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MCD'S SERVES UP COUPON TRIAL: HAPPY MEALS TESTED IN 9 MARKETS AS METHOD FOR REACHING PARENTS

By Published on .

McDonald's Corp. is evaluating the use of its Happy Meal packages to deliver coupons and other value-added incentives aimed at parents as part of an experiment in targeted marketing.

A nine-market test, developed in conjunction with the Parent-Source division of Targeted Mar-keting Solutions, involved gluing eight-page booklets to Happy Meal bags.

The experiment is an extension of the fast-food leader's seldom-discussed McMoms affinity program, which launched in 1994 and now has built up a mailing list of close to 1 million names, insiders say.

`INCREASE VALUE PERCEPTION'

"Our goal is to understand McDonald's customers and increase the value perception for their core customer base," said Nick Carter, national director of ParentSource.

Mr. Carter emphasized that McDonald's senior management has not yet committed to go national with the program. A McDonald's executive would not comment on the test, except to say the project is "very preliminary; we'll know more in about four to six weeks."

During the 10-day test, which began Nov. 1, Happy Meal pur-chasers in cities including Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Philadelphia found a booklet glued to the bag, containing family-oriented editorial on subjects including making a home first-aid kit, playground safety and dealing with parental stress.

The booklets also contained coupons for Fuji Photo Film USA's Fuji film and three brands from Mars Inc., Uncle Ben's Country Inn rice dishes, Pedigree dog food and Whiskas cat food; and a $5-off coupon for ordering a $14.95 ParentSource Resource Directory targeting that market.

`MAKE MOM COMFORTABLE'

Parents were offered a cash incentive to submit parenting observations and tips for possible inclusion in a future McMoms newsletter.

"It's a great way to make mom more comfortable about going somewhere that she might not want to go, beyond just keeping the kids happy," said restaurant consultant Ron Paul, president of Technomic.

Officials at Mars Inc.'s Kal Kan unit said the company bought into the program in September. "We haven't evaluated results yet, so we're not sure if we'll repeat" the promotion, said one official.

Another Mars official said the fit was natural, given the high incidence of pet owners among families with small children. The Ryan Partnership, Westport, Conn., handled placement for Mars' coupon drop.

The test featured distribution of 2.8 million copies, Mr. Carter said.

In addition, Targeted Marketing Solutions produces a twice-a-year ParentSource magazine sent to the McMoms mailing list. The magazine also includes coupons and a bound-in copy of the McMoms newsletter, produced by Frankel & Co., Chicago.

The chain compiled the list via in-store promotions in select markets and mail-in campaigns tied to films and premium promotions.

"With media as fragmented as it is, the more ways you have to get to your core customer base the better," Mr. Paul said.

Mr. Carter said the next phase of the test will be to use the outserts to acquire names for the McMoms program, with a sample of the editorial, additional coupons and the opportunity to sign up for the mailing list.

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