Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

Attractive young entertainment industry executive boosts the popularity of her network’s substantial cartoon properties by connecting characters to kids at retail – among other promotional venues – and ends up being named a promo All-Star.

If that sounds like a story line you’ve read in these pages before, perhaps you have – three years ago, when Pam Kaufman first won the distinction as promo honcho at Turner Home Entertainment. In 1997, Kaufman joined the nation’s most all-pervasive provider of children’s TV programming, Nickelodeon, and ever since has been as underfoot in the kids market as, well, a Rugrat.

Though Kaufman and her 14-person department (“Every one of them indispensable,” she says) won’t be found listed in the credits of The Rugrats Movie, their role in helping make it a box-office smash is certainly deserving of best supporting marketer consideration. The deal they worked with Burger King to support Nickelodeon’s first feature film ended up as one of the biggest-ever QSR promotions. BK offered 12 different Rugrats toys in its November/December Kids Meal program, twice as many as usual. A $20 million TV media buy blared the arrival of the promotion and, of course, the movie.

Kaufman’s arrangement with Post Cereals put The Rugrats Movie on 21 million boxes of Alpha Bits, Frosted Shredded Wheat, and Waffle Crisp. A coupon offered a free ticket with purchase of one adult ticket at any theater in the country showing the film. The movie opened as the No. 1 box-office attraction on Thanksgiving weekend with receipts totaling $27.3 million. By mid-December it had racked up more than $70 million.

Kaufman is quite comfortable in the world of cartoons and fast-food premiums. The 35-year-old mother of two got a degree in political science and communications and set out “to become the next Barbara Walters. Then I found out I’d have to leave New York and go to some place like El Paso to get started and I said, ‘The hell with that,'” recalls the diehard Manhattanite.

Kaufman instead put in three years in promotions at Grey Advertising before moving to Los Angeles to be assistant to the president of Equity Marketing. There she focused on the Burger King business and made her bones in entertainment marketing, working properties that ran the gamut from Home Alone to Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. When Turner purchased Hanna-Barbera, it asked Kaufman to help start a promotions department.

Kaufman seems destined to exist as a flesh-and-blood relation to cartoon families. “I went from The Simpsons to The Flintstones to Rugrats,” she says. Her business agenda, however, is no comic strip. Fun as the promotions she pilots may be for the kids in the audience, to Kaufman they are about selling advertising schedules or movie tickets. They are also about building brands – Nickelodeon’s as well as those of its promotional partners.

High on Kaufman’s current agenda is finding companies that haven’t been communicating with kids and convincing them that they should. Last year she hit a daily double, getting Campbell Soup and Mott’s talking to the preschool fans of Nick’s latest hit, Blue’s Clues. The show features live-action host Steve and an animated blue puppy named, er, Blue, laying out puzzles to be solved by two-to-five-year olds.

“It’s challenging to convince people that kids that young can drive sales,” says Kaufman. “We had a short list of companies that we approached.”

Kaufman and her staff gave themselves the added handicap of having to convince Mott’s executives that anyone – kids or moms – would go near the blue applesauce the Nick crew suggested bringing to market. Nickelodeon focus groups and online kids panels said the idea sounded cool. Mott’s took a chance, and blue applesauce became the official morning treat of millions of little Blue’s Clues fans.

“We got them distribution where they didn’t have it before,” says Kaufman. “Wal-Mart didn’t sell applesauce, but they did sell Blue’s Clues applesauce.” Now Mott’s has turned into the Sherwin-Williams of applesauce makers, tying red, green, and purple varieties into the release of The Rugrats Movie.

There’s a reason those 14 promotion staffers at Nickelodeon are indispensable: Kaufman sure keeps them hopping. Last year saw millions of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese boxes stuffed with Nickel O Zone decoders, a follow-up to 1997’s successful Nogglevision promo. Campbell placed Blue’s Clues holograms front-and-center on cans of Red & White. Kaufman & Co. lined up M&M Minis and L’Oreal For Kids as sponsors of the Rugrats – A Live Adventure stage show that toured the country last year. And that’s in addition to all the on-air promos the department runs solely in support of the network – like Nick or Treat – that offer prizes such as Nickelodeon showing up at the winner’s school to shoot Double Dare and slime the principal.

Look for Kaufman’s group to move beyond packaged goods for promo partners this year. An 18-month advertising and promotion deal signed recently with Lincoln-Mercury for its Villager minivan looks to be followed by a procession of brands you can’t find in the supermarket.

“We’re now signing sponsorship partners for a Blue’s Clues live tour,” says the only two-time promo All-Star. “You would be surprised at the list of companies signing up to approach two-to-five-year-old kids.”

Let’s see, what works with blue? There’s Big Blue – IBM – of course, and blue-chip stocks. Hey, does B.B. King have a new CD out this year?


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