Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Nickelodeon: It's All Youthful Attitude

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Nickelodeon: It's All Youthful Attitude

Article excerpt

NICKELODEON is no longer a mere cable network. It's videotapes, CD-ROMs, home electronics, T-shirts, children's boutiques, theme park rides and 14 million units of an oozy, stretchy, squishy thing called Gak.

The idea, executives say, is to make Nickelodeon into a global brand name that stands for kids' entertainment. Then the brand can be used to sell just about anything to kids, even those who don't watch TV.

"A brand has a personality of its own," says Lisa Marks, whose job title - vice president of marketing and brand management for Nickelodeon - reflects the new buzzword of "branding" in television.

Having a strong brand "is like putting money in the bank," says Chris Moseley, a vice president at the Discovery Channel, which sells goods ranging from CD-ROMs to fossils in its retail chain, the Discovery Channel Stores.

Even PBS is getting into the act. "Like everyone else, we're looking for `mindshare,' " says John Hollar, executive vice president of PBS.

Of course, brand names have shaped commerce in America for years. Brand names make the difference between tissues and Kleenex, film and Kodak, and a copier and Xerox. Those products have physical qualities, but their brands exist in the mind - as images, feelings, promises and expectations.

Until recently, TV networks didn't pay much attention to their brand names. Viewers, after all, watched shows, not networks. But in the past decade, the rise of cable and the crowding of the TV dial has changed that.

"The idea of network branding was invented by cable networks, such as MTV and Nickelodeon," says Erica Gruen, a senior vice president at the New York advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi.

MTV led the way with its famed "I want my MTV" campaign, which was created to get teen-agers to urge their local cable operators to carry the music video network. Today, MTV sells itself as "an attitude, more than a specific product. It's a virtual street corner, a virtual gathering place," says Gruen.

Branding works better for cable than broadcast networks because many networks are niche-oriented, programming all news (CNN), sports (ESPN) or kids shows (Nickelodeon). Youth-oriented networks are the most ambitious, but CNN also wants to sell specialized news to executives, and ESPN aggressively markets an on-line statistics service.

By contrast, the broadcast networks aim at all viewers with a variety of shows, from sitcoms and soap operas to news and sports.

The networks, as a result, promote individual shows and certain parts of their operation, like CBS News ("experience - CBS News") or ABC soaps ("love in the afternoon"), more than the networks themselves. The days when CBS was identified by viewers as the Tiffany Network are long gone.

By contrast, MTV and Nickelodeon, both of which are owned by media giant Viacom, have always been about attitude and packaging. …

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