Dora Launch Timely for Kmart, But Macy's and Pathmark Make Latin Mark, Too

Kmart has announced that it is launching a new licensed product line featuring Nickelodeon's popular Dora the Explorer character, and it's timing couldn't be better.

The launch certainly won't be the first for the Dora character. She already adorns all kinds of kids merchandise and, in fact, is probably the only Nic character today that rivals the popularity of the wildly successful SpongeBob SquarePants, who draws about 70 million viewers monthly, according to Nickelodeon's parent Viacom. Dora the Explorer has been rated the top pre-school program on U.S. television, the company stated.

What Kmart is launching is a particular line it will be handling exclusively dubbed Dora Loves Puppy. It will include apparel, toy and other goods ranging from bedding, to jewelry to sporting goods to home entertainment. The line will be supported by a online game at www.dorapuppy.com that's interactive in more ways than one. On the game microsite, designed for family participation, visitors can redeem specialty codes from merchandise for personalize printable puppy activities including adoption papers, digital downloads, themed games and screensavers.

To further boost the program's launch, Kmart has developed promotions and free offers including a Dora Loves Puppy poster that can be personalized with a favorite photo as part of a tie-in with Shutterfly.com. That free offer launched Sept. 13 and continues through Sept. 26. A Dora Loves Puppy DVD, available at $4.99 with a $20 Dora Loves Puppy purchase, will roll out as a follow up on Sept. 27 and remain available through Oct. 10.

The online element represents another expansion of Kmart's Internet marketing efforts, which previously have tied into movies and given the retailer the opportunity to create increasingly elaborate online marketing efforts and some excitement for the operation. The video deal also puts Kmart into the competition that's been developing among discounters in entertainment-related exclusive promotions. Walmart has been particularly aggressive with recent efforts developed around the band KISS and Myley Cyrus, but Target has been getting more involved as well, with a recent effort featuring the band Pearl Jam providing an interesting iTunes tie-in.

Back at Kmart, the Dora effort has the added virtue of providing a high-profile exclusive product line the company can promote for the holidays.

That isn't what makes the introduction timely, however. The beneficial timing comes more from the substance of the character. Dora is a Latino character meant to help children understand Hispanic culture a little better and provide them with some understanding of the Spanish language as well. However, Dora was developed to be a cross-cultural character, appealing to everyone whether they're Latino or simply interested in Latin culture as it is evolving in the United States.

While Kmart didn't link it directly, the announcement came just in time for Hispanic Heritage Month, and that's becoming a big deal. Retail is becoming more and more interested in participating in the event, which began Sept. 15 and runs through Oct. 15. Macy's, for example, is running what it characterizes as a celebration under the title Encanto Latino that will bring chef George Duran, of the Food Network show Ham on the Street as well as Carolina Buia and Isabel González, authors of Latin Chic, to select Macy's stores across the country for Hispanic Heritage Month. In store, they will share their viewpoints on Latin food, fashion and more. Stores where Macy's plans Hispanic Heritage Month culinary events operate in New York, Houston, San Antonio, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles and San Diego. Duran will cook up some of his most popular Latino dishes using IMUSA cookware, a brand partnering with Macy's for the promotion.

Macy's certainly isn't alone in embracing Hispanic Heritage Month and, in New York, will have competition from the Pathmark supermarket chain, which is hosting an afternoon of free activities and entertainment on Sept. 27 at New York's famed South Street Seaport. The event features music, dance, a salsa competition, prizes, giveaways and, naturally, samples of Latin foods.

In all three examples cited, the retailers seem intent on keeping their promotions as open as possible. Dora is meant to be cross-cultural, Macy's is running a varition on a common marketing practice, and Pathmark is holding its event at the venue that isn't tied an Hispanic landmark or neighborhood. Latinos are a growing element of the population and will double their proportions in the United States during the first half of the century. With the growth of the population will come an increasing influence on the mainstream culture, and that's what the retailers want to tap. So, expect more product launches, store events and sponsored celebrations in a future where Hispanic Heritage Month becomes a much bigger, more widely celebrated occasion and opportunity for retailers.