IN layman terms, it's money well-spent. That PepsiCo's huge adspend has worked is evident at a local grocery store, where eight-year-old Dhruv is in delicate negotiations with his mother over Lay's potato chips. He wants all the packets on the shelf; Mummy wants him to buy only one. This time mummy wins. But they'll come back for more. They always do.
That's the pull of the tazo. Did we hear you ask, What's a tazo? Then chances are you don't have a son or daughter between the ages of 5 and 14. These small round discs which come inside the packets of Ruffles Lay's potato wafers are making kids gravitate day after day, week after week, month after month, to the neighbourhood grocer, school canteen and roadside vendor to buy the chips. In playgrounds, street corners, public parks, even classrooms, tazos are being flown, stacked, whacked, won, bought, exchanged and traded. Tazos are an obsession, an addiction, a tidal wave.
"Last week, ma'am made me stand outside for talking in class. That was good...I could exchange two tazos. Now I have four 3D tazos of Michael Jordan," exults 10-year-old Ishan. His classmate Tushar has just exchanged his Parker pen to get a techno tazo (Don't ask us what a techno tazo is. Ask a neighbourhood child.) Many schools across the country have already decided that tazo-mania is a serious discipline problem, and have banned them on their premises.
PepsiCo has imported these discs—featuring photos of movie characters, sports stars, cartoon figurines, with several small notches that allow them to be connected together for 'fly-ing'—to be distributed free with potato chips. Each tazo has a point value and is numbered with a logo behind it. There are also several limited-edition series that the company keeps releasing at periodic intervals: Looney Tunes, Time Warp, Space Jam and now Movie Motion. As new tazos are added every seven to 10 days, children who are collecting them keep returning to update their collection. In the four months since the scheme was launched, some 20 million tazos have flooded the market.
PEPSICO has received kids' letters from as far afield as Ferozpur and Patiala in the north, and Hubli and Davangere in the south. It has even set up a tazo redemption centre at its Gurgaon headquarters where pint-sized collectors can walk in and complete their sets by buying directly from the company. There are, in fact, enough cases of kids buying Lay's and throwing the wafers away—after all, how much potato chips can a pre-adult homo sapiens have?—and keeping the tazo.
PepsiCo may not be too bothered about that. Since it started giving away tazos, Ruffles Lay's sales have jumped 50 per cent.
Other marketers are scrambling, clambering, leaping on to the bandwagon. Of course, freebies and give-aways are nothing new. They have always been used to drive sales. Even giveaways for kids are nothing new. Earlier examples of stuff vying for children's mindshare include Centre Fresh cricket cards, World Wrestling Federation cards, Fido Dido stickers, dinosaur tattoos. But such campaigns were seen as limited-period offers to improve marketshare. Now, however, deep-pocketed multinationals like McDonald's, Coke, Kellogg and Nestle—along with companies in fields as diverse as dental care and health drinks—are looking at collectibles and freebies as an effective, long-term marketing strategy to widen customer base, enhance and broaden the product life-cycle, beat the competition and get around the price-conscious consumer.
Smart companies have realised that one of the best ways to get in there for the long haul is to create communities of customers. And what easier group of customers to mould than eager, fresh-eyed kids? At McDonald's, a big poster displaying six models of Leo Mattel Hot Wheels cars tempts kids to order Happy Meals week after week. Every week, the models on offer change so that kids keep coming back till they complete their set. "Happy Meals is our silver bullet," says managing director Vikram Bakshi. At rival KFC, the Hot Wheels offer has just closed and children are being lured with a Chiki puzzle instead. "Promotions are not a time-bound, location-bound activity for us," says Pankaj Batra, vice-president, KFC. "World over, all year round, we keep changing premiums to keep pace with the novelty-seeking, impatient and curious minds of kids."
Kids, who are the easiest to entice, excite, manipulate; kids who can blackmail their parents into succumbing to their whims. "If the child asks for 10 things, you have to give him at least one or two so that he doesn't feel deprived or unloved and inferior to his classfel-lows," says Mumbai-based student counsellor Rupa Choudhary. Call it "pester power", as kiddie channel Cartoon Network has termed it. According to a study by the channel, pester power translates into 41 per cent of India's toy sales (Rs 362 crore), 65 per cent of toothpastes (Rs 642 crore), 60 per cent of candies (Rs 738 crore).
That's big money for marketers. "The children's market—5 to 14 years—is 25 to 30 per cent of the population," says K. Venkatachalam, CEO of breakfast cereal maker Kellogg India. "And kids are attracted to collectibles."
COKE and Pepsi, of course, are old hands at the game. At any point of time, crowns or empty bottles can be exchanged for T-shirts, caps or tickets to a movie or a music or sports festival. Currently, two 300 ml Pepsi bottle cans be exchanged for cricket cards. The company plans to issue some 100 cards over the next few weeks. Mirinda crowns can fetch a ticket to the new Tom Hanks film You've Got M@il. Even once-staid companies like Britannia have jumped on the freebies bandwagon to lure kids. It's offering glowing tattoos in exchange for wrappers of its Cheese Singles, apart from yo-yos, zoomerangs, and tiffin boxes. It has also just begun a "Britannia Khao, World Cup Jao" drive, which has kids scurrying to exchange wrappers of a certain "run value" for cricket booklets that randomly contain tickets for the cricket extravaganza. Nestle's Milo is going more highbrow, with a free pocket dictionary, while Bournvita offers a tiffin box. And if buying Maltova gets you a badminton racket, the Flexikid toothbrush comes with a tattoo stamp. But to prevent a fad from going stale, it's important to have freebie extensions, as it were. For instance, PepsiCo is looking beyond tazos and now sells tazo albums. That's a leaf out of Leo Mattel's book, which has been able to sustain interest in its Barbie doll or Funskool in its G.I. Joe figures by creating a huge paraphernalia of accessories to hold interest. At McDonald's, besides the promotional toys, kids are being lured with ephemera like Ronald McDonald and Hamburglar T-shirts, tiffin boxes and sunglasses.
Parents, naturally, are a bit underwhelmed. "The trouble with these toys is you don't just buy a hero or a doll. With G.I. Joe you buy a Desert Fox kit, then Arctic Blast, then Faker or Cobra Commander. When you buy Barbie, you buy her boyfriend Ken, her babies, her drawing room, kitchen and bathroom. It's like quicksand... It sucks you in," says Deepak Sharma, father of 10-year-old Ishan and 8-year-old Dhruv.
Companies have realised the gains to be made through this strategy of promotions and merchandising. First, the strategy helps spur growth in businesses with little scope for product differentiation. After all, how different can one packet of branded chips or a hamburger or cheese slice be from another? But in an environment of growing competition—when one Nirula's in fast food, for instance, has been swamped by a McDonald's, Wimpy's, Domino's Pizza, Slice of Italy, Pizza Hut, KFC and so on—premiums definitely help to draw in customers. Concedes Vikram Bajaj, managing director, Uncle Chipps, "For long, we've had 25-odd local copycats with names like Hello and Twinkle Chipps but they did nothing to grow the market. Tazos have helped widen the market."
Second, when a price-conscious consumer sets a spending limit in a rising-cost scenario as has been the case in India, the only way to get around it is to enhance the perceived value of the product through freebies. Says Pradeep Ghosh, who's been taking his son every week to McDonald's so that Ghosh Jr can collect his car, "I spend Rs 59 on a Happy Meal a week. That's Rs 250 a month on fast food. I would normally baulk at this wastage on junk food. But considering that the cars alone would be worth more than that in the toy market, I think it's money well-spent."
THIRD, premiums help offset some of the criticism surrounding the image of chips, burgers and colas as junk food that's "bad" for the body and minds of kids. "We are a fun food company. Through tazos, we are just bringing in infotainment. Collector tazos give information on scientific discoveries, world history, painters, poets and great voyagers," says Geetu Gidwani Verma, marketing director, Frito-Lay India. Ever thought of that angle, dear parent?
Fourth, freebies transform the market from a supply-driven one to a demand-driven one. "Earlier, we were pushing chips to customers entering the shop. Now children come and ask for 'tazo-wala chips' of particular dates," says one retailer. Manu Anand, managing director, Frito Lay's, has found himself in a strange situation of discomfort. "Since the introduction of tazos, I have five very disgruntled regional managers who want more and more supplies. They don't seem to be getting enough chips. The 50 per cent growth rate since the scheme's introduction is capped growth due to capacity constraints," he says. In countries like Mexico, Thailand and Australia, tazos have helped boost sales by as much as 200 per cent, he says.
Fifth, premiums not only help sell products but create more opportunities for merchandising, thereby helping enhance the product's life-cycle. For example, when a McDonald burger comes with a Hot Wheels car, it not only helps McDonald sell more burgers but helps Mattel sell more Hot Wheels cars. A synergy is created which breaks the seasonal sales cycle.Thus, a toy is no longer a thing to be bought on birthdays or as a gift on festivals and occasions; it sells every day, piggybacking on other products.
"These multinationals are not selling products but the very idea of consumption. A shoe is no longer a shoe to be walked, jogged and jumped in; it's a lifestyle statement. Basketball is no longer a game played by girls in divided skirts in convents; it's the game of Michael Jordan played in shoes with a swoosh." —Abha Adams, principal, Shriram School, New Delhi
WELCOME to the world of the globalising child. While adults debate the virtues of swadeshi versus vid-eshi, well-heeled tykes around the country are lacing up their Reeboks and Nikes, zipping up their blue jeans, digging into McDonald burgers, guzzling their Cokes and Pepsis and playing Nintendo and Sega. According to an Outlook-Research Pacific survey, nearly 66 per cent of the parents felt that American culture was having a strong influence on kids. In a Cartoon Network survey done in the Asia-Pacific region, when asked where they would go if given a choice of anywhere in the world, Indian kids overwhelmingly plumped for the US.
The cartoon channel itself may be a principal cause for this. "Cartoon Network is the single biggest binding force for kids. It's lending a common currency to kids all over the country," says Lopa Baner-jee, vice-president, McCann-Erickson. Propelled by mighty couriers like Cartoon Network and MTV—the other great American icon in the television age—the language and attitudes of kids are changing at breakneck speed. Four-year old Akanksha wakes up to Looney Tunes jingles, has milk in a Daffy Duck mug with a Mickey Mouse straw, carries a Bugs Bunny bag to school, loves spinach because Popeye likes it and goes to bed with a teddy bear. Her favourite pastime: "Watching Cartoon Network." Nor is it a big-city affair. "I love Captain Planet. I would also like to be a Planeteer," writes in 13-year old R. Prabha Shalini from Trichy to Cartoon Network.
Reading habits are changing as well. It's goodbye Vikram and Betal, hello Marvin the Martian. "I get a headache when I read Amar Chitra Katha. They are so difficult to read," complains nine-year old Rushil. The harder-to-shock youngster of today is not satisfied with bland fare from Enid Blyton either. "I don't want to read about scones, lemonade and avocados. What's there to get excited about food? I like horror stories. I like Goosebumps and Fear Street," says 10-year-old Ishan. Goosebumps—which sell under titles like Go Eat Worms, My Hairiest Adventure, The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight—are a big hit with the children. "Goosebumps as a series is the fastest-selling in India as it is in the US," says Arundhati Devasthali of Scholastic India, the local edition set up last year by Goosebumps' US publishers.
"In many ways, the kids' market is more universal than the much-hyped teen market. The impact of imagery is stronger for kids and the concept of individuality is not yet developed enough to be able to add their own licks to trends," says marketing consultant Arvind Singhal of KSA Technopak. "Today Indian kids are the same as kids anywhere in the world. You can walk out of a child's bedroom in Defence Colony and walk into one in Knightsbridge or Manhattan and not know the difference," says principal Adams.
Incidentally, as the prime mover in this paradigm shift, Cartoon Network is cashing in. Even as news and current affairs channels struggle to sell their time slots, the comics channel has a list of some 52 advertisers, including some of the biggest spenders. Then again, the survey reveals that 67 per cent of parents felt that ads aimed at kids often sell products not meant for children.
WHETHER as a result of that or not, eating habits of families are being transformed as well. "Earlier, eating out for us meant trying out new places and cuisines—Chinese, Thai, Mexican, Italian or Mughlai. Now it is only McDonald's or Domino's Pizza. Children dictate food choices 90 per cent of the time," says Hema Bhatnagar, Delhi housewife. Her daughter Neha has the justification down pat: "McDonald's food is clean and hygienic. And it's better to have Coke or Pepsi because it is safer than water."
In fact, food companies are the biggest advertisers on children's pro-grammes on television, ranging from Kellogg, Perfetti, Nutrine and Parle to Godrej Foods, Kwality Wall's and Indo-Nissin. However, it's simplistic to blame everything on children and advertisers. Adults are a major force driving the kids' choices. At the Mickey & Pals store which retails Disney wares, there are more adults than kids as customers. Smita Butalia, 24, forages until she gets a Minnie Mouse art set for her niece. "I didn't have any of this wonderful stuff as a kid. So I buy things for my niece. Somewhere it satisfies the kid in me." Every time Poonam Bhatia, who flies with Indian Airlines, goes abroad, she heads for the Warner Studio stores. "You should see the shine in my son's eyes when he gets Warner's choo-choo train or simply a Tweety eraser. It's worth the money. I also feel less guilty about spending three days out of the house." "My kids watch various offers on TV and convince me why I should be buying them things they want. I indulge them to satisfy their curiosity so that they don't go elsewhere and ask," says Bangalore-based bank employee Sunita Joshi. "It's not easy to keep them off when other children are buying and outlets display stuff in such a way that kids notice them first," adds Shyla Kumar.
Analyses student counsellor Chou-dhary, "Children are getting stubborn and very demanding. Parents, especially working mothers, tend to give in either because they lack the time or patience to explain why a child can't buy or eat a certain thing or they tend to replace time they can't spend with kids by material goodies." "Parenting is about setting limits but parent are forgetting this," adds Adams. According to the Outlook survey, 61.3 per cent of the parents who gave in to their kids' demands did so to make them happy.
So far, though, most parents seem in control, sometimes using innovativeness and sometimes ingenuity to keep away from the ensnaring consumerism. "I balance the junk food children eat by ensuring healthy meals at home," says Khursida Kaiko-bad, a housewife in Mumbai. "I use tazos as incentives to keep rooms tidy or obey parents," says Bangalore-based exporter Sashi Baliga.
But for how long? With the drums of consumerism beating loud and hard, can children and parents keep away from absorbing the rhythm? Last heard, Uncle Chipps was planning to introduce tazo-like discs. Hail Tazo!