BK push banks on big kids

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MDonald's Corp. has long dominated the kids-meal market with its Happy Meals and Disney tie-ins, but Burger King is setting its sights on the fast-growing prepubescent crowd.

Armed with an $80 million budget and new research, and having picked an agency exclusively for kids marketing (Interpublic Group of Cos.' Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis), Burger King is aiming to leverage the space between kiddie and adult fare. While not abandoning the very young crowd, the No. 2 burger chain is centering its kids program around its Big Kids brand meals. The Diageo unit now offers three kids-meal options and three Big Kids meal options, plus toys for kids under 3.

"As kids get older they also become more interested in the food and want a flavor profile they like," said Richard Taylor, Burger King's VP-U.S. marketing, who admits the program is a big switch from 10 years ago, when the chain launched a kids-meal program with one set of meals for kids of all ages. Now, he says, "It's important that we're constantly offering what kids want at the appropriate time in their life."

Burger King does that by varying the flavor profile of its kids meals. "We think it's not always the case where kids want bland food," he said. As part of the marketing effort, Burger King will introduce food products to appeal to older kids.

Another difference is in premiums. Burger King chooses entertainment tie-in properties that skew a bit older. "We're not the brand that markets itself as a kiddie brand," he said.

But perhaps the biggest change is in how it Burger King talks to kids. Rather than target a specific age group, "We said you're a big kid whenever you're ready to be a big kid," said Mr. Taylor. "We're marketing to a kid's attitude about their age, how grown up they feel and how they like to be treated." Burger King plans to reinforce the notion that big kids are at the pinnacle of "kiddom" as research suggests. In a 1999 Nickelodeon/Yankelovich Youth Monitor poll of kids ages 9-11, 86% said they strongly liked being their age and 73% said they were in no hurry to grow up.

Although Burger King isn't talking about what direction its effort may take, a clue may come from a poll the agency conducted among kids age 9 to 12. It found when it came to fast food, kids' public and private lives collide. "Kids are influenced by wanting to go to the cool place or the place with cool stuff," said Jennifer Boehlke, account planner at Campbell Mithun's KidCom unit. "They talk about it at the lunchroom table at school."

But the ad message won't be communicated in an overt claim. "We would never go so far to say it's cool to go to Burger King because it's not cool to say you're cool," Mr. Taylor said.

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