In what's believed to be a category first, the confection giant this fall introduces a combination video game/candy dispenser called WonkaZoid that spokeswoman Trisha Bowles breathlessly calls "the most amazing product Nestle has launched in the last 10-15 years." Touted as a "boredom buster" for kids, the product will be distributed not only in candy stores but also in toy stores such as Toys R Us. It's the first of an aggressive slate of new products planned over the next few years to invigorate the company's Willy Wonka brand.
At the helm of the chocolate factory is Brian Owens, marketing director for Wonka, who plans to put renewed resources against the No. 3 candy brand to build its wow factor among skeptical retailers and kids.
Although Wonka trails well behind rivals Hershey and Mars, its sales actually have increased in a category that's flat, according to Information Resources Inc. data for the 52 weeks ended April 16 in food, drug and mass outlets excluding Wal-Mart. Those figures show Wonka sales up 20% to $83 million.
In sales materials, Nestle cites research showing there were 248 million computer and video games sold in 2004 (almost two per American household) and people spend an average of 65 minutes per day playing them. That research, combined with its own success with games on Wonka.com (a site Ms. Bowles said averages 1 million hits a month), gives Nestle hope that the idea for a video game/candy dispenser is a good one. The initial fleet of games,including Nerds Freeze Tag, SweeTarts Factory Flip-In, Nerds Hockey and Shockers Shockball Showdown, is expected to be refreshed every six months.
Nestle has spent little in measured media on Wonka-less than $1 million last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence. But WonkaZoid will get dedicated 15- and 30-second spots for kids cable and network TV as well as print. In-store displays also will be crucial. Nestle wouldn't confirm its agency, but the company is thought to be working with Dailey & Associates. Los Angeles.
If WonkaZoid does in fact take off, the product itself could be a great branding tool, said James Belcher, senior analyst at eMarketer.
"Games give you a more intimate relationship with the brand and, in the case of a game/dispenser, every time you go to play the game, the candy is there," Mr. Belcher said. As people's media patterns shift, that one-on-one relationship becomes priceless. For now, however, retailers presented with WonkaZoid are skeptical that consumers will shell out $5 to $7 for a Wonka-branded item, even if it is a video game complete with a built-in candy dispenser.