When Nickelodeon’s green slime first oozed its way over talent’s heads 40 years ago on the acquisition Canadian series “You Can’t Do That on Television,” there was no way of knowing the stuff would transcend series and generations of children — let alone launch a festival. But green goop was just the beginning of the network’s lasting story in the kids space thanks to a robust IP library, recognizable brand extensions and an innovative marketing strategy that’s changing the conversation about conventional ad venues.
Following research indicating Nick’s current audience is a generation of kids with access to a household average of 12 connected devices and who serve as their own programmers, those execs trained to be multi-literate across multiple platforms including YouTube and Instagram, with a mission to bring their brand to kids. On March 21, Kim Rosenblum, executive vice president and chief creative officer, Nickelodeon, will receive Variety’s Brand Innovator Award at its Entertainment Marketing Summit presented by Deloitte at Neuehouse in Hollywood.
“It’s important to us to be cross-platform and pitching and catching across social and YouTube and our channels,” says Rosenblum. “It’s not like before, when people used to come to brands. It’s much more of a two-way relationship, where we’re out looking for kids where they are. We’re going to give them the content they want, rather than expecting them to come to us at a date and time that we’ve dictated.”
Part of that strategy involves bringing popular YouTube personalities including Liza Koshy, JoJo Siwa and the titular Ryan of “Ryan ToysReview” to linear on such series as “Double Dare,” the Kids’ Choice Awards or the upcoming series “Ryan’s Mystery Playdate,” as well as collaborating with these creators on fresh online content that targets audiences in new ways.
“We do a lot of content on our YouTube channel, which has grown exponentially — a 200% growth in a year,” says Rosenblum. “Combining talent, our IP and YouTube talent to do great mashups and collaboration is what kids want, and we want to be wherever kids are and giving them what they want. That’s the premise of this Nick brand.”
Refreshing existing IP is an integral part of that, according to Charlotte Castillo, the senior vice president of global franchise planning for Viacom Nickelodeon consumer products. She points to the reimagined Ninja Turtles property “Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” as a recent example of new content and consumer products designed for a new generation.
“Our job is to extend the life of our properties through multiple touchpoints from content to digital to consumer products and live experiences,” she says. “We wanted to be in more places, reaching more demos, on more platforms to build awareness for the series, and we made smart partnerships to extend our reach. We executed the most aggressive digital sneak peek pre-release strategy in Nickelodeon history, including the global release of the first episode on YouTube before the linear premiere.”
For the upcoming Kids’ Choice Awards, Nickelodeon put that cross-platform engagement into practice by announcing the nominees and host DJ Khaled via a live-stream hosted by Koshy across all of its platforms. Meanwhile, voting for the actual show launched across Twitter, the Nickelodeon website and Instagram, where Nickelodeon created an AR lens for nominees to slime themselves.
Senior vice president executive creative director Tony Maxwell points to Nickelodeon’s newly launched sticker program — a user-sharing initiative involving virtual badges — as another innovation that has increased engagement and brand awareness with new audiences.
“Many of the nominees are taking these badges with their images and pushing them out to their fan bases. It’s creating a whole additional layer of marketing for us,” he says.
To continually reach their demographic, Maxwell and his team strive to think like children. They look outward for creative inspiration through polls and manage an overall calendar with relevant events, including back-to-school and social hashtags that reflect youth sensibilities.
“As opposed to just taking one central idea like in the past and pushing the same creatives across the different platforms, we’re really customizing everything based on where the kids are and what they’re going through at that moment in their lives,” he says.
Further research indicates that 26% of Nickelodeon’s audience is of the Latinx community, and so diversity also factors strongly into that mindset. In early 2018 the network launched the “That’s Me” campaign, a series of PSAs highlighting kids from all cultures that shines a light on individuality. Meanwhile, the network is eyeing upcoming launches with “The Loud House” spinoff “The Casagrandes” and a live-action “Dora the Explorer” theatrical release is coming in August.
Above all, Rosenblum says the key to keeping the Nickelodeon brand alive and relevant is continually marketing the brand itself. Through attitude, tone, visual branding with the network’s iconic orange color and musically with the earworm jingle, that is ultimately what has enabled the network to transcend four decades of youth programming.
“We’re committed to making sure the Nick brand is relevant to today’s kids. It pulls on the heartstrings of previous generations, but most importantly, the brand is alive and well and moving us forward,” she says. “It’s very much about our brand as the longtail. We love all our shows, we love all our talent, but our brand is the driver and we value it very much.”