Disney Invites Kids to Touring Playhouse

In anticipation of the early 2002 launch of the stand-alone Playhouse Disney channel, ABC Cable Networks Group is strengthening the preschooler-targeted brand with a 10-week mall tour, a live stage show in Orlando, Fla., home videos and music CDs.

"To be a powerful brand, we need to go beyond television," said ABC Cable Networks senior vice president of brand marketing Adam Sanderson.

Playhouse Disney's mall tour will use characters from The Book of Pooh, Bear in the Big Blue House
and Rolie Polie Olie
to help draw kids ages two through six and "their parents, caregivers and people who love them," Sanderson said. "We recognize that the parent isn't the only one at home with the child. We want to be inclusive of caregivers, grandparents and older brothers and sisters."

This year's mall tour kicked off Sept. 7 in Cleveland.

When Disney held a similar mall tour last year, "we were just mobbed with kids and parents who came to see their favorite characters live," said Sanderson.

The tour will also introduce two new characters — a little boy Stanley and his goldfish Dennis — from the show Stanley
set to debut Sept. 15 on the Playhouse preschooler block on Disney Channel.

Because Stanley loves animals so much on the show, the company is backing the show's premiere with a "Stanley Day" on Sept. 29 at 20 zoos around the country.

Stanley and the other Playhouse Disney characters will also help support the launch of Playhouse Disney Live on Stage
at the Disney MGM Studios at Walt Disney World early next month. The official opening of the 20-minute stage show will be tied to "100 Years of Disney," the yearlong celebration in honor of Walt Disney's birth, Sanderson noted.

Disney is helping promote local cable operators with mentions in newspaper and radio ads, and cable affiliates can participate in the tours by hosting information booths with product giveaways. Affiliates also can invite guests to a special VIP breakfast that Playhouse Disney hosts on each stop of the tour.

Additionally, operators can designate a local charity of choice to receive children's books collected in connection with the tour.

Disney hopes that all of the different branding efforts will help drum up demand for the 24-hour network. And while Sanderson admitted that Disney is not advocating that children watch TV in the middle of the night, the cable group's research showed that parents want more choices for age-appropriate content at, Sanderson said, five in the afternoon.

The Playhouse Disney cable network will serve as the centerpiece of a company-wide initiative to introduce new Disney products geared toward learning-based entertainment, Sanderson said.

Some of ABC Cable's other channels are also deploying grassroots marketing tactics. For example, SoapNet hoped to draw local soap opera fans to help fight breast cancer at the channel's first sponsored walk Sept. 9 in Boston. There, fans were slated to join popular ABC Daytime stars at the Susan G. Komen Foundation Race for the Cure.