Long ago, Skoda was a laughing stock, a byword for cheap and cheerless motoring. It rebuilt its reputation through a self-deprecating ad campaign that humorously acknowledged its previous, low quality reputation while emphasising a new-found technical prowess.
But the brand’s latest stunt could see it become the butt of jokes once again. The car marque has struck a deal to become the biggest advertiser on – wait for it – toddlers’ TV station Nick Jr (MW last week).
It is hard to think of another car brand that has sought to boost sales by targeting its messages at threeand four-year-olds. The deal appears to be an attempt to leverage pester power and follow in the footsteps of Vauxhall, which uses pre-teens as brand spokeschildren in television ads for its Meriva and Zafira models. While some see the move as an acknowledgement of the power children can have on family purchasing decisions, others say Skoda is looking to target a captive “young mums”audience.
The deal may have been driven by price: as children’s channels look for new revenue streams to plug the forthcoming gap created by the banning of ads for foods high in fat, salt and sugar, some think Skoda was offered a package it couldn’t refuse.
Sales house Viacom Brand Solutions brokered the deal, but denies any suggestion that it is looking to exploit “pester power”. VBS director of third parties, Bobi Carley, insists: “Skoda is definitely not targeting kids, but parents. If it wanted to target children then it would be advertising on Nickelodeon.”
She says more family brands are looking at the “dual” or “mutual” viewing opportunities afforded by programming aimed at toddlers. According to Carley, 10 million people watch Nick Jr a month, of which only 4 milllion are children.
This view is backed by Turner Media Innovations (TMI) vice-president Simon Cox. TMI handles the sales for Boomerang, which along with Nick Jr makes up the biggest “mutual” viewing channels. He says children are increasingly a “welcome” part of the decision-making process, even for high value purchases.
Getting older younger
“With holidays and cars, these decisions are discussed and taken together. A family car is a family choice. Kids are more worldly wise at a younger age,” he says, and adds: “We have been concentrating on this family unit audience for some time.” As Dave Lawrence, a director of The Promotions Practice, says, “pester power” has some effect as families become increasingly democratic.
“I think this is going to be a trend, with automotive companies waking up to how influential advertising on children’s channels can be,” says Lawrence. He predicts a rise in the number of consumer durables and companies such as hotel operators advertising on kids’ TV.
However, he warns that pester power is not sustainable. “If parents feel they are being corralled, they are not going to feel positive about the product. And I don’t think in areas of high ticket price items parents will just say yes,” he says.
Also unconvinced is Will Saunders, co-founder of communications planning agency EdwardsGroomSaunders. He believes that parents do not “watch” toddlers’ television in the way BARB statistics may suggest, and doesn’t think children appreciate having adult brands in their space.
“Families watch together around adult programmes such as The X Factor: there is no joint viewing of (Nick Jr programme) LazyTown. Proper shared viewing comes through proper family programming, and that is the best place to get family engagement into a piece of communication.” He believes brands such as Skoda have been offered a ‘deal or price they can’t refuse’. “If I were cynical I would suggest that kids’ channels are suffering from a lack of income from food, and channels are desperately trying to get other sectors in,” adds Saunders.
Still, it will be Skoda that has the last laugh if its move on to tots’ TV leads to a spike in sales.