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Get 'em While They're Young : With Kid Flavors, Bright Colors and Commercials That Make Children Masters of Their Universe, Advertisers Build Brand Loyalty That Will Last a Lifetime

August 15, 1993|Karen Stabiner | Karen Stabiner is a contibuting editor to this magazine. Her book about the Chiat/Day advertising agency, "Inventing Desire," has just been published by Simon & Schuster

Dannon had done everything conceivable to please the pre-adolescent palate, but the fact remained that most kids hate yogurt. Advertising had to build the bridge between target consumers and a product they didn't want. "Can advertising create a want in children? I think it can, if it presents a product in such a manner that it creates a desirable attitude in the child," McNeal says.

"The most important need for children under 7 is play," he says. "If a product is presented in such a way that a child might say it's a lot of fun, then children might seek the product." All that Grey Advertising had to do was figure out the one thing that children wanted more than they didn't want yogurt.

GREY'S SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, GROUP CREATIVE DIRECTOR BOB SKOLLAR, tosses a navy double-breasted blazer over his shirt and jeans, a nod to his executive status, but everything about him shouts kid-at-heart, from his long auburn hair to a mischievous smile. Toys litter his corner office. Skollar has worked on the Kool-Aid account for six years, and he knows all about inventing fun. Kool-Aid's reputation as the best powdered fruit drink for kids is so strong that it has survived two devastating associations--with hallucinogenic drugs in the 1960s and with cyanide in the 1978 mass suicide in Jonestown.

About five years ago, it began to take heat from an unexpected adversary, the cheaper store brands that made sense in a tight economy. Suddenly there was a new advertising challenge--to explain to the consumer why to "take Kool-Aid rather than some(thing) else," according to Skollar.

There were qualities that would appeal to parents: Kool-Aid was cheaper than carbonated beverages, and unsweetened Kool-Aid allowed parents to control the amount of sugar their children consumed. The drink was fortified with Vitamin C. And there was what Skollar called "the "nostalgia" factor" of a drink parents had drunk when they were children. But it wasn't enough. There had to be something that appealed to kids and got them to ask for Kool-Aid instead of any other drink. What the product needed, Skollar says, was "a value added"--some benefit that derived from drinking that brand, and only that brand.

That is where brand advertising comes in. Essentially, it suggests to the consumer that there are advantages to a product that are not necessarily inherent in it; that drinking Kool-Aid will do much more for a child than merely quench his thirst. The image that Kool-Aid was trying to communicate, Skollar says, was "wacky and wild and fun and just for kids. The drink that's just for kids." So Grey developed a promotion called the Wacky Warehouse--an imaginary place, featured in the television campaign, that was full of gifts ranging from Kool-Aid hats to Nintendo games and Mattel troll dolls. All that children had to do was save up purchase coupons from their Kool-Aid packets, and they could send away for the prize of their choice. The promotion lured parents away from bargain brands by offering them a new way to save money: "After a couple of months, all of a sudden you turn around and give your kid a Nintendo gift," says Skollar. "That's pretty important for mom."

The agency also tweaked the Kool-Aid Man's personality, to make him seem a bit more modern. "When we started out, he was just a guy who brought Kool-Aid," says Skollar. "He's a cool kid now, he's in jeans. He has his jams. He has some sunglasses. So kids can identify, have something they can make part of their world." Today, Kool-Aid is the No. 1 powdered drink mix.

Andy Bohjalian worked on the Kool-Aid account 10 years ago, in what he calls "the dinosaur days of kid advertising." When he started working on Dannon 2 1/2 years ago, he remembered the seminal lesson of his days on the fruit-drink account: Make a kid feel like he rules his universe, and he will likely desire the product that makes him feel that way.

"We discovered that if we had adults doing these slapstick reactions, falling on banana peels, wigs falling off, if we made adults look silly because they saw Kool-Aid Man and were shocked and frightened--the kids loved it because they were in control," says Bohjalian. "They called the Kool-Aid Man and he created chaos in the adult world.

"In the real world, kids are at the bottom of the food chain," he says, "and one really successful way to advertise to kids is to give them a sense of power, give them a place where they call the shots, instead of everyone telling them what to eat and when to go to bed and clean up their room."

"A key component of the advertising, which is probably true of anyone that works on kids' stuff, is 'kid mastery,' " adds Mizrahi.

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