Obesity Concerns Don’t Slow Ad Sales

NEW YORK The childhood obesity epidemic, and the concomitant reaction from Washington, D.C., has not had a deleterious impact on this year’s kids ad sales market, thanks in part to increased efforts by marketers to self-police their messaging.

So said executives who sell time on the top two ad-supported kids cable networks. They noted the food category has actually been more active in 2006 than in recent years, an uptick that underscores a trend of heightened cooperation between marketers and the networks.

“Because our [food] clients are rethinking the nature of how they formulate their products and our desire to work with them on how they bring their message to kids, we have been able to grow that category in the last two years, despite outside pressures,” said John O’Hara, svp, general sales manager, Cartoon Network and Adult Swim.

O’Hara added that food fluctuates between being Cartoon’s No. 1 and No. 2 category.

Much the same holds true at Nickelodeon, said Jim Perry, executive vp, 360 brand sales, Nickelodeon and MTVN kids and family group. “We continue to believe very firmly in what we’re doing as a company in terms of educating our viewers about obesity and reminding them they have to go out and play,” said Perry, in reference to the network’s “Let’s Just Play” outreach initiative. “And we’re also working with the food companies to see that as much of their ads as possible have activity-based elements and highlight healthy [eating] alternatives.”

Food remains Nick’s No. 2 category, behind toys, Perry said, adding that the net has also seen significant gains in the category this year.

If the food flap was the source of a lot of background noise this year, the predominate conversation in the kids space has centered on the evolving digital landscape. According to Perry, Nick increased its digital business in the 2006 upfront “by almost 200 percent, while the number of accounts that … bought digital in the upfront doubled.”

While digital has engendered hundreds of conversations about how kids actually interact with new media platforms, TV remains the predominate medium through which to reach the demo, Perry said. “As long as kids continue to watch TV, it will always be the main driver behind any multiplatform approach,” he said. “And that should be the case for quite a while.”

O’Hara said that while Cartoon saw clients make their greatest commitment to date to digital media in the 2006 upfront, the entire industry still has a bit of a learning curve ahead of it. “We’re getting smarter about what our advertisers need and by and large, all the media agencies are committed to helping their clients find the best way to utilize all these platforms,” O’Hara said.

Going into 2007, Cartoon will become more involved in threading its clients’ messaging through each of its broadband platforms, so that there’s more of a push-pull between the linear and the digital realms. “The bigger categories have reached a point where they were coming to us with the need to integrate something conceptually across all our platforms,” O’Hara said. “It’s no longer a matter of just putting together a menu buy, where you do a little her and a little there.”

Tighter inventory led to a more deliberate, unrushed kids scatter market, and that’s not expected to change much in 2007. “It’s been slow and steady in scatter and we don’t see any major anomalies going forward,” said Ed Gentner, svp, group director, national broadcast, MediaVest. “Except for the few high-demand periods, like pre-Easter, we’re seeing buys get made closer and closer to execution.”

One area that will continue to evolve in the next year and beyond is who clients look to reach by making buys on kids nets. “The messaging is going to be different in that clients are looking for a broader base than in the past … they’ll be looking to target more adults and more women in that space,” Gentner said, adding that the kids nets have seen significant movement in the retail category.

“Nontraditional business was really a growth engine in the upfront,” Perry said. “We delivered our ninth automotive on-air partner and our very first financial company and overall, we did well over $50 million in brand new nonendemic business.”