KidCom goes to Paris

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Interpublic Group of Cos. has quietly launched under the McCann-Erickson WorldGroup banner a Paris outpost of KidCom, the kid marketing unit of sibling Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. The move comes as McCann and rival Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi ready for a global food fight in the kid-targeted cereal business.

McCann currently manages roughly two dozen General Mills dry-cereal brands. The total includes six Big G cereal brands in North America via Campbell Mithun, and at least 16 brands for Cereal Partners Worldwide, the global joint venture of General Mills and Nestle, according to Don Kvam, exec VP-packaged goods business team unit leader for Campbell Mithun.

"As General Mills has become more of a global company, they are moving more towards a global brand-alignment structure," said Mr. Kvam. General Mills consolidated its agencies in May, cutting Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, Chicago, from the mix. It also combined its $450 million media-buying duties at Zenith Media, jointly owned by Publicis Groupe and Cordiant Communications Group, from an original team of four shops. Universal McCann, London, handles media for Cereal Partners in the U.K.

In 1998, Saatchi began winning overseas cereal assignments from Cereal Partners, which was formed in 1989; until then, McCann had been the exclusive agency of record. Saatchi has since chipped away at McCann's share of the world cereal business with global wins of the Cheerios and Trix brands. Saatchi now claims roughly 10 U.S. and overseas brand assignments, which observers estimate to represent between 10% and 20% of the Cereal Partners portfolio. Saatchi in 1987 exported its U.S.-based Kid Connection unit to London and later Puerto Rico and Hong Kong, a move that some say tipped the scales for its wins.

"We believe we have a strategic advantage in the youth area via Kid Connection," said Michael Burns, managing partner of Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, and worldwide account director for its General Mills account. He sees McCann's addition of KidCom as a reactive move.

Campbell Mithun bought itself back from Saatchi in 1995. Interpublic then bought the agency.

A General Mills spokeswoman said the way accounts are assigned is a proprietary method by brand and by country. "We're not moving any assignments," she said, adding that she wouldn't comment on whether there was new business up for grabs.

Market dominance in the world cereal business depends heavily on the small-fry consumers, since kids are the key to breaking overseas consumers' non-cereal breakfast habits, said Mike Nelson, senior VP, McCann-Erickson WorldGroup, Paris, who runs the Cereal Partners account. Kellogg Co. is the world leader in the ready-to-eat cereal category with 37% global volume share, according to a January 2001 report by Moody's Investor Services. Cereal Partners' share of the world cereal market is estimated at 21%, a General Mills spokeswoman confirmed.

"As cereal categories develop it starts with kids," Mr. Nelson said. "In Asia, you're not going to change an adult's habits to breakfast cereal. You have to start with one or two generations to ... get to family consumption."

Cereal Partners, therefore, wants to understand what motivates kids around the world, said Mr. Nelson, who added that studying kids in the U.S. is not necessarily the same as studying them in international markets. He noted that while children drive 33% of North American cereal sales, the percent is higher overseas, by an amount he wouldn't quantify. Enter KidCom.

"McCann will use its global network and infrastructure to gather and analyze data using KidCom platforms. "You can have local market knowledge but what you need is a central knowledge bank that can take local marketing information and analyze and interpret it to formulate regional and global trends and global brand strategies and initiatives," Mr. Nelson said. The information can also be used to craft promotions, package design and quick-response initiatives from testing product concepts, brand positioning and advertising. "It enables the agency to compress [its] timelines and create greater efficiencies."

The Paris KidCom unit has four dedicated staffers and will expand as the unit refines its operations. The idea is to leverage KidCom's expertise throughout the McCann-Erickson WorldGroup, said Tim Hawley, senior VP-general manager of KidCom in Minneapolis. He said KidCom hopes to add KidCom capabilities to existing McCann offices in Singapore, London and possibly Mexico City by 2002 and Sao Paulo in 2003.

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