From ignoble beginnings of direct marketing on TV -- whence sprang the Veg-O-Matic and the Flowbee -- Kidz Bop, the independent record company, is building a prepubescent empire of live events and consumer products.
For the uninitiated, Kidz Bop albums are simply compendiums of popular songs recorded in cover versions with kids doing the singing and any lyrics inappropriate to younger audiences changed. It's a simple formula that's sold millions of CDs since its launch six years ago, and it's been very good to co-founders Cliff Chenfeld and Craig Balsam: Their Razor and Tie music label saw an estimated $100 million in retail sales last year alone, powered largely by Kidz Bop purchases for and by kids age 6 to 11.
Scrubbing pop clean
Last week Kidz Bop 12 made its debut at No. 7 on the Billboard chart, marking the sixth-consecutive Kidz Bop album to debut in the Top 10. "We've created this sort of credibility with parents, because it moves their kids from Barney or Elmo but doesn't veer them into, say, Eminem," said Mr. Chenfeld. He added: "we're trying to filter the pop landscape for parents to find what's appropriate."
By gaining the trust of parents, Kidz Bop has also gained access to corporate marketers' favorite new catchphrase: co-consumption.
In short, co-consumption refers to any event or experience where parents and kids are willing to jointly participate. In the old days, this might simply have been called "supper time," but now its definition has been expanded beyond casseroles to include recreation and shopping. That has consumer brands, even automakers, salivating. According to MarketResearch.com's Packaged Facts, 39% of parents of 10- and 11-year-olds say their children have a "significant impact" on brand purchases.
The real-world results bear this out. For example, last year, Toyota Motor Corp. began a virtual promotion for its Scion brand: Counterintuitively, it was paying for the car's product placement in Whyville.net, an online community composed almost exclusively of 8- to 15-year-olds who couldn't legally drive.
Ten days into the campaign, the results were astonishing: Visitors to the site had used the word "Scion" in online chats more than 78,000 times; hundreds of virtual Scions were purchased using "clams" -- the greenbacks of Whyville -- and its online community "Club Scion" was visited 33,000 times.
This did not go unnoticed by Dodge's senior manager for brand communications, Mark Spencer. In October, Kidz Bop will launch its first live tour, presented by Dodge.
The show, which is booked through 30 cities across the country, is an extension of the Kidz Bop album formula, featuring kids singing the latest hit songs. But the concerts will show a custom-music video featuring kids singing and interacting with the 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan. "Kids are persistent and persuasive," said Mr. Spencer. "And they love the new dual DVD player in the Caravan."
If soccer moms in minivans will be "co-consuming" the Kidz Bop tour, that's "hugely exciting" for Janice Ross, VP-licensing for American Greetings, which last week reached a deal to launch a Kidz Bop line of greeting cards implanted with sound chips next June, to be carried at mass-market retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target and Kmart.
Moms buy more cards
According to Ms. Ross, while toys enjoy "the nag factor," of kids getting what they want by whining until it appears in their mitts, mothers are far and away most responsible for choosing greeting cards.
And as to Kidz Bop's appeal to kids? "It really sings to our younger audience in an authentic way," she said.
In the meantime, as any parent who's endured the sight of a grimy, tattered blankie dragging behind their child can attest, the only thing kids crave more than the brand spankin' new is the intensely familiar. Kidz Bop's relaunched website attempts to provide both: KidzBop.com includes a YouTube-like feature that permits kids to upload homemade music videos of the latest pop hits. Last month, the website boasted 4 million video streams and 650,000 unique visitors -- a sure sign that you don't have to be anywhere close to high school to love a musical.