The NFL and McDonald's are teaming up to launch their first Happy Meal promotion.
Both the NFL and McDonald's target young kids as key consumers early and often. They'll offer kids 32 "Rusher" figures (representing the NFL's 32 teams) through Dec. 12. Each toy figure throws or kicks a mini-football and is based on each individual club's team mascot and history. The promotion ties in with Nickelodeon's premiere of the third season premiere of "Rush Zone" on Wednesday, Nov. 20.
McDonald's signed a multi-million, multi-year deal to become the NFL's official restaurant sponsor last fall. From the beginning, the NFL eyed the kind of Happy Meal promotion that big marketers such as Disney have pulled off over the years with the Golden Arches.
"For us, kids are a major priority, especially kids in that 6-13 window. That's why we launched 'Rush Zone' in the first place. This now takes it to another level," said Mr. Peter O'Reilly, the NFL's VP-fan strategy and marketing.
McDonald's confirmed the plan in a statement: "We have elevated our partnership with the NFL this year with the integration of our Mighty Wings Campaign, NFL Runner Digital App, NFL McDonald's Arch Card, and NFL Pocket Schedules to bring the fun and excitement of the NFL to our customers. The Rush Zone Happy Meal allows our youngest customers to get into the action."
McDonald's is rolling out an extensive TV, print, online and in-store campaign to support the promotion, according to Mr. O'Reilly. Leo Burnett, Chicago, is creating the ads. The TV spot breaking today features an older animated spot meant to promote better-for-you Happy Meals giving way to the "Rush Zone" promo.
The Golden Arches has been stepping up its marketing activities with the NFL. McDonald's served as presenting sponsor of the NFL's Pro Bowl and will do so again this season.
So why a Happy Meal?
'Locked in for life'
"With the focus on NFL Rush Zone, and the growth of that property, it really seemed like a natural fit," answered Mr. O'Reilly. "Not that we haven't been doing a lot of things in the kids space for a long time. But this was just the perfect marriage, now that we have a property of our own with strong media support behind it."
The NFL's research indicate kids who become fans of NFL teams during their elementary school years are "locked in for life," said Mr. O'Reilly.
So the league has been trying to step up its appeal to kids 6-14 years of age. The strategy is having an impact, especially among young girls, he said.
Nearly 23 million kids aged 6-14 watched the NFL during the 2012 season. And 46% of them were girls. Through nine weeks of the 2013 season, viewership in the demo grew 1%. But viewership among girls rose 9.5%.
The NFL has been getting slammed recently over the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin bullying scandal with the Miami Dolphins franchise and the danger from concussions and brain injuries caused by tackle football. The league has fought back by having celebrity football fans such as Dr. Oz praise the values instilled by the game in TV spots.
So how will the NFL handle criticism it's trying to take advantage of impressionable young consumers with the Happy Meal promo?
The key is to be authentic, said Mr. O'Reilly. Yes, the Nickelodeon Rush Zone series is fun and exciting. But each episode also teaches lessons about good values, teamwork and perseverance. "That's one of the reasons why the show is rating with kids and parents. That trickles down into everything we do," he said.