MEDIA: STRATEGY OF THE WEEK - HEINZ BITE ME. Heinz is trying to tap into the teenage mind with cartoon characters

Heinz's new frozen range for the teenage market is called "Bite Me". An inviting prospect, no doubt, for the nation's youth but Heinz decided it needed a daring creative and media strategy to communicate the launch.

In looking for a fresh approach, Heinz decided against awarding the £3.5 million brief to a traditional creative agency (Leo Burnett would usually have been in line for the business) instead handing the task to Viacom Plus. It provides creative and media solutions for clients using its parent Viacom's media brands.

"It is important to engage with teenagers as they are advertising- savvy, cynical and fickle," Rebecca Thomas, the brand manager for Heinz Bite Me, says. "A straightforward ad campaign wouldn't make the emotional connection which is crucial for this audience."

Viacom Plus' creative concept is based around a group of animated characters, named Tubez, Toast, Wedge and Heinz 57, collectively known as the "Bite Me Crew". They represent the microwaveable snacks in the range: pizza wedge, garlic "pizza toast", French bread slices and the pizza tube.

The campaign is spearheaded by TV creative that consists of a series of 26 60-second, animated soap operas called The Adventures of the Bite Me Crew. Each episode will run for a week, using storylines that aim to reflect activities including playing video games or going to the movies.

"Working with Heinz, we wanted to do something that would appeal to students and to 14- to 15-year-olds, so we took some cartoon characters that are like a cross between The Simpsons and South Park," Daniel Salem, the creative director at Viacom Plus, says. "We wanted to reflect young people's lives back at them, not just say here is a product and how much it costs. We can use the characters across the Viacom portfolio."

Although Viacom Plus claims it is not aiming to muscle in on ad agencies, the Heinz deal, which was brokered by Heinz's media planning and buying agency, Starcom Motive, has the potential to be a cost-effective campaign.

If it is successful, the deal could result in Heinz reconsidering where to assign future creative briefs.

"We have produced a lot of executions for not a lot of money," Salem says. "This is much cheaper than a traditional TV commercial, which can cost up to £300,000 for one quality 30-second ad."

The spots aim to mimic the type of programming that the target market watches. The media planning and buying reflects this. The adventures will run most frequently on Viacom channels such as MTV and Nickelodeon. Shows such as The Osbournes and Punked will feature heavily in the schedule.

Comic strip-style creative has been developed for bus sides and London Underground. A tie-in with the video rental chain Blockbuster will see creative run in the September and October issues of two of Blockbuster's customer publications, one based on games and one for films, that reach around 700,000 consumers. The ads offer readers the chance to enter a competition to have a storyline made into a television ad.

An SMS competition will run on MTV that will introduce the characters and celebrate the launch of the products as well as the competition. Counter-top postcards will feature in UCI cinemas.

Heinz has also commissioned Viacom Plus to develop radio creative. Online activity includes a micro site (www.heinzbiteme.com) that will feature all creative. It will act as a hub to host interactive content and represent the colourful world inhabited by the characters. Consumers can download ring tones of the Heinz Bite Me theme tune and logos of the characters. There is also an adventure game, an archive of all episodes and features on the characters.

In addition to the Viacom package, Heinz is communicating to mums using outdoor posters near supermarkets and magazine ads supported by in-store sampling.

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