Welcome to Planet Kids

The Internet domain 'planetkids.com' doesn't yet host a site - a glaring oversight by marketers, given their strategy to captivate kids is clearly through the creation of a 3-D, 24/7, strictly-for-kids world....

The Internet domain ‘planetkids.com’ doesn’t yet host a site – a glaring oversight by marketers, given their strategy to captivate kids is clearly through the creation of a 3-D, 24/7, strictly-for-kids world.

It’s actually a virtual world. But judging by the non-stop exposure to it – every waking moment of Canada’s 2.5 million kids and tweens is inundated with references to, and enticements for, their own special universe – it must seem pretty real.

It’s a place where (to use their own vernacular ) kids rule, as opposed to being perpetually over-ruled by adults. It’s bouncy, sassy, noisy, funny, colourful, musical, imaginative, fast-paced, irreverent, surprise-filled, challenge-loving, competitive, interactive, pro-active, idealistic, ecologically aware and, above

all, cool.

Tweens are transported to Planet Kids whenever they watch TV, listen to music, use the Internet, go to the movies, browse at music and video shops, visit fast food joints or grocery stores, attend concerts, street fairs and other events, stroll through bookstores, flip through magazines, travel, eat at home or elsewhere, and shop for clothing celebrating their favourite sport or superstar.

The genesis of this hyper-kinetic world – and the gold rush of marketers eager to invade it – is no mystery, says Susan Schaefer, YTV’s vice president of marketing. It sprang from the realization that tweens are no longer just cash-poor, pajama-clad zombies sprawled in front of the TV for Saturday-morning cartoonfests.

These days, there’s a cornucopia of opportunities for marketers to reach kids. With today’s advanced communications vehicles, kids are reachable through far more platforms than existed in, say, the 1960s (when, incidentally, ‘platforms’ mostly meant footwear).

So what are the best ways of understanding and tapping into the lucrative tween market? Do as the champs do.

In Canada, these heavyweights are YTV and Teletoon, which collectively reach more tweens in more ways more of the time than any other entity. How? Because their television offerings are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of connecting with kids at multiple points in their everyday lives.

Integrated, cross-promotional enterprises by both networks are numerous. They include engaging, ever-changing Web sites that offer tweens – who multi-task as effortlessly as they breathe – a welter of opportunities for interaction and self-expression. These range from playing games and entering contests via e-mail, downloading everything from games to logo-festooned screen-savers, to delving into bios

of show characters and tracing episodic developments, to actually helping create new programming.

Whatever the program, promotion, contest, concert, magazine, CD or other vehicle for tweens, YTV’s Schaefer says the starting point is recognizing that these youngsters ‘are incredibly smart, incredibly sophisticated and savvy, technologically adept and brand-aware from age three onward. So the goal is to entertain and stimulate while never talking down to them.’

Hillary Firestone, Teletoon’s marketing VP, agrees. ‘Kids today don’t settle for being passive. The Internet, which permeates everything they do, has given them the expectation and the means to reach out and make things happen. They also have such busy lives that they expect to get everything done fast, if not immediately.’

Advertisers, too, are gaining an understanding of the 21st-century kid, and the wealth of new media options marketers can – nay, must – take advantage of. Andrew Alderman, Mattel Canada’s director of marketing, puts this into practice with efforts that ‘give them a sense of control over their world.’ This doesn’t just apply to Web site activity, he says, but to most of Mattel’s advertising, which features ‘aspirational or role-playing toys [that] are always demonstrated in the hands of children.’

Even better than feeling in control is feeling like a hero, according to Alderman and several other experts. Among them is Frank Mendicino, VP of marketing for Alliance Atlantis Communications, which recently distributed the Spy Kids movie (hooking up promotionally with McDonald’s for the first time). ‘The prospect of their parents being international spies and then actually getting to rescue them is a brilliant way of sparking kids’ imaginations,’ he explains.

There’s another crucial requirement of marketing to kids and tweens, namely, bringing cultural watchdogs, including purse string-controlling parents, on board. And Mendicino says the Spy Kids message – ‘that the family that sticks together can do anything’ – pulls that off nicely.

The entire marketing campaign for Spy Kids exemplifies the sound-surround, Planet Kids feeling in that it is practically inescapable. Not only did McDonald’s get in on the act with a variety of products, but Disney Adventures turned the film into a cover story last month, featuring related references and activities throughout. Ditto for Kids Tribute, which included not only activities relating to the movie but also a two-page spread of clothes and accessories (some from Roots) similar to what the pint-sized spies wore onscreen.

Actually, says Mendicino, Spy Kids fever was generated well before its premiere by previewing it, not just in cinemas but on the Internet. This increasingly prevalent sneak-peek strategy is extremely effective with tweens, according to Tim Goudie, senior youth brands leader for Coca-Cola Ltd. in Canada, ‘because

they love to get the inside scoop before something becomes public knowledge.’

Two more elements in success-fully marketing to tweens, adds Goudie, are projecting credibility and authenticity. ‘Whenever you’re associating a marketing asset with your brand,’ he says, ‘you need to be in it for the long term and you need to be seen as authentic because if you’re not, they see right through it.’

Giving kids and tweens the feeling that a product or enterprise is their own special preserve is yet another way of inspiring loyalty, according to several marketing insiders. But Steve Jarrett, president of SBC Media, says this can also work the other way around, with youngsters first embracing something and marketers and media scrambling to catch up

with them.

Individual, action-oriented sports (as opposed to the spectator and team variety) are prime examples of the latter phenomenon. He says two recent American studies found that the three fastest growing youth sports are snowboarding, skateboarding and wakeboarding.

The publisher of six Canadian magazines devoted to this sector of the youth market, Jarrett says his publications are among the most successful of the many kid-targeted magazines proliferating in the marketplace recently. They incl-ude SnowBoard Canada, Wind-Sport, SkateBoard, KiteBoard and WakeBoard Canada.

Like other savvy youth marketers, SBC Media understands that with 76% of kids having Internet access either at home or at school, and average weekly online time adding up to 3.2 hours for girls and 4.5 hours for boys, the company would be crazy to stick to paper alone. But along with cross-promoting its magazines through Web sites, SBC completes the circle with national events.

These include Snow Jam for snowboard enthusiasts and Wake-stock for those interested in the recently invented sport of wakeboarding (similar to water-skiing but on a board similar to a skate- or snow-board). Each of these annual events is repeated in four different locations, attracts about 20,000 kids and is covered on TV sports shows.

‘Canada is a hotbed for [such] non-traditional sports and some of their best athletes are international heroes,’ Jarrett adds. ‘What’s more, these niche sports are actually entering the mainstream for today’s youth. And, unlike [spectator] sports such as soccer or hockey or basketball, they are influencing youth culture, from fashion and clothing to the music they listen to, where they hang out and how they spend their leisure time and money.’

What money? Well for starters, kids and tweens possess collective discretionary income of $1.8 billion and they influence family purchasing 10 times that amount, according to YTV’s annual Kid & Tween Report. As well, some 17% of tweens have ATM bank cards and each spends roughly $137 per year on back-to-school gear alone.

Still another consideration in attracting tweens is appealing

to their natural idealism, says Mike D’Abramo, project manager with Toronto’s Youthography agency, who spends a lot of time with youth panels on behalf of (among others) Kellogg Canada. ‘We’re always discussing the need to make a difference as well as

a profit.’