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What do Lunchables, Pepsi, and M&Ms have in common? They are so hot among 8- to 10-year-olds that they are the coolest things out there—and they're getting even cooler. That's according to a report by the Geppetto Group, which found that Coke, the WB Network, Nintendo, G.I. Joe, and Wendy's are popular child-oriented brands that are becoming "less cool."
"It is important that a brand be both timely and timeless," says Rachel Geller, chief strategic officer at Geppetto Group, a New York agency dedicated to the youth and teen market that is a division of WPP Group. "In kids' life, timelessness means that kids won't forget your brand, and you'll mean something to kids and they'll care about you as they grow. But timely is just as important because you have to be part of the kid culture now."
That's exactly what Kraft is doing through its Oscar Mayer Lunchables, which registered the most significant dominance over its rivals in all surveyed categories. "Lunchables really owns the category," says Geller. "We asked kids what they are snacking on and what is appropriate for them and what's cool in the household. Hot Pockets, Bagel Bites, and Pizza Rolls are the kind of products they talk about, but Lunchables is in a class by itself. Nobody really thinks it's getting less cool, whereas about two-thirds of the kids who think it is the most cool also think it's getting cooler," she says.
For its study, Geppetto employed a team of anthropologists who prowled malls and other popular kid venues watching 8- to 10-year-olds and observing shopping behaviors. Additionally, 300 kids were part of a quantitative study that asked what's cool, what's in, how do they find out about cool products, and what does it mean to be a cool kid. The study looked at nine categories: sneakers, video games, soft drinks and other cold drinks, salty snacks, quick-service restaurants, TV channels, candy, lunch food, and action figures. Geppetto selected three brands in each category, and kids were asked which were the coolest, getting cooler, staying about the same, or getting less cool.
"In candy, with M&Ms and Skittles, equal amounts of kids thought they were both really cool, but three times more kids think that Skittles are getting less cool," Geller says.
In soft drinks Pepsi is the coolest product and is getting cooler, while arch rival Coke is seen as becoming less cool. "I think in some ways Coke is dropping the ball and not talking directly to kids," Geller says. "Pepsi not only has the attitude of the 'younger generation,' but also works to put communications on the kids' shows and develop promotions that address kids." Having pop princesses Britney Spears and Beyoncé Knowles as spokeswomen doesn't hurt. "Britney goes really young. She has an appeal," Geller says. "But when you ask kids about Pepsi, Coke, or Sprite commercials, they really don't know them because they aren't directed to kids. There is a fallacy out there that if you talk to teens you'll get every kid, and our research says that is absolutely not true."
In the juice aisle, Kool-Aid and Minute Maid Juice Coolers were ranked about equal on the cool quotient. "Neither one of them can touch Gatorade," Geller says. "The interesting thing is that they are about the same. Half the kids think they are getting cooler and half think they are getting less cool. That is quite a feat for Minute Maid, given the sort of adult brand that it is."
When it comes to fast-food dining, Burger King and Wendy's still can't touch McDonald's on the cool meter, although Burger King is gaining ground. "McDonald's Happy Meals are for kids younger than our audience, while Burger King has gone to these Big Kids Meals and they are picking up where McDonald's leaves off in a really important segment of tweens," Geller says, noting that Wendy's is getting less cool. "Wendy's has never really talked to kids," she says.
Geppetto released the Brand (In)dex Report in the fall, and expects to do similar reports twice a year. Since kids' tastes change at least that fast, that is a pretty cool idea.
Senior editor Richard Turcsik can be reached at [email protected].