Looking to drum up more young adult viewers, Cartoon Network is expanding a program through which it recruits college students to promote its late-night "Adult Swim" block on campuses across the country.
Cartoon's college-rep program this fall will extend to 30 schools, up from 20, according to Greg Heanue, the network's senior director of marketing. The program, currently in operation at the University of Florida, the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Texas at Austin, among others, will add the University of Minnesota and Auburn University and eight other schools this autumn.
The schools were chosen based on their size and influence, said Heanue.
Last fall, Cartoon initiated the program by enlisting two juniors at each of the targeted schools, with a mandate to do three Adult Swim-related events a semester, in part by screening a tape of programming from the block at a venue, like a bar.
"They're our 24-hour spokespeople for the brand," Heanue said. "We just cut straight to the vein of marketing, and we're letting kids to talk to kids. It is true ownership marketing where we're giving the kids the power to own the brand, to spread the brand, in the way they see fit."
The first group of reps were sent to Cartoon's headquarters in Atlanta for intensive training about the network and Adult Swim, the adult-targeted animation block that now airs 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sunday through Thursday.
Ratings for the late-night block have been soaring among the 18-to-34 and 18-to-24 demographics this year.
Credit for reps
This past spring, Cartoon's college program was fully implemented, with the Cartoon rep-students — who get paid on a per-project basis and can receive credits for their work — directed to create and host the events or parties tailored to their school.
Each one is tied to a particular "Adult Swim" show. Heanue said the goal is "to interpret the programming and the branding in a way that was unique to their campus."
These promotions started out dedicated to Cartoon's most popular fare, such as Futurama, to "drill down" to original shows, according to Heanue. In March, for example, the theme of the college events was Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
Reps are provided with a three-hour reel of episodes of an Adult Swim show, which is played on TVs at the event site. The reps also set up games at the events — like "Pin the Beer" on Carl, a character from Aqua Teen
— and pass out Adult Swim premiums.
At this point, local venues are petitioning to have these Cartoon events at their location, according to Heanue.
At some participating campuses, the events started off with 100 or 200 people. But by the end of one semester, one such gathering at the University of Florida had just over 2,000 in attendance, Heanue added.
Advertisers are taking notice, Heanue said, and some plan to sponsor network campus events this fall.
Because of the demographics it's attracting, Cartoon Network sees its late-night animation block as competition for TNN, which is repositioning itself as a network for young men and is debuting an adult animation block, "The Strip."
Cartoon's Adult Swim block is No. 1 in its time period with adults 18 to 34 and men 18 to 34 and 18 to 24, generally TNN's target demo.
"They're kind of where we were when we started the block in September 2001," said Mike Lazzo, Cartoon's senior vice president for Adult Swim. "We started on Sunday, they're starting on Thursday. We were comedy and anime, they're just comedy."
Cartoon expanded its Adult Swim block to five nights a week in January. TNN's new animation block on Thursdays starts an hour earlier than Cartoon's, and ends at midnight.
Adult Swim has been white hot of late. On June 17, for example, Family Guy scored the highest adult 18-to-34 delivery ever for a single telecast, with more than 1 million viewers tuning in.
In May, "Adult Swim's" delivery of adults 18 to 34 was up 138%, with its ratings ahead 133%, according to Nielsen Media Research data provided by Turner Entertainment Research.
Young males are leading the way. Delivery of men 18 to 34, at 306,000, was up 229% with the ratings, at a 1.0, up 233%. For men 18 to 24, delivery increased by 219%, to 182,000, with ratings, at 1.4, up 180%.