Kellogg Canada's Apple Jacks breakfast cereal has been marketed for children by children: Helen Gregory reports Kellogg Canada is certain that kids will like their relaunched breakfast cereal Apple Jacks, because kids themselves have relaunched it. The innovative idea means a group of would-be teenage executives are responsible for marketing the product ­ which was dropped in the late 1980s when youngsters lost interest in the cereal ­ and the firm believes youth is on its side. Kellogg Canada's marketing vice-president Mark Childs says he was happy to relinquish creative responsibility to the teens, and quite content to be upstaged during the initial press launch, when his hair was sprayed green by the youthful gang. "I didn't mind," he insists. "It just illustrated their enthusiasm and humour." Stunts aside, the 21-strong team, labelled the "Jacks Pack", has organised a nationwide competition for three new pack designs, worked on a new advertising campaign and decided on a new colour for the cereal ­ red, rather than the previous pink. Kellogg first courted young consumers at the time of the relaunch in February by conducting a national search for the teenagers who would lead the marketing campaign. The stipulation was that they all had to be 15 years old or under, technology-savvy, creative and have an interest in marketing. Rather than merely asking youngsters their opinions on a product, Kellogg Canada wanted to let the children develop the cereal ­ directly influencing key marketing decisions, ranging from product packaging and the look and taste of the cereal to the advertising campaign. Childs says: "The Jacks Pack programme is about giving Canadian youth the tools to make informed business decisions and help develop business ideas, not only for Kellogg's purposes, but for their own personal development. We see value in not only listening to kids, but also involving them in the change." The cereal firm kicked off the initiative by involving them in a couple of "anti-adverts" or "bad ads" to show the youngsters how it didn't want to promote the product. In each case, children under the age of 15 stop the filming of the ad. They announce that they are going to take over Apple Jacks and encourage other youngsters to take part and join the Jacks Pack by logging onto the Apple Jacks web site. Childs says the ads made fun of the way corporate Canada has tried to attract the attention of children in the past and suggested that only kids themselves understand the kind of communication they want. One of the young team's first tasks was working with advertising agency Leo Burnett to come up with a more punchy 30-second slot. "It has really seized their imagination," says Childs. "The new ad is called Kaboom' and is all about the new cereal colour ­ the kids start off in a white lab and it ends up with red exploding everywhere. "There's a lot of energy and commitment among the team and our goal is that the product becomes managed by them ­ to do all the elements of a marketing plan." The children first met in Toronto for a "bonding" session over a weekend, and now link up once a fortnight for a few hours on the internet. They also get a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) worth between $1,000 and $1,500 (depending on the time contributed) and the use of a computer for the duration of the project. But the youngsters do not have a completely free reign at the company. Childs insists that there are realistic business parameters in place ­ the Jacks Pack will have the same roles and responsibilities as any brand manager does and their business decisions will need to be based on real rationales and their ideas will ultimately need to make sound business sense. A marketing team at Kellogg stands by to advise the Jacks Pack in making decisions. The scheme has picked up a lot of interest in the country already, but Childs admits that it is still early days; the brand has less than 1% share of the country's cereal market, but he is confident of its increased success - with the teenagers' help. It appears that both kids and big business win, but what about possible criticism that the scheme is nothing but a cynical marketing ploy? He concedes that it could be seen that way, but says it has received nothing but praise. "It gives the children a chance to express themselves and use their ideas, rather than us doing what we think they'd like. "We want them to carry on working with us ­ developing more adverts, doing work in store and maybe organising a tour across Canada." Childs says that Kellogg offices around the world are studying the initiative and that he would recommend it to colleagues overseas. He adds: "The whole exercise has already changed the way we think. When people think of kids, they normally see them as demographics or gender, but they are all individuals with values and interests." {{MANAGEMENT FEATURE }}