Fast-feeder fantasies

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Major fast-food chains are relying on fantasy entertainment promotions to perform a marketing miracle in the fourth quarter.

"Since promotion tends to drive faster sales and there's been such skittishness in advertising and ad budgets, fourth-quarter promotions will be about trying to bring the year in," said Paul Kurnit, CEO of Omnicom Group's KidShop, New York.

Most observers agree tie-ins to "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is the promotion to beat over the holiday season. The young wizard will conjure up sales for its marketing partner, Coca-Cola Co., but he won't be seen in fast-food outlets, even though Coca-Cola is a soft-drink supplier to several major quick-service chains.

Burger King Corp. has a few of its own tricks up its sleeve. The Diageo chain is planning its biggest promotion of the year, aligning with "Lord of the Rings," a fantasy book turned New Line Cinema motion picture, and will spend "heavier than usual [on] media," to back it, according to one high-level executive close to the marketer. Besides a series of collectible figurines that connect to make a larger toy, the Diageo chain is preparing a massive interactive Web component through WPP Group's VML, Kansas City. Interpublic Group of Cos.' Campbell Mithun, Minn-eapolis, is preparing TV spots to back the effort.

McDonald's Corp., meanwhile, is offering a different interactive approach to fantasy and adventure. The world's largest burger purveyor is launching its first partnership with Toys `R' Us from Nov. 30 to Dec. 27. The Happy Meal promotion will include a mini-addendum of the toy retailer's famous "Big Book" with discounts exclusive to McDonald's customers on featured toys including Barbie Let's Camp gift set. TV, print and radio efforts from Bcom3 Group's Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, and multicultural spots via Publicis Groupe's Burrell Communications Group and Omnicom Group's Del Rivero Messianu/ DDB, Miami support the effort. In-store advertising will be handled by Publicis Groupe's Frankel, Chicago.

The thieving Grinch returns to Wendy's International from Nov. 19 through Dec. 30, in video format for the holiday season. Kids meals will include Grinch toys and a $3 rebate toward a DVD, videocassette or soundtrack purchase, along with a coupon for a free "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" movie rental at Viacom's Blockbuster Video. The Wendy's program is part of what Universal Home Video is calling its largest-ever marketing campaign. In-store and Web advertising via Cordiant Communications Group's Bates Worldwide, New York, will back Wendy's local market effort. Moreover, Wendy's will offer a limited time Dual Bacon Swiss burger during the holidays backed by commercials from Bates.

With the uncertainty brought by America's war against terrorism, the fast-feeders' escapist themes of mysticism and fantasy "are elixirs we all need at this point," said KidShop's Mr. Kurnit. "Fantasy is a comforting thing and there's great hope those promos will do well."

But that sentiment in itself may be wishful thinking. "In the fourth quarter the direction or the rate of economic recovery is going to be uncertain, so we could be headed for a very disappointing holiday for retail in general," said Allan Hickok, restaurant analyst for U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray, Minneapolis. "If that's the case, consumers who tighten their belts may become even more value conscious than even today."

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