In the latest of several licensing ventures, the 332-unit chain has linked with toy company Wham-O for a branded Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Oven. The oven allows kids to cook a real pizza at home, and is the chain's biggest licensing deal since it started the practice about three years ago.
The company also markets six branded frozen-food items in some 700 supermarkets, including Wal-Mart Stores' Super Centers in Texas and Florida, and sells various toys playing off the Chuck E. Cheese mouse mascot.
IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS
The oven will be launched in October with a 30-second spot from Wham-O agency Towne, Silverstein, Rotter, New York, timed to the holiday selling season. The spot, to be backed by an estimated $1 million in spending on national children's programming, will run through November.
Chuck E. Cheese's, operated by CEC Entertainment, spends about $20 million per year on advertising. The Wham-O advertising is separate from the chain's own kids-targeted campaign, handled by Zambrelli, New York.
"This is an opportunity for us to extend our brand and evolve our character," said Jon Rice, VP-marketing for Chuck E. Cheese's. "The pizza oven seemed to be a natural outgrowth of our brand and our character."
Irma Zandl, president of kids marketing consultancy the Zandl Group, said licensing is a good strategy for Chuck E. Cheese's.
"It's a great brand name for kids. They love it. It totally represents fun." However, she said the project has a risk if the pizza the kids cook isn't as tasty as the restaurant's pizza. "That would take away from the perception of the brand."
MORE FUN WITH CHUCK E.
The deal was devised by Wham-O, based on research that found kids associated Chuck E. Cheese's with fun more than the larger pizza chains, said Kristin McCloskey, brand manager for the San Francisco toy company. The oven is part of Wham-O's food play line, which is targeted to girls ages 5 to 9, and includes the Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream Maker and Mrs. Fields Baking Factory. Also slated this fall is a Baskin-Robbins Shake & Smoothie Swirler.
Ms. McCloskey said the oven, which hits stores in August, is viewed as a potential 20% slice of the privately held company's business.
Chuck E. Cheese's is different from national pizza giants Pizza Hut, Domino's and Little Caesars. It not only peddles pizza but entertainment, too. While food is important to the $379 million chain's bottom line, the stage shows and games are the big draw.
The oven, with a suggested retail price of $24.99, will include a link back to the restaurants via four tokens to play free games at the chain. There also will be incentives to visit the restaurant inside ingredient refill packs. The toy includes shelf-stable dough, pizza sauce, cheese and recipe cards.
In the TV spot, set to run through November, a computer-animated Chuck E. Cheese character pops out of the oven. Then three kids are shown making the pizza step