McDonald’s Corp., long the reigning fast-food king with younger kids and early teen agers, is launching one of its most aggressive marketing pushes in recent years to stay on the minds of these all-important age groups.
And McDonald’s won’t be alone. With the largest crop of kids entering schools since the baby boomers ruled the playgrounds, expect a whole new emphasis on kids from a number of marketers.
“It’s a huge market,” said Dennis Lombardi, a restaurant analyst with Chicago-based consultant Technomic Inc. “The boomers have almost replaced themselves.”
While boomers, born between 1945 and 1964, account for roughly 76 million Americans, kids under 19 number close to 74 million.
“I’ve always said that kids are born with three chromosomes - x, y and an arch,” said Lombardi. “McDonald’s has been extremely good at creating an affiliation with kids. Their challenge is to hang onto them. When kids reach their teens, that’s when they risk losing them to other chains.”
So important are kids to the burger chain that the fast-food giant has launched an animated “guest” character, called “Iam Hungry,” to complement its long-running spokesclown Ronald McDonald in kids’ advertising during Saturday morning cartoon programming.
In addition, McDonald’s has dialed up the ad spending behind its youth marketing efforts, specifically, advertising aimed at “tweens” (8-to 13-year-olds) who, analysts say, represent a market profoundly important to McDonald’s as it tries to keep families coming back time and again.
Both campaigns were done by Chicago-based ad agency Leo Burnett Co.
Research shows what most parents know: When it comes to fast food, kids tend to be the ones making the decision where the family will eat. The new “Iam Hungry” co-star, a green, hairy monster-type character, debuts at the same time McDonald’s is planning to polish up Ronald’s image with children. The chain has plans to offer new, 40-minute videos featuring Ronald for sale in its restaurants, according to a report in Advertising Age.
Long considered a pioneer in the field of marketing to children, McDonald’s has rich turf to defend from hungry competitors. The company already is locked in a major burger battle with No. 2 chain Burger King. Meanwhile, Burger King’s Kids Club meals - its answer to McDonald’s Happy Meals - have been growing in popularity, and the Miami-based chain has begun using some of its sandwiches as specific marketing tools aimed at kids.
Mary Miller, vice president of marketing in McDonald’s “tween,” family and teen areas, said the new kids’ advertising featuring “Iam Hungry” and Ronald together is a way to “freshen” up the advertising.
“We’ve used guest characters before, so that’s not new,” Miller said. “Ronald is still very relevant.”