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Barney Gets a Marketing Makeover

18 Aug, 2002 By: Jessica Wolf

Barney's industrious little buddy Bob the Builder and newer kid franchises have been beating him out at the sales counter lately, but HIT Entertainment hopes its new marketing strategy will put some pep back in the purple franchise.

Last weekend, HIT and PBS launched a promotional event, Barney's Purple Park Tour, starting in New York's Battery Park; HIT has a multimillion-dollar television, print and outdoor advertising campaign starting in September just as the first new episodes of “Barney and Friends” in more than two years begin airing on PBS; and license partner Fisher Price has a new line of Barney-themed toys due this fall.

Barney, a kidvid staple since his video debut in 1988, has more competition in the kids arena than ever before, even from his own family. Four “Bob the Builder” titles (also from HIT) are sitting pretty on VideoScan's top 50 list of VHS children's titles year-to-date, two of them ranking well above the three Barney titles on the list. Bob's newest release, Bob the Builder: The Big Game, is the No.14 VHS seller, while Barney's latest, Barney's Beach Party, ranks No. 45.

Barney's TV ratings have dropped in the last few years as well, from 2.08 million children in his 1996-97 heyday (Barney first debuted on TV in 1994) to 1.07 million children this year, still a 6.6 share, according to Nielsen ratings.

HIT SVP of marketing Sue Beddingfield said the company has never lost sight of its preschool audience and doesn't really expect adults to get into Barney, or even expect children to continue to enjoy the purple dinosaur as they grow up.

What is important, Beddingfield said, and what is part of the focus of the new marketing push, is that parents realize Barney programming has educational value.

“The campaign, the park tour, is designed to drive tune-in [to the new Barney episodes] but also to reinforce that when children are watching and interacting with Barney, they're learning sharing and cooperation and academic skills,” Beddingfield said.

She cited research from a Yale children's television programming study that found more than 200 learning instances in a single Barney episode.

The latest TV episodes feature a new outdoor park setting as well as a new cast of kids, and creators are making Barney hip to technology by giving him a laptop computer. HIT's ad buy marks the first time the supplier has created TV ads to support the TV episodes, though the company frequently uses TV advertising for its roughly four direct-to-video Barney releases each year. Ads are aimed at both parents and kids.

The Purple Park Tour promotional event features games, toys and special appearances from Barney and will hit five cities across the country, Beddingfield said. Interested PBS affiliates had to petition HIT to score a Park Tour stop in their city, telling the company how they would support the event and Barney in general, Beddingfield said.

Barney also goes on tour for his fourth stage show in January, and a new video, Barney: Round and Round We Go, streets Aug. 27.

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