'Superstars' of spending

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When H.J. Heinz Co. wanted to boost sales of a product it had been marketing since the 1870s, it turned to the group that was already consuming most of the venerable condiment. Kids.

Last fall, Heinz unfolded a huge line-extension success story with EZ Squirt ketchup-green, vitamin C-fortified, and packaged in a plastic bottle with Halle Berry-like curves and a super-thin-stream nozzle that lets youngsters paint designs on their hot dogs and fries. Even before Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, broke ad support for EZ Squirt, the Iowa plant that cooks up the ketchup was simmering around the clock, seven days a week.

Analysts expect the new ketchup to spice up Heinz's 50% share of the $1 billion category. Before EZ Squirt arrived on shelves, kids under age 12 were already the No. 1 consumers of ketchup.

Two new commercials for EZ Squirt broke last month, highlighting the fun of using the condiment, and the advertising "illustrates Heinz's commitment to the new product and the strategy of marketing directly to our No. 1 consumer, kids," says Casey Keller, managing director-ketchup, condiments and sauces at Heinz North America.

Heinz is by no means alone in seeking to tap into kid power. While various consultants' spending estimates for kids may vary, all proclaim the purchasing power of today's children. And a prime group of potential spenders is the tween segment, those kids ranging from about 9 to 12 years old.

"Kids 4 to 12 are today's big-spending superstars in the consumer constellation," says James U. McNeal, president of McNeal & Kids Youth Marketing Consultants.

Here's some kid clout: The income of the 36 million or so children ages 4 to 12 grew 15% annually during the last decade to $31.7 billion, an average $16.31 per kid per week in 1999. The spendthrift kids saved only 8% of their income, according to McNeal & Kids.

What's more, the 4-to-12 set annually influences a jaw-dropping $565 billion of their parents' purchases-think the car, the yard furniture, the trip to Disney World (or to the newly family-friendly Las Vegas).

As Timothy Jarrell, VP-publishing director at Sports Illustrated for Kids, notes, "In my house we drink the soda the kids want, and we see the movies they want to watch."

"Theatrical releases, summer products and packaged goods" are filling up the second quarter, according to Barbara Bekkedahl, exec VP-sales for Fox Family Worldwide. "Marketers are aiming broader-based movies at the kid/tween demographic. It's the same with packaged goods ... extending brand messaging from teens to tweens." The 9-to-14-year-old group now makes up 53% of the Fox Family Channel audience.


Marketers are clamoring for kids' and tweens' attention. According to McNeal & Kids, advertisers shelled out more than $12 billion in 1999 to woo 4-to-12-year-olds: $2 billion for print, TV and radio advertising; $2.5 billion each for packaging and sales promotions; and the remainder for public relations, event marketing and production. (Web outlays were minuscule.) And those figures represent only direct promotions to kids-dollars spent to court families are excluded.

Advertisers forked over $816 million in 1999 to top-dog kids network Nickelodeon, up 16% from '98, according Competitive Media Report-ing. And they doled out a total of $1.8 billion to the four leading kids networks, which also include Cartoon Network, Fox Family and the WB.

Even with an anticipated economic slowdown, experts expect outlays for youth-targeted ads to grow 10% to 15% annually. Mr. Jarrell says 2000 was a record year at SI for Kids, both in ad pages and revenue, which jumped 16% to $18.1 million.

The upfront kids selling season won't break for a few weeks, but Ms. Bekkedahl notes that "scatter sales for kids have been solid this season, leading us to believe the upfront should be on firmer footing than the last few seasons." She also anticipates that the "softened market for prime is distinct from kids."


To snag a preteen audience, advertisers are hiring child psychologists and other experts to understand the segments and nuances of the youth market. "Only a decade ago, advertisers lumped all kids into one broad category. Now they realize age segmentation is essential," says Tim Coffey, CEO of WonderGroup, a youth consultancy in Cincinnati.

At WonderGroup, the red-hot tween market (8-12) is subsegmented. "After all," says Mr. Coffey, a 12-year-old is 50% older than a kid who is 8."

Now, thick green stuff in cool squirt bottles-indisputably, that's a toy for kids of all ages.

"With EZ Squirt [kids] have independence, and they can personalize their food," says Brendan Foley, general manager-global ketchup, condiments and sauces, Heinz North America. "We wanted to better address the needs of kids and deliver a product that they could make their own."

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