Is Your Brand a Family 'Pleaser' or Family 'Disappointer'?

Researcher Smarty Pants Finds Five Brands That Are in and Five That Are out With Both Parents and Kids

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YORK, Pa. ( -- Think the Nintendo Wii is yesterday's news and Burger King still rocks? Then you're not on the same page with typical American families.

Youth and family market researcher Smarty Pants' second annual survey of children and their parents revealed that the Wii is still tops with families, while Burger King took one of its biggest brand drops of 2010. "We often find that the news and media hype doesn't always sync up with what's important or interesting to families," said Wynne Tyree, founder and president of Smarty Pants.

Smarty Pants ranked 271 brands this year (up from 260 last year) across 29 characteristics in its "Young Love" survey. The online query of more than 4,700 kids aged 6 to 12 and their parents begins with the parents taking the survey; they are then interrupted to invite their children to complete a mini-questionnaire. Ms. Tyree went through the data with Advertising Age and culled five "family pleaser" brands, as well as several "family disappointers."

Family Pleasers

American families are having lots of fun playing Wii and ranked it as the top family brand, No. 1 with kids and No. 4 with parents. The Wii has become an icon for bringing families together, a key common thread among all the top brands of the survey. But overall it's just fun, an attribute that ranked highest for kids and parents.

The classic crayon brand owned by Hallmark scores high for nostalgia and trust with parents, but has also figured out how to innovate with outdoor, glow-in-the-dark, 3-D and even digital products that build out its core creativity message to a less typical Crayola audience, such as older boys and tech fans. Parents and kids both like the contemporary ads from McGarryBowen that aptly reflect Crayola's new vibe.

Disney Channel
The positive Disney brand halo is certainly a factor in the TV network's top ranking in the survey at No. 4 with kids and No. 9 with parents, but the Disney Channel itself bests other kid-focused channels thanks to its content, all-family entertainment and a cool ethos. "Everything Disney Channel does is cross-platform," Ms. Tyree said. "It is really good at consistently being in front of families across media and consumer products. And it's all something families feel good about."

Parents were already fans, but kids' appreciation for Pepperidge Farm's Goldfish jumped this year from No. 49 on the kid list up to No. 20. (Parents held steady at No. 8). Recent hit for kids this year were the addition of Goldfish Grahams flavors (begun in 2009) and this summer's S'mores version. Now offering more than 20 varieties of tiny-fish snacks, this trusted and healthful ranked brand is perceived as a one-stop, all-family snack.

Kraft Macaroni & Cheese
Remember the TV commercials earlier this year where the moms stole bites of Mac & Cheese off the kids' plates? That's exactly where the appeal lies. Great taste was the top attribute for kids and No. 3 for parents in their assessment of the brand. Only McDonald's scored higher in taste as a food brand (not counting confections) for kids. It's like "vanilla ice cream," said Ms. Tyree. "The whole family agrees on it and likes it."

Family Disappointers

'Grand Theft Auto'
It's no surprise that a violent and mature-rated video game would fall short with parents -- it was dead last at No. 271. However, you might think that the kids -- who often want to emulate older siblings and are curious about forbidden things -- might still be drawn to the game. Not the case. "GTA" also ranked surprisingly low with kids at No. 256. That goes back to the age group. This group of kids 6 to 12 is still very interested in pleasing their parents. They commented in the survey that it's not a game they could enjoy or feel good about because they know their parents don't approve.

The pinch of the economy is a key reason Starbucks ranked low with families. But it's not only the cost of the coffee that put it at No. 259 with kids and No. 164 with parents. (OK, very young children don't drink coffee but Starbucks also sells more kid-friendly hot cocoa and flavored milks and juices.) With less-expensive coffee that tastes good now available at McDonald's and other quick-serve food joints, families are less likely to go out of their way to find a Starbucks. Tween girls in particular said they've made the switch from Starbucks to McDonald's for their frappes and frothy drinks.

Burger King
With kids, Burger King fell from No. 21 to No. 61 and with parents and plummeted with kids from No. 56 to No. 117. Ms. Tyree cited its crude humor in marketing and gigantic calories on its menu in creating a chasm with families. Even its kids' meals caused a disconnect: Toys last year included Transformers, GI Joe, and Star Trek, all from movies rated PG-13, while many 13-year-olds are already beyond even Big Kids' meals. And healthy eating, a key parent concern, is addressed minimally.

Wrigley's Bubble Tape
This is another brand that sank precipitously for kids and parents from No. 45 to No. 79 with kids and from No. 134 to No. 173 with parents. However, in this case, it's an awareness issue. With little advertising money behind Bubble Tape the brand is rapidly receding in mind share with it audience. "It's a classic novelty confection that parents do allow, but the divestment in (kids') food marketing has caused brand scores to drop," Ms. Tyree said.

Mountain Dew
PepsiCo's Mountain Dew lost traction with kids and parents in 2010, down to No. 139 from No. 90 with kids, and to No. 222 from No. 186 with parents. However, all the Pepsi brands in the survey dropped this year, while Coke brands stayed steady. A promise to not market to kids under 12 by Pepsi is likely a reason, Ms. Tyree said. While Coke follows that same guideline, it does do product placement on "American Idol," a popular shows with young children.

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