Marketing to Kids Is an Obstacle Course

Less inventory, more restrictions

If you’re advertising in the $1 billion kids marketplace, you’ll need to accommodate a bit more in the way of oversight, both from traditional antagonists like watchdog groups and from a less predictable challenger: big-box retailers.

Media buyers say big-box stores are putting serious pressure on toy manufacturers to sell toys alongside pencils and notebooks during the back-to-school period, and they’re leveraging coveted shelf space in the Hard Eight to do it. The kids market is seeing sellout rates increase dramatically, tightening inventory and forcing clients to look for ad inventory in periods that fall beyond the run-up to the holiday season.

“If you want that endcap or that prominent shelf position, you have to prove that you’re going to support the product and push it to consumers,” explained one kids market buyer (who asked not to be named). “The toy company then needs to put a media plan together and say, ‘We’re going to spend this much money, and here’s how we’re going to do it.’ To earn your holiday shelf space, if you will, you have to start pre-promoting your product.”

Further clogging the kids marketplace this fall are new and returning clients. Nickelodeon’s head of ad sales, Jim Perry, told Adweek last month that Nick has “a few QSRs coming back that have been absent and a whole slew of companies marketing tablet-like devices to kids.”

But at least one category appears stymied by scrutiny of the Big Brother variety, and that’s consumer packaged goods. Last week, the Center for Science in the Public Interest launched another broadside at Nick in the form of a print ad featuring a disreputable-looking SpongeBob on a “wanted” poster. CSPI accused Nick of “aggressively marketing obesity to kids,” and while the food fight has been going on for years, it appears to be having a chilling effect on new products. (A Nick rep countered with a list of the net’s own extensive in-house anti-obesity programs, praised by no less than Michelle Obama.)

“[CPG] remains a fairly significant category, but it’s certainly not growing for kids,” said Jason Maltby, top TV buyer at MindShare. “That kind of [watchdog group] pressure is limited to the kids market.”

Our anonymous buyer agreed. “All these companies have pledged against obesity, but for the most part you’re not really seeing any change to the food category,” said the buyer.

Still, the fact remains that there just isn’t as much inventory to buy as there was even four years ago. “You used to be able to drive a truck through first through third quarter,” said the buyer. “The supply has dropped, and that’s what’s driving price increases that we’ve never seen before.”