John Miller….a Pioneer in Kids’ Marketing

In the recent ElectronicRetailer article Who Says Kids’ Products Don’t Sell on DRTV? infomercial expert Tim Hawthorne discusses the expanding Kids Products market. He calls John a pioneer in the field, as a result of Hutton Miller having helped build thekids’ category with Better Blocks, Floam, Bendaroos and Pixos. Tim is the insightful author of The Complete Guide to Infomercial Marketing.

Armed with an insatiable appetite for the unique, pretty, soft and cuddly, today’s kids want more toys, dolls, art kits, pillows, music and entertainment than ever. They don’t even have credit cards yet, but their voices and buying habits are already being heard – and heeded – in many households.

Answering the call is a group of manufacturers and marketers who have their fingers on the pulse of the children’s market. They work in a category that hasn’t historically ranked high on the DRTV charts despite the fact that it racks up millions of unit sales annually.

Targeted to toddlers, preteens, teenagers and their parents, fun and educational products often translate into successful retail, web and catalogue plays. That not only helps extend brand life – Kidz Bop, for example, is currently in its 14th version – but also ensures that the products reach multiple generations of children over time.

Market research firm Packaged Facts reports that the kids’ market reached more than $21 billion in disposable income in 2010 and that families spent more than $115 billion on kids in key consumer areas such as food, clothing, personal-care items, entertainment and reading materials. The fact that kids have a lot to say about how that money is spent translates into major opportunities for marketers who get into the minds of these young buyers and figure out what they want.

Sometimes the answer lies in the simplest of ideas. Bees, ladybugs, dogs and unicorns took on new identities in 2003 when Doug Fowkes introduced the world to Pillow Pets. The folding stuffed animals have since morphed into an entire line of plush products that includes blankets, hats and even bedroom slippers. The concept of an animal-shaped pillow is simple enough, but it took Fowkes’ marketing genius and a boost from DRTV to turn these products into a real goldmine.

John Miller, a pioneer who helped build the kids’ category with Better Blocks, Floam, Bendaroos and Pixos, is current president and creative director at Hutton-Miller in Boca Raton, Fla. Miller says those early products – plus newer innovations like Happy Nappers and the Gyro Bowl – have all helped to drive the children’s category.

“We realized early on that success in this category depended on how excited children got over the products, and whether they could get their parents to pick up the phone and place order,” Miller says. “We call it ‘pester powers’ and it works very well with kids’ products.”

However, the children’s category can be fickle: Kids sniff out inferior products quickly and jettison them to the bottom of the toy box. “The key is to produce and advertise quality products that truly excite the child,” says Miller, who calls DRTV the “jumping off point” for all other distribution channels. “DRTV toy commercials have evolved from simply introducing products to creating categories that everyone jumps in on.”

Robert Yusim, president of Product Counsel DRTV in Winnipeg, helped bring to market DRTV Products Moon Sand, Moon Dough, Air Hogs and Vectron Wave. He says the most successful children’s DRTV Shows center on fun creative treatments that include the appropriate balance of product demonstrations, fun displays and “magic transformations” that ooh and ah the young audience. “Getting kids to react and then lobby their parents is the hardest part,” Yusim says. “You can only do that through compelling creative.”

The momentum established by the many children’s products that left their mark on the DRTV world has opened doors for companies seeking a direct channel for their youth-oriented products. Both infomercials and short-form commercials have proven themselves effective ways to sell kids’ products and to create brand awareness and desire among a diminutive but influential component of today’s households.

Timothy Hawthorne is founder, chairman and executive creative director of Hawthorne Direct, a full-service DRTV and new media ad agency founded in 1986. Since then, Hawthorne Direct has produced or managed more than 800 direct response TV campaigns. Tim is a co-founder of the Electronic Retailing Association and is the author of the definitive DRTV book The Complete Guide to Infomercial MarketingTim was honored with the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award by the Electronic Retailing Association in 2006.