KidZania, a Theme Park for Work, Gears Up for U.S. Debut in 2015

Ad Age. May 17, 2013. (English) by Cotton Delo. –The concept behind KidZania — essentially a theme park that’s about work — is growing like a weed abroad, with 12 existing locations and openings scheduled this year in Kuwait City, Cairo, São Paulo, Mumbai and Istanbul. The first U.S. location is due in 2015 in a city to be determined, and it’s up to Cammie Dunaway, U.S. president and global CMO, to explain the concept to American children and their parents.

Started in Mexico in 1999, KidZania exposes children to the working world and money management by letting them earn a virtual currency. Kids apply themselves in various career paths, all courtesy of brand sponsors. They can perform surgeries in a Johnson & Johnson hospital in Portugal and work in a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Dubai. Their earnings could go toward renting a car in an Avis rental office, or kids could do the prudent thing and deposit their hard-earned cash in a bank to earn interest.

The brand accomplishes an unusual trifecta of appealing to children, their parents and global marketers who are already looking for ways to talk to the next generation of consumers. Ms. Dunaway — a speaker at Ad Age’s CMO Strategy Summit in San Francisco next month — gave some insight into the strategy behind where to set up shop and how to promote such an unusual brand.

Ad Age: What criteria go into deciding on brand partners and locations?

Cammie Dunaway: We look for a high density of kids four to 14, so we look at areas that have 700,000 or more children within an hour to an hour and a half from the location. We look for weather conditions. We actually prefer being in locations that have extreme weather, because we’re an indoor location, so we like places that are really cold or really hot. We’ll definitely have a KidZania here in California at some point, but for the first locations, we’re looking at ones that have a little less desirable weather. And we’re typically located in very nice mall locations.

We have now about 500 brand sponsors around the world — brands like American Airlines, Avis, Nestlé, Gillette. So once we have our location finalized, and we begin construction here in the U.S., we will definitely be doing outreach to brands. And usually I get at least a call or two every week from various CMOs or partners who are working in KidZania in other parts of the world and are eager to be partnered with us in the U.S. as well.

Ad Age: Are a lot of the kids coming in on school trips? Do you do much outreach to education organizations when you enter a new market?

Ms. Dunaway: About 30% of our attendance comes from school field trips, and we work very closely with ministers of education [in Dubai] and local school districts to really map our content to their local curriculum needs. Schools find it’s a great supplement if they’re teaching civics, for example, to come to KidZania and have the kids participate in the court and then to learn about paying taxes and choosing between, ‘Do I want this to go to roads, or do I want it to go to parks?’ So it takes what happens in the classroom and makes it more fun and interesting and real. That’s very appealing to teachers and schools.

Ad Age: How are you using data in your marketing?

Ms. Dunaway: It’s a wonderful opportunity we have to connect an experience in our facility with a communication strategy and an extended relationship out of the facility. So our loyalty program is an important component of that. Parents will opt in to allow their children to participate, and the kids who are part of it earn stamps for the activity they do, they get a passport, and as they hit certain levels of activity they begin to earn additional privileges. It also enables us to understand what the child’s interests are, so then we can communicate to the parents messages like, ‘We know that your child loves doing activities in the theater; we have a new play opening next week. Here is a coupon for you to be able to come back and have your child participate.’ I think it’s enabling us to use data in a way that’s very tangible and very valuable to our kids and our parents.

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