Toy Makers Hit It
Big With Burger King Deal
Firms Hope Getting
Into Kids Meal Bags Will Be Marketing Coup
By Raymund Flandez
March 6, 2007; Page B11
Two small toy companies hope the small hands digging
through Burger King Corp.'s Kids Meal bag this month
will remember the toys they find inside -- and bug
their parents to buy more in stores long after the
burgers and fries are gone.
In the current promotional television spot for
Burger King Kids Meal, toy cars and tiny dolls share
the spotlight, representing an unprecedented
marketing and branding opportunity for Jada Toys
Inc. and Manhattan Toy Co.
Jada Toys of City of Industry, Calif., makes
collectible car toys and sells an urban line called
Chub City aimed at boys ages four to 12.
Minneapolis-based Manhattan Toy sells Groovy Girls,
a line of soft dolls for preteen girls.
Both companies got a big boost with licensing deals
when fast-food giant Burger King decided to feature
miniaturized plastic versions of their products in
its global Kids Meal program, which runs from Feb.
12 to March 18. The branding bonanza also includes
outdoor advertising, downloads of screensavers and
wallpaper, and in-restaurant merchandising,
including tray liners. Burger King says close to 18
million of the toys will reach kids'
hands in about 7,000 North American restaurants and
The deals, a year in the making, represent a major
coup for the two small businesses, because most
fast-food chains typically work with movie studios,
television networks or large toy companies to
promote characters and items from popular movies
like "Spider-Man," television's "Pokémon" or Mattel
Inc.'s Barbie doll.
Such global brand building can take a small player's
products to stratospheric levels of recognition in a
short time. But navigating this licensing landscape
requires companies to carefully monitor how the
restaurant version of their toy is designed and
marketed so it doesn't dilute the image of its more
expensive, mainstay product in stores.
"From a marketing perspective, it's an enormous
boost for these companies because all of a sudden
you get your products into the hands of people all
around the country," says Tim Calkins, clinical
professor of marketing at Northwestern University's
Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Ill. "It
also is a little scary because you become very
dependent upon the partner to boost the brand." He
adds that the challenge is "to turn the one-time
bump into a sustainable business. This makes
follow-through incredibly important."
The firms say it is too early to tell if the
licensing deal is having an impact on sales of their
bigger, mainstay products.
For a small company, getting into a fast-food kids'
meal is as much a work of pursuit on the part of the
firm as trend-spotting on the part of the fast-food
company. Third-party marketing agencies, which are
hired by the big fast-food companies to be on the
lookout for new collaborations or new promotional
opportunities, are often crucial to securing the
Groovy Girls and Chub City toys featured in the
current Kids Meal promotion.
Jada Toys pitched the Chub City line to Equity
Marketing of Los Angeles, one such firm that has
worked with Burger King for almost 20 years.
Manhattan Toy, meantime, was approached by both
Burger King and McDonald's Corp., which had seen the
Groovy Girls products at the annual Toy Fair in New
Burger King saw that both products had a history,
albeit short, of proven success in the retail
market. Chub City, launched in August 2005, already
is in major mass-market retailers such as Wal-Mart
Stores Inc., Target Corp.
and Kmart. To date, the Chub City line of customized
luxury toy vehicles has recorded more than $12.5
million in world-wide sales since the line's debut.
The Groovy Girls dolls line was introduced in 1998,
mainly to boutique toy shops. Word of mouth landed
it in Target stores in January 2005 and it is now in
other stores in more than 60 countries. Manhattan
Toy declined to say sales figures for the Groovy
"What we liked about these properties was that they
weren't oversaturated, that they had tremendous
equities unto themselves that they had created that
we admire," says Brian Gies, Burger King's vice
president of marketing impact. He says both
companies' products appeal to kids who want to be
empowered and meshed with Burger King's "Have It
Your Way" maxim -- boys with vehicles and wheels in
motion and girls with dolls that have unique
personalities and are associated with friendship and
Once a toy company is brought in, a contract is
drawn up, allowing its properties' designs, logo and
trademarks to be used in the meal campaign.
The heavy-lifting is done by the fast-food companies
and agency involved, including marketing and the
overseas production of the toys, while the small
players generally are only sought for final
approvals. Toy makers typically get paid for their
While Burger King did a lot of the major work, the
toy companies did have a role in the creation of the
toys themselves. Jada Toys had a hand in the toys'
design for the different countries and the different
languages, and in the styling of the wallpaper and
screen savers for the Burger King Web site,
www.bk.com/myway. The company also worked to ensure
that Burger King maintained the correct color
palettes of the products in marketing materials.
Marlene Cuesta, Jada Toys' vice president of
licensing, says she pitched Chub City to two other
fast-food chains, and they expressed interest, but
Jada Toys wanted an international audience as well
as a sales boost.
Manhattan Toy eventually sided with Burger King
because it was able to offer a global program.
McDonald's only offered a North American campaign.
The company worked with Burger King to make two
exclusive versions of its Groovy Girls doll as
4.5-inch soft dolls named Vanessa and Britta, as
well as two bendable Groovy Girl Minis dolls called
Reese and Yvette.
Children's menus have been around for decades, and
the free toy has become more elaborate over time.
The first one was the Circus Wagon Happy Meal in
June 1979 by McDonald's. Burger King started its
program in the mid-1980s.
One of the most successful kids' meal collaborations
was between Alexander Doll Co. of New York and
McDonald's, which has featured tiny replicas of
Madame Alexander dolls every year since 2002. The
dolls were a hit with kids and collectors, who
paired the miniature versions with the real ones,
which can go for hundreds of dollars. The company
saw its dolls marketed everywhere from TV
commercials to magazine ads.
The 84-year-old doll maker recently renewed its
contract with McDonald's to provide an exclusive toy
each year until 2009. "We renewed because we
benefited financially and image-wise," says Gale
Jarvis, president of Alexander Doll, declining to
give specific numbers.
"This frenzied picture far outreaches the ability we
have as a small company to spend that type of
exposure advertising on our own business," she says.
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