Burger King Builds Whopper of a Children's Database

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Few would guess that one of the world's largest proprietary databases of pre-teens belongs to fast-food giant Burger King Corp.


The Miami company has nearly 5 million active members in its Kids Club program, representing about 13 percent of all U.S. children ages 4-12.


"It provides us with another touch point with kids and delivers a 'smile' from Burger King outside of the restaurant experience," said Brian Gies, the chain's senior director of youth and family marketing. "It's a beneficial and differentiating touch point for our brand and our promotional partners, since no one else is doing this on our scale."


Wunderman Chicago handles direct marketing for this 12-year-old program. Mail plays a central role in its loyalty-building outreach to children wooed by other brands, including rival McDonald's Corp.


The mail-led effort yields several benefits, the agency said. It allows customization of offers by age, location and consumer behavior. Also, the program drives profitable family traffic to Burger King restaurants as coupons are redeemed and children acquire the latest toys and consume kids-oriented food.


And receiving mail is a special experience for a child. Readership is almost guaranteed. Tom Hansen, senior vice president and executive creative director at Wunderman Chicago, finds children still respond when contacted personally via mail.


"That hasn't changed," he said. "We're fortunate to have a one-on-one contact method, where everyone else has to rely on mass media. We still find it an efficient way to talk to these kids and grow them as consumers."


The Kids Club has three mail outreach opportunities. The toy packaging insert in meals bought at Burger King restaurants is another touch point.


Consider the steps in the mail process.


First is the welcome package, a co-op media vehicle directed at the main target. It is sent monthly to new enrollees and often includes an offer, trivia and stickers. The chain signs up about 48,000 members monthly through a premium insert or membership application available in Burger King restaurants and in Kids Meal bags.


Next is the Birthday Club mailer. This sub-program uses Burger King partner properties sent to Kids Club members on their birthdays. The package includes a free Happy Birthday Kids Meal coupon, games and in-restaurant toy and food offers.


"We maintain our connection to those kids already predisposed to our brand," Gies said. "We surprise and delight our Kids Club members in celebration of their birthday."


Different birthday mailers are sent to children ages 4-8 versus those 9-12.


"Kids love being recognized, but no kid will come in alone at a Burger King," Hansen said. "They'll visit with family. At least once a year we get that incremental visit. It gives a platform to speak to kids' moms through mail sent, say, to the 'Mom of Joe.' "


Wunderman Chicago also produces a newsletter for its client. This promotion-specific, low-cost vehicle is themed around Burger King properties. Between 6 million and 7 million copies are distributed per issue on an 8 1/2-by-11, four-panel document. It lets Burger King partners place their promotion offer inside the piece.


Also, offers are delivered via a customized postcard for the chain's franchisees. Nearly 35,000 are mailed monthly.


Like most loyalty programs, the site at www.burgerking.com and customized microsites support the Kids Club. Mailers also point to these microsites for more information on promotions.


Not to be forgotten is the toy package insert. Burger King distributes an estimated 25 million toys, a task done nine times annually. The minimum quantity is 2 million per program. The four-color, two-sided insert measures 3-by-3 inches.


A critical part of the program is to tie in frequently with popular properties regarding the newsletters as well as the in-store availability of toys. The most popular categories to partner with are movies and television.


"We're always looking to partner with companies outside movies and TV, but these remain the most popular," Hansen said.


With attrition due to age being a primary concern, trimming unnecessary costs is an ongoing exercise. For example, Wunderman Chicago this year initiated innovative methods involved in folding paper, resulting in increased cost-effectiveness needed to boost mail volume.


"It is not an inexpensive proposition to mail such a large volume, so we monitor our membership closely," Gies said.


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