In a move that blurs the line between show biz and shoe biz as well as advertising and entertainment, Nicktoons will air Zevo-3, an animated show that’s based on comic book characters developed by Skechers.
Zevo-3, which depicts a group of teens who are given super powers, is set to air Oct. 11. To help publicize the new show, Skechers is including a “sizzle reel” DVD in 1 million shoe boxes starting in August. The show is what Skechers hopes will be just the first from Skechers Entertainment, a unit that was created in 2009.
Kristen Van Cott, svp, creative development for that division, said Zevo-3 won’t contain any Skechers product placement, but the brand will advertise on the network and is likely to run a campaign for the show eight weeks or so before it premieres.
Van Cott said the show came about organically. In 2007, the company began giving away comic books in its shoe boxes based on a character called Kewl Breeze. After that giveaway got a positive response, the company began using the character in its advertising for its Airators shoes. (Skechers didn’t work with an ad agency to create those ads.) After that, the property took off, Van Cott said.
“People started coming into stores asking where they could see the show,” she said, “and we started getting requests for more comic books.” Over time, the company introduced more characters, including Elastica, the first female in the group.
Van Cott said Skechers was careful to make sure the show didn’t violate any federal guidelines related to marketing to kids. In recent years, there has been a lot of focus on children’s programming, particularly in relation to ads for junk food. In 2008, the Federal Trade Commission solicited information from 44 top marketers, including PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, for a report that examined how the companies advertised their products to kids. The FTC eventually ruled in favor of industry self-regulation. Meanwhile, the FCC’s rules regarding advertising to children merely stipulate that shows based on advertising-derived characters like Zevo-3 are fine as long as the marketer doesn’t run ads during the show.
The industry’s self-governing body, the Children’s Advertising Review Unit, similarly has guidelines preventing marketers from advertising during shows that feature characters related to their advertising. “This has been an area of interest since Davy Crockett was King of the Wild Frontier,” said CARU rep Linda Bean, who noted that both the organization and federal rules prohibit “host-selling.”
Despite being seemingly in accord with federal regulations, Josh Golin, associate director for watchdog group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said he believes the show crosses the line between entertainment and advertising. “It really shows the rules are being exploited, and they need some updating,” he said. “This sounds like a program-length commercial.”
In an ever-more crowded TV marketplace, tying in with a major packaged-goods brand has obvious advantages. “The economy’s been brutal on everyone, so carving out a space in the entertainment arena was very advantageous to them,” said Van Cott, referring to Nickelodeon. Indeed, last week, the cable network A&E also partnered with Barnes & Noble for a book giveaway to promote The Glades, a new A&E original series.
Keith Dawkins, Nicktoons general manager and svp, Nickelodeon Programming Partnerships, said that Skechers’ ability to promote the show at retail was a plus, but that wasn’t the main consideration. “For us, it’s just like any of the properties we have,” he said. “It has to be about the narrative, the creative. It has to feel like true character development.”
TV Spot to TV Show a Rarely Trod Path
When Nicktoons rolls out its Zevo-3 cartoon this fall, the show will be launching a short list of properties that originated in TV advertising.
The most notable recent example, ABC’s prime-time show Cavemen, originated from Geico’s ads from The Martin Agency. After generally poor reviews, the show was canceled after about a month. The California Raisins, which promoted the California Raisin Advisory Board, starred in a 1989 CBS Saturday morning cartoon series for one season.
Around that time, Domino’s Pizza tried to launch a show based on its Noid character, which appeared in its ads at the time. Currently, the Canadian animated series Will & Dewitt features a character that’s “inspired by” the Kandoo Frog in Procter & Gamble’s Pampers ads, according to a rep for Cookie Jar Entertainment, which produces that show.