cartoon Cartoon Fridays became a major initiative for the network, spanning the summer and continuing this fall. Allario and her nine-person marketing team decided the push around the block should aim separately at kids and adults, with the unifying factor being the "You With Us?" tagline.
For kids, a six-week on-air sweepstakes was tied to viewing-winners had to call in Monday through Thursday to register; operators called during the Friday night block until they found 100 winners at home and, hopefully, in front of the set. The prize, along with show-themed toys doled out each week, was a trip to Bora Bora, carrying through on the double theme that also had twins appearing in interstitials.
In-theater promotions and on-screen ads ran in 200 movie housed (with such fare as Star Wars, Big Daddy and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me); employees wore Cartoon Net T-shirts and buttons and gave out temporary tattoos. Cable operator Comcast partnered in all its markets, running on-air promotions for the animation block. Spot cable ads supported, as did radio, online and video monitors at Six Flags them parks and Warner Bros. Studio Stores.
An 11-market tour took giant Cartoon inflatable characters to parks, where screenings of the original series were held. Expecting about 1,000 people per event, execs were stunned at the 5,000 plus crowds in markets like Detroit, Allario said.
To reach adults, Cartoon wanted to go more guerrilla, Allario said, with a video sampler off through gaming magazines, an billboard in New York's Times Square, wild postings, go-cards at nightclubs and restaurants, and the live-action Powerpuff Patrol at the Wango Tango music fest, wrestling events and comic book conventions.
The net's on-air promotions, often live-action, were created with a Sports Center-esque level of insider humor that appealed to both kids and adults. A Johnny Bravo Spot Shows young men "in training" to be like the animated wanna-be heartthrob, learning his Elvis-like speech patterns and stacking their hair ever higher to match Johnny's pompadour.
The on-air and off-channel efforts translated quickly to numbers. The network set a 13-week record for the third quarter with a viewing increase of 20%; it became the second highest-rated basic cable net and showed the highest gain in audience delivery growth among all basic cable nets. In the pivotal 6-11 demo, delivery increased 113%. Foot traffic at live events was heavy, and the national on-air sweeps drew ore than 1.5 million calls.
"Prime time ratings went up across the week," Allario said. "This franchise really had a ruboff effect on a lot of other properties."
Allario, a six-year veteran of the cable net who joined when it was in only 2 million homes, says the Cartoon Cartoons Program connected with the audience likely because it "came from the channel's DNA. We tried to make unique and fun, over-the-top and irreverent," she said. "All the promotions we do need to feel like they came from here and no place else."
Other campaigns under Allario's watch include Coaster 2 Coaster, a partnership with Got Milk? That sent viewers on chartered trips to the country for the third quarter with a viewing increase of 20%; it became the second highest-rated basic cable net and showed the highest gain in audience delivery growth among all basic cable nets. In the pivotal 6-11 demo, delivery increased 113%. Foot traffic at live events was heavy, and the national on-air sweeps drew ore than 1.5 million calls.
"With each project, it feels like we're starting fresh," allario said. "There's a freedom here to come up with new ideas, and I think that's what's made the brand as strong as it is."