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How Networks Follow The Tweens

When General Mills linked with the Disney Channel last year as the sponsor for the sensational teen hit High School Musical, the network learned a lesson from the big cereal maker about making multiplatform ad campaigns work.

While the network doesn't sell traditional spots, it offers sponsorships, and the marketer's “Choose Breakfast” campaign received exposure via opening billboards and wraparound interstitials. But General Mills' 360-degree campaign aimed at tweens (kids 9-14) was extended to exclusive sponsorship of the film's popular Website along with a presence in print and on Radio Disney promoting the hit.

The strategy was such a success, Disney restructured the company's kid-targeted sales efforts—with TV, online, radio and print integrated into one unit.

Disney is not the only network exploring changes in the ad environment. MTV Networks has realigned its sales force into three clusters, one of which concentrates on teens. Rainbow Media has just launched a “client activation team” that will offer advertisers multiplatform options, particularly for its teen-oriented Fuse network brand.

MTVN's ad-sales reorganization of teen networks includes shifting nighttime network The N from the Nickelodeon group and moving it to a new unit with MTV, Logo and VH1. The group will work with several other specialized units, including Digital Ad Sales (which oversees sales across the company's 44 Websites) and a new multiplatform business unit. The structure is aimed at clustering networks in line with consumer behavior patterns, while facilitating information- sharing about client needs.

“When we learn the brand ethic of an advertiser and understand their marketing objectives, we then want to come back into our house and pull from whatever's necessary to deliver the best solution to their needs,” says Sean Moran, executive VP heading the MTV, The N, Logo and VH1 cluster. “We don't want to be caught up by any internal reporting structures.”

That coordinated sales effort is the goal at Disney, too. “We looked at the General Mills model promotion and said, 'This makes sense, and we need to be able to do that in a way that's easy for our clients,'” says Tricia Wilber, executive VP of the newly formed Disney integrated sales team. “That was sort of the impetus and started the thinking around the group.”

Formed on the eve of the kids upfront, the Disney Media Advertising Sales and Marketing Group seeks to offer advertisers a one-stop shop for Disney properties reaching tweens. The group is now finalizing deals for this summer's expected blockbuster redux, High School Musical 2. General Mills is expected to return, but this time it will share the spotlight with a cadre of other marketers.

“Going forward, as we look at these tentpole franchises,” says Wilber, “we will look to create custom opportunities to tie advertisers to in a more impactful way.”

At a recent Bear Stearns conference, Disney President /CEO Bob Iger said that multiplatform deals like the General Mills example create “advertising possibilities that you never saw before.” High School Musical was a hit on every platform. On television, it debuted in January 2006 to 3.1 million tweens and became the most watched show in Disney history.

“It's paying attention to what's needed in the market from an advertiser's point of view, as well as from a teen's point of view,” says Julie Halpin, CEO of the Geppetto Group agency. “The lines between an advertising idea, a promotion, a media placement, an interactive engagement—those don't exist in a teen's world.”

Millions of dollars are at stake for media companies as they collectively seek to prevent marketers' spending from flowing elsewhere. Teens are an attractive demo because they're early adopters and also have significant disposable income. Teen Research Unlimited found that 12- to 19-year-olds spent a record-high $179 billion in 2006, an average of $102 a week per person.

Like many media companies, new content is being created for MTVN's teen properties with the backdrop of how it can be strung across multiple platforms, from broadband to mobile to virtual worlds such as the site affiliated with MTV's Laguna Beach. And program development is now done with an eye on all the other ways, beyond the TV program, that an advertiser can grab viewers. That, in turn, drives up the cost per thousand.

“It's one of the most fickle and most valuable demographics and one we feel we have the best connection with, in terms of how they're digesting media,” Moran says. “It's both our challenge and our opportunity to grow our properties from a digital and linear standpoint, as well as turn around and invite advertising partners to go along for the ride.”

Rainbow's launch of a unit focused on activation is a direct response to agencies' embracing the term by naming chief activation officers charged with bringing together buying functions for various platforms.

“They're trying to align themselves with the way most agencies are trying to set themselves up these days,” says Larry Novenstern, executive VP/director of national electronic media for Optimedia International. “If money is shifting more to emerging platforms or online, which it seems like it is, they're setting themselves up for maximizing their revenue.”