As part of the biggest branding initiative in its three-year history, Toon Disney late last month launched a nationwide promotional tour to find the most animated kid in the country.
Through the summer-long tour, Toon Disney will visit more than 50 markets, partnering with affiliates to attract families with children ages 4 to 14, where kids will be invited to take a screen test designed to see how they would look when turned into a cartoon character.
All kids can envision themselves as some kind of cartoon character, ABC Cable Networks Group senior vice president of marketing Adam Sanderson said. If they're going to identify with a cartoon character, he added, they might as well be Disney classics.
"Our characters are not violent," Sanderson said. "They're safe and they're fun and they have positive messages for kids. We're letting people act out their fantasy of acting as a cartoon."
The network hopes the tour will help address the "cool factor" and allow older kids to feel comfortable watching Toon Disney.
In their screen tests, kids will put on ancient Greek wigs and sing along with the Muses while acting out a scene from the Disney animated series Hercules. With their parents' signed consent, the children's images are are then shown on a giant LED screen for the crowds to cheer. Footage is also filmed for possible entry into a nationwide contest.
Following the tour, young viewers will vote online for their favorite animated kids from among the top semifinalists. The winner will receive a trip to Hollywood and a chance to be animated for a cartoon to air on the network.
"I'm a big believer in mobile marketing," Sanderson said. "The opportunity to touch people is wonderful, and Disney is such a powerful brand."
In addition to the screen tests, Toon Disney will allow youngsters visiting the tour to color animation cels to be used in a future episode of Hercules.
The network also will provide summertime refreshments with a Disney theme. From trucks dubbed "Chillin' with the Villains Vehicles," Toon Disney will dispense a frozen blueberry drink called Hades Blue Freeze, as well as Cruella's Cherry Concoction. One side of the truck is painted with such villainous characters as Ursula from The Little Mermaid, while the other showcases heroines, including Jasmine from Aladdin.
Each stop along the tour will be sponsored by a Toon Disney affiliate, which will have the opportunity to pitch digital cable or high-speed cable modems. Venues will include children's museums, public parks, malls and retail parking lots, according to Sanderson. To stoke attendance, cable affiliates are expected to run cross-channel spots before the tour stops in their town, he added.
Direct-broadcast satellite providers DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp. are also participating in the campaign through the help of their respective retailers.
Each local event will include some individual touches. According to Sanderson, a San Diego weatherman appeared as a cartoon during a live local weather forecast during a May 23 event.
The "Most Animated Kid" search is just one part of a larger campaign Toon Disney is running to help increase overall awareness for the network, which is now in about 20 million households. A new television ad will break later this summer, followed by a print campaign come fall. For Halloween, Toon Disney will be promoted on 5 million bags of Sun-Maid raisins, as well as on point-of-purchase displays in grocery stores, Sanderson said.
The new positioning line, "built from the best 'toons," is pushing Toon Disney as a separate network, and not just a Disney Channel daypart.
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