Getting to the Geeks


With almost a strictly animated television show schedule, it’s interesting to look at a channel like Cartoon Network because the network tries to appeal to both children and adult audiences. In this branding analysis I look at both children and adult identities that are being formed, as Cartoon Network is trying to tap into the new alternative audiences.


First, to look at age demographics from a seemly children’s cartoon network, it is curious to analyze Cartoon Network’s audiences because they try to appeal to many different age pools. The Retail Merchandiser magazine states that it is first and foremost contains children programming, with primarily animated shows. Their target audience is “6-14 year olds, leaning towards boys but not excluding girls.” This audience is usually attracted to video games, apparel, and footwear “with a large emphasis on boys action brands.” They also try to appeal to younger kids with cartoon programs like Chowder, Flapjack, or Adventure Time. In addition to younger crowds, they also have a late night program called “Adult Swim” that plays cartoon shows targeted at older audiences as well as more mature animes.


Beyond the target audience age groups, specifically within the 6-14 year old window, it seems that Cartoon Network likes to appeal to more alternative audiences. While Nickelodeon, its leading contender, appeals to the “masses” or the more common kid, Cartoon Network usually has more action packed, fantastical television shows. This may appeal to those going against the grain, they usually air shows that are a little more frightening, like The Grimm Adventures of Billy and Mandy, or Courage the Cowardly dog. In addition to the adolescent programming, “Adult Swim” also attracts the nerd or geek population with shows like Robot Chicken and American Dad, as well as more alternative cult-followed animes.


However, while the network does appeal to younger audiences, something else that’s notable is they also subtly appeal to an older generation, and not just through “Adult Swim” programs. Sarah Banet-Weiser states in her article that Nickelodeon “establishes a discrete boundary between adults and children” creating a brand identity and a specific consumer market within children to “empower” them and claim to be on “the kids’ side.” While this is true for Cartoon Network’s contender, Cartoon Network tends to blur the lines between age groups with these programs. Cartoon Networks’s shows like Adventure Time and Steven Universe have a large amount of adult cult followers. In addition to more current shows appealing to an older generation, Cartoon network has made a point to bring back more retro brands like Powerpuff Girls and Johnny Bravo for the older generations, tapping into a nostalgic audience market.


After researching more and more about Cartoon Network’s programs and marketing styles, I was coming across more and more of their accounts of trying to be alternative and quirky. In the brands starting days, they created television on-air promos with short, attention grabbing clips with funny as well as quality content for the small amount of time they were allotted. “The promo work helped Cartoon Network develop an incisive, funny, skewed way of looking at things and a brand identity that has stuck to this day (Liesse, 2).” Cartoon Network writer Michael Ouweleen called these promos “the YouTube before YouTube” because it took advantage of audiences’ shift in interest towards short, funny clips (Liesse, 2). It was through this that I found the solidification of the obscure, oddball advertising tactic. The “geek,” alternative, and funny identity is being manifested from this branding method.


Finally, I found that Cartoon Network has a large online presence, with “one of the Internet’s top-rated entertainment websites” (Liesse, 1). Looking at their website, it can be seen that this is mostly geared towards the 6-14 year old crowd with games relating to television programs on the network. Because their programs are more fantastical and imaginative, I concluded that the branding lifestyle their trying to creative is an interactive platform for kids to experience their favorite TV shows further than just watching it on the television.


“Cartoon Network Enterprises.” Retail Merchandiser. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Liesse, J. “Cartoon Network Turns 20.” (n.d.): 1-4. Advertising Age. 20 Oct. 2012. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.


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