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Kids Units Getting a Head Start

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Product Development a Growing Focus in an Expanding Category
CHICAGO--Building relationships early is a basic tenet of marketing to kids. It's also advice Midwest agencies that focus on children have applied to new-business efforts.
By positioning themselves as product development experts, several shops are getting established with clients before new products are even mentioned.
"It's a great way to develop a relationship with a client early on," said Linda Peine, manager of strategic planning for Campbell Mithun Esty's Kidcom division. "It easily leads to advertising, of course, because if you are a partner with the client in developing the product, you obviously understand the essence of the brand."
Minneapolis' Kidcom is one of several kids-oriented marketing units started by Midwest agencies in the last four years. Leo Burnett, Chicago, launched consulting group KidLeo; Sive/Young & Rubicam, Cincinnati, has Small Talk; and WonderGroup, Cincinnati, is entirely focused on the youth market.
Preparing strategy and advertising for a new-product launch is much easier when the agency is involved from the get-go, rather than inheriting a project that is already established, said Ray DeThorne, co-founder of KidLeo.
"It's really the birth of a brand from the very beginning," said WonderGroup president Dave Siegel. "There seems to be a huge demand for it. Not only is it a niche, it's a niche of a niche."
Siegel speaks from experience. WonderGroup's work on new infant care products for Evenflo Co., Vandalia, Ohio, helped it pick up the client's entire $2 million account last week without a review. Three other companies are considering WonderGroup for ad assignments following new-product work the agency has done, Siegel added.
The shop has also done new-product work for clients such as Heinz, Kodak, M&M/Mars and Elmer's Products. For the latter, it revamped glue sticks with a new name and added various colors; Galactic Glue, a clear gel glue embellished with sparkles, launches next year.
The clout of the youth audience--from toddlers who influence parents' spending habits to preteens with money of their own--has received more attention in the last five years, Kidcom's Peine said. "They're really willing to spend money; there's a large group of them; and they are really savvy about brands," she said.
Looking to connect with such a potentially lucrative target, more clients are seeking advertising partners who know something about kids to consult or generate ideas of their own, Peine said. Kidcom does work for CME clients including Hostess and General Mills.
Following increased demand for ideas, KidLeo this year expanded its offerings to include product work. "We understand kids, and we come at things from a kid's perspective," said DeThorne. "It's a natural evolution in terms of consulting."
Some clients need advice on how to break into the market. "We are being approached by far more clients who are interested for the first time in how to tap into the kids market," said Tina Imig, senior planner and co-founder of KidLeo. "Everybody wants to understand how to do it right."
Rather than just coming up with a product and labeling it "for kids," Imig said, "You've got to create the entire idea for the brand and the product around kids and what kids' needs are."
Getting involved at the genesis of products, KidLeo is able to truly partner with clients to help them develop a brand positioning, Imig said. She declined to identify clients KidLeo works with on new products. Its relationships are in the preliminary stages, she said, and it is too early to say whether they will turn into ad assignments for Burnett.
Sive/Y&R's Small Talk division's product work has led to new opportunities for the agency. Work for companies such as Smucker's, Trolli gummi candy, Super Soaker and Farley's Fruit Snacks has "really been a way for us to open doors with clients," said Mark Wesling, vice president, account manager for Small Talk. "By the time we're done with the development, we do have a pretty good idea of the product and what role it can play in the child's life. Hopefully that leads to new business," he said.
Small Talk was selected last month by The Little Tikes Co., a division of Newell Rubbermaid, for a new-product development assignment. The value of the contract was not disclosed.
"Small Talk had a brainstorm technology that was of interest to us," said John MacWherter, vice president of marketing for Little Tikes, Hudson, Ohio. "They get at consumer needs in a different way than we have in the past."
Even when product work doesn't translate into ad assignments, having nationally known clients on the roster helps build business, said WonderGroup's Siegel.
"Not only does it give us a sizable income, it also adds to our credibility as a shop," he said. K