“Kids don’t adapt to change, they like it.” So says Dick Helstein, and heshould know.
Helstein’s been helping modify old-line products to keep up with kids forthe past 30 years at General Foods and Kraft Foods. He’s watched elbowmacaroni morph into Rugrats shapes for the greater glory of Kraft Macaroni& Cheese. He’s witnessed Jigglers cause sales of Jell-O to soar. And he’sseen the little change-mongers themselves evolve into a more sophisticatedbreed.
“Kids are more powerful consumers than they were just a few years ago.They’re more in control than ever,” says Kraft’s vice president ofadvertising services. “They’re exposed to so much. As consumers, the linesbetween kids and adults are beginning to blur.”
Helstein recently turned 55 and will be taking early retirement thissummer, but he leaves Kraft’s Rye Brook, NY, offices having notched asingular victory in the annals of big-time, packaged goods marketing:uniting more than 20 different brand managers in an equity-leveraging cabalcalled the Kids Task Force.
In 1995, he had gotten the brand teams of trademarks such as Cool-Whip,Jell-O, Lunchables, and Kraft Singles together at a seminar to explorecross-marketing opportunities. “When they all got together with people fromother product areas, the ideas started to fly,” recalls Helstein. “Wecancelled the last day of the seminar and just did networking.”
Thus was the Task Force – the “division without walls,” as Helstein callsit – put into action. The five highest-spending brands took the lead onplanning a mega-event that all other Kraft properties could buy into. Thefirst to debut, in 1996, was Nick in the Afternoon, starring 25 brands andmore than one million packages at retail outlets nationwide. “It allowed usto put together a presence at retail for back-to-school that wasoverwhelming,” says Helstein. “It was the best kids’ promotion we ever had.”
It ’97, it was partner Nickelodeon that zagged in an effort to keep kidsexcited, altering a number of its programs to incorporate 3-D for the KraftNogglevision promotion. Amazing what a legion of brands waving marketingdollars can get a cable network to do.
“It was a big break finding a partner like Nickelodeon. They leveraged oursize but allowed us to be flexible,” says Helstein, who gives kudos toKraft director of strategic alliances Deb Sawch for taking the lead.
The Task Force gives Kraft an edge in kids’ programs, thinks Helstein,because of the consumer knowledge shared among such a large number of brandpeople tuned into kids at malls, events, and focus groups.
The choicest bit of intelligence that Helstein has picked up?
“Kids are looking for connectiveness with others. In all these promotions,we make sure that kids have some chance to interact with the characters.”