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Kids, It's Chuck E. Cheese, Por Favor

Television * The pizza restaurant chain's bilingual commercials on Nickelodeon have meshed nicely with the network's Latino programs.

April 14, 2001|DANA CALVO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For seven years, Chuck E. Cheese, the huge pizza place and play center chain, has advertised on Nickelodeon, the top-rated children's cable network. In 15-second spots, the chain's mouse mascot has promised to deliver fun for kids and a brief respite for exhausted parents.

So when Nickelodeon executives began talking up their new cluster of Latino-themed programs last year, Chuck E. Cheese marketers paid for a different kind of commercial--one that had never been aired on a national, English-language television network: the chain's mascot mouse in a bilingual commercial.

What's nearly as noteworthy as the short spot, however, is the relative calm that has followed. Ten weeks have passed since the commercial began running in January, and all is well. The network hasn't received a deluge of complaints, as local broadcasters did in 1999 when Chevron Corp. ran an ad in Spanish on their stations, which irritated some English-speaking viewers.

The new commercial is 70% English and 30% Spanish, with a Spanish tag line running across the bottom of the screen that, translated to English, means, "The real cool place to be a kid."

"In our case, these programs already had Spanish words in them," explained Dottie Alexander, director of broadcast media at CEC Entertainment Inc., which owns the more than 300 Chuck E. Cheese restaurants worldwide. "It's not a political thing. It fits in and doesn't stick out, and we didn't even anticipate it offending anyone."

Industry observers agree, saying the Chuck E. Cheese spots meshed with the network's Latino-themed programming.

"That's unique right now," said Cynthia Perkins-Roberts, director of marketing development for the Cable Television Advertising Bureau. "It's important to note that it aired during English-language programming with Hispanic cultural themes and characters."

Moreover, the spots are not locally placed for cities with large Latino populations but national ads that have been inserted during Latino-themed programs.

"Normally we sell a run of schedule, [rotating] throughout our programming, but in this case we permitted them to isolate and fix the spots on these programming," said Susan M. Danaher, executive vice president for Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite and TV Land.

Chuck E. Cheese's bilingual ad on Nickelodeon is an extension of a Spanish-language campaign the company undertook two years ago that included placing spots on Univision and Telemundo, the United States' two largest Spanish-language television networks.

"We saw this as an opportunity to reach that segment of the market that is bilingual," Alexander said.

*

The commercial rotates between Nickelodeon's three Latino-themed shows--"Taina," "Dora the Explorer" and "The Brothers Garcia."

"The Brothers Garcia," which executive producer Jeff Valdez describes as a Latino "The Wonder Years," follows a middle-class Latino family from the viewpoint of their youngest son. The show will begin its second season this month.

"We found that kids like little bits of Spanish in the show. We had Spanish in the first seven episodes, and they were fine with it," Valdez said, which he views as evidence that young viewers would be just as receptive to Spanish during commercial breaks.

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