The film version of H.A. and Margaret Rey's classic child's tale " Curious George" proved a pleasant surprise for Universal Studios this summer. After moldering in development limbo for nearly a decade, the film grossed more than $58 million domestically.


But that was just the start.


"George" is proving to be a promotional gorilla. For Universal marketers, there was none of the indecision that marked the production process.


In a rare move for an animated film, the studio integrated Volkswagen, Dole Food Co. and the U.S. Post Office into the film. The two- to three-year lead-time cartoon films require for production normally deters advertisers from product placements, because their marketing plans and even the products could change in that time. The release dates of animated films also tend to shift more, presenting another obstacle for advertisers.


With a Namco video game and PBS series already in the marketplace, the studio last week bowed the DVD with a barrel full of commercial partners. They include Westlake Village-based Dole, Langers Juice Co. Inc. in City of Industry, French's Potato Sticks, Little Debbie, Carvel, Cold-EEZE and Time Inc.'s magazine Parenting.


"In today's marketplace, an average 60 percent of consumers who purchase a DVD have not previously seen the film in theaters," said Ken Graffeo, executive vice president of marketing at Universal. "Because a brand is missing more than half of a property's audience if it only participates during the theatrical campaign, taking part in a DVD campaign ensures the greatest awareness."


The retail partners will push awareness of the DVD while using George's familiar image to grab attention for their own products. For example, Dole will affix "George" stickers to 100 million bananas and hangers on 4.5 million pineapples as well as distributing 10,000 point-of-purchase displays.


Likewise, French's Potato Sticks will distribute 2.8 million "George" packages as well as 200,000 stickers. Langers will include "George" labels on 2 million juices, while Little Debbie will send mail-in rebate coupons for the DVD with 30 million snacks. Parenting magazine will feature a one-page advertorial in its October issue with a look at the "Curious George"/Dole interactive game online.


"We pitch properties, not platforms," said Stephanie Sperber, executive vice president at Universal Studios Partnerships, the company's product-placement division. "We work with corporate partners to find Universal properties that are appropriate for their brand. Only then do we begin discussing timing, execution and which window or windows offer them the greatest marketing value."


Cubicle Tunes
It's still not as prevalent as water cooler gossip and football pools, but listening to online radio is moving up the list of office goof-off opportunities.


Comscore Networks and Arbitron recently released numbers from a joint study showing that the average daytime audience for online radio networks topped 1 million people during the month of June. All together, more than 6 million different people, age 12 and older, tuned into the six networks in the study.


A significant share of this daytime audience listens to the radio at work. During summers and holidays the online audience declines, thanks to fewer people at their desks. Also, listening spikes during the 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. period, reaching a cumulative audience of almost 3.3 million.


"People are definitely listening to online at the office," said Diane Williams, manager of online radio ratings at Arbitron. "When people think of traditional FM radio, they think of the morning and afternoon drives as the peak periods, but it's midday for online radio."


Networks in the study included ESPN Radio, owned by Burbank-based Walt Disney Co.; Live365, which has a large Hollywood office; Microsoft's MSN Radio; and Clear Channel Online Music & Radio. The largest networks by audience were Yahoo Music (average of 1.5 million listeners) and AOL Radio Network (1.1 million), owned by Time Warner Inc.


At the five networks measured in both 2005 and 2006, audience increased 38 percent. The data come from a panel of online listeners provided by Comscore who load a program onto their computer. The program tracks online listening and sends the information to Arbitron.


Williams said the methodology focuses on the original source of radio programming, and thus provides no geographically specific data. Listeners can access ESPN programs, for example, at the ESPN site or at the sites of dozens of radio stations around the country that simulcast the signal. The study only captures those who plug into ESPN directly, as a gauge to measure advertising at the ESPN site.


News & Notes
Kastner & Partners in Santa Monica has become the advertising agency of record for Breville, a maker of upscale home appliances. The estimated $5 million account in billings include creative, strategic and media buying functions, as well as packaging and point-of-purchase display design. The agency plans a national magazine campaign this year followed by cable and out-of-home buys in 2007. Players Network Inc. has signed a national advertising deal with Gorilla Nation Media to bring advertisers to Players' gambling Web site. Los Angeles-based GNM, the world's largest online ad rep firm, will sell ads that show before and after videos, as well as traditional banner-type ads, on playersnetwork.com.


Staff reporter Joel Russell can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 237, or at
jrussell@labusinessjournal.com.

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