Feature Article - April 2005
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Catch Those Kids

How to make and market kids’ programming to not only fight fat but rise above a bloated marketplace of leisure choices

By Margaret Ahrweiler


These kids are a tough sell: Today's children have been the target of marketing their entire lives, says Bryan Dunkelberger, an architect with Massachusetts-based Sasaki Associates, whose sport and recreation clientele depends on a hip look. These tech-oriented children have been the targets of brand-identity campaigns since birth, and as a result, relate very strongly to them. He counsels clients to build a "brand" for themselves and make it desirable.

What's more, what pleases a 6-year-old will not please a 9-year-old, he adds: Children's programs can't be all things to all kids. For dance or movement classes, for example, 6-year-olds might want a Disneyesque sing-along experience, 7-to-10 year-olds a hip-hop, while teens may have moved onto a more hard-core program like kickboxing. Great differences may even exist between one year, he cautions, such as a 10- or 11-year-old.

Dedicated space for children's programming, divided by age group, makes sense, with the best video equipment a budget allows a must for this television-oriented crowd, Dunkelberger suggests.

"I know it's hard to believe an architect would suggest you need more space, but it does need to be 100-percent devoted to kids to really work well," he says.


And to make these spaces more appealing to this design-conscious crowd, Dunkelberger suggests trolling teen fashion mainstays such as Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch for color and style ideas, along with current music trends. To gain further insight, he also suggests a must-read book, Creating Ever-Cool: A Marketer's Guide to a Kids' Heart by Gene DelVecchio, to find out what drives kids' choices and what makes things—or programs—desirable.

That accursed pop culture, dominated by the entertainment industry, can even aid recreation professionals directly in their quest to get kids moving in an appealing way. Such is the case with Nickelodeon's "Let's Just Play" project. The growth of children's television programming may be a culprit for kids' increased viewing times (if you show it, they will watch), but Nickelodeon—the cable network for kids, which also boasts the highest viewership of any cable station—sponsors a program to encourage plain-old play. Let's Just Play provides a grant program for schools, recreation districts and other facilities to fund play programming. The network plans to award 50 grants from its 2004 applications, ranging from $5,000 to $10,000, and is currently taking applications for 2005. Its Web site suggests a number of ways to spend that money, from climbing walls for school gymnasiums to hiring a part-time play supervisor. It also exhorts kids to play games, by featuring indoor and outdoor play ideas and tips, all wrapped in neon-bright Nick packaging.

Let's Just Play also has partnered with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the National PTA to promote its ideas and programs and has kicked off a concert-style Let's Just Play national tour, featuring a day of organized Nick-style games.

The program provides a number of suggestions on encouraging play—old-fashioned games and contests that still can attract modern kids. The Nickelodeon brand also helps attract the targeted market, especially younger children.