Promos equal traffic on kids’ Web sites

An animated question mark with arms and legs strolls along the road at 'The Spot,' the opening page of Teletoon.com, the Web site for the Toronto-based national animation channel.

An animated question mark with arms and legs strolls along the road at ‘The Spot,’ the opening page of Teletoon.com, the Web site for the Toronto-based national animation channel.

It’s a truly unique virtual world. Gone are the buttons and the navigation bar; text, articles and advertisements are totally integrated. The cursor arrow is replaced by the cartoon question mark, roaming through the landscape that’s dotted with characters from Teletoon programs such as Braceface and Scooby Doo. Kids can have some fun in ‘Playville,’ check out the mall or city hall, or just wander the streets in the giant-sized virtual Teletoon town.

‘We wanted to create a compelling world, one that would keep kids coming back,’ says Steve Szigeti, Teletoon director of online media, who spent five months developing the site and getting it ready for the late October relaunch. ‘We had to take the Teletoon brand and fully integrate it into the Web, but not just recreate an elaborate brochure site. I think we’re using the Web the way it’s supposed to be used: as a constant loop between the users and us.’

Marketers are in that loop, too. The promotions page is a mainstay of kids-oriented Web sites and is generally full of anywhere from five to 20 sponsored contests and advergames. On the more integrated Teletoon site, users encounter animated icons, such as a ghost holding a Unicef box in e-town, which helps kids learn about promotions such as the perennial Halloween charity Unicef.

Along the road, there’s the KD Cauldron, an icon representing a Kraft Dinner-sponsored contest called ’13 Days of Halloween,’ where kids enter a draw to win prizes, including $150 worth of candy or a one-year allowance of $50 per month. Another character, a hulking red robot, represents the Rescue Heroes contest. Sponsored by Fisher-Price, the contest gets kids to vote for their fave hero to qualify to win one of 25 toys from the Mattel Rescue Heroes brand.

‘The main reasons why kids come to the site is for contests and games – they’re great vehicles to build loyalty,’ Szigeti says. ‘After a week online, we’re closing in on 25,000 registered users, which is beyond what I had hoped for this early.’ Users can access the traditional contests page by clicking a button on the left-hand side, but it has rarely been used thus far, Szigeti says.

While Teletoon’s highest priority for the new site is to build brand loyalty, Szigeti adds that the only way to do so is to continually increase the site’s interactivity – which means more games, more contests and much more product placement and sponsorship. He envisions adding a cinema to e-town, where users can check out the latest kids-oriented movie trailers.

Sites for networks such as The Family Channel and Toronto-based Corus Entertainment’s YTV have taken a similar approach. For all three portals, the premise remains the same: promotions equal loyalty. But are these sites successful in attracting kids online?

‘I don’t have any concrete data on their success, but in my own household, I see what’s effective,’ says Anne Sutherland, author of Kidfluence: Why Kids Today Mean Business and founder of Toronto-based marketing consultancy Planning Ahead. ‘Kids always respond better to something that’s promoted on television. If they’re asked to go to the site and register by the host, that’s when the audience is most responsive.’

Sutherland adds that online promotions resonate with kids simply because they feel like they can win. ‘It’s free and they take [contests] very literally – there isn’t a lot of life experience telling them they can’t win. Promotions and often gaming are always a good interactive, involving draw,’ she says.

Two months ago, Family embarked on its ‘Never a dull moment’ brand positioning. The goal – more like a rally cry for the network – is simply to always have something exciting going on, and it also takes this ‘go-go-go’ attitude to its online promotions. From Oct. 4 to Nov. 1, the ‘It’s a Scream’ contest challenged viewers (aimed at tweens, aged eight to 12) to call a 1-800 number and record their best, blood-curdling wail for the chance to win tickets and backstage passes to a Vanessa Carlton concert. Online, they can listen to the digital recordings of the screams. (At press time, more than 22,000 people had entered.)

‘Kids loved this contest – you should hear some of their screams,’ remarks Russell Ward, Family’s director of marketing. ‘It reinforces the ‘never a dull moment’ strategy, and it resonates with the demographic. Contests are the third most important driver of site traffic – next to gaming and gathering info on their favourite TV shows – so we have to keep coming up with fresh and rambunctious ideas.’

The Family Channel broadcast 30-second spots to communicate contest details and a 30-second combination spot to promote the contest, along with Halloween programming and the new Halloween game ‘Skeleton Park’ on Family.ca. Both spots were jointly produced by Family and Sacramento, Calif.-based Pointman Productions through Triangle Studios in Toronto and both aired six times per day for the duration of the contest.

The five-year-old Family.ca site has seen its total number of unique visitors increase by 125% over last year, now recording 300,000-plus unique visitors monthly. Meanwhile, television viewership has increased by 60% in the past two years.

Family will now be moving into Christmas-themed contests and programming, although there are no firm details on what kind of promotions Family.ca will carry.

YTV’s ‘Keep it Weird’ theme is well-represented online. A current promotion is the third annual ‘Great Canadians Save,’ advergame, which co-promotes Canadian savings bonds with a game that teaches youngsters how to save their dough through the loveable character, Buck Save-a-Lot. Plus, kids can enter a contest to win a $500 savings bond.

‘Our main goal is co-marketing with our clients. With promotions like this, visitors can see our clients’ objectives as well as our own on the same [Web] page,’ says Tim Cormick, YTV’s director of marketing, adding that YTV.ca draws an average of 14 million unique visitors per month and regularly ranks in the top five kids sites according to Media Metrix. Moreover, he says, the five-year-old site has seen its unique visitors grow by 15% over the past year, with each visitor spending on average 15 to 20 minutes on the site at one time.

‘It’s very much about our client’s objectives. When we recreate their goals as well as ours it’s always successful.’