Ruchika Jha
Marketing

The only way to build a brand today is experiential marketing: Rahul Dhamdhere, KidZania

Children at KidZania are introduced to brands including Parle, DHL, Frooti, Kinder Joy, and SMOODH, where they role-play as experts.

KidZania, an interactive family entertainment and learning center, is paving its way to becoming children’s favourite with several brand partnerships and interactive learning experiences. It is currently present in Mumbai with 70,000 square feet of space and in Delhi NCR (Noida) with over 100,000 square feet of space.

The KidZania city has roads, buildings, a car-driving street, a theatre, and more, where children can spend their time exploring, playing, and learning. Rahul Dhamdhere, chief marketing officer, KidZania India, shares that from a marketing and advertising perspective, KidZania is one of the most innovative mediums.

He says that KidZania is more of a return-on-experience-based platform where brands associate with the company, and kids can stay and learn from brands for a minimum duration of 20 minutes.

We see over 3.5 lakh children visiting KidZania on school picnics collectively from Delhi NCR and Mumbai.

As soon as children enter KidZania, they are given the Kidzos currency, and they roleplay to learn. For example, they can visit a Parle biscuit factory in KidZania to see how biscuits are made. Parle demonstrates the biscuit-making process to them. It also teaches children how to make different sandwiches with Nutella.

These are the places where kids earn Kidzos, and there are areas where they can spend the currency. Parents are allowed in KidZania but not in the roleplay area.

“We see over 3.5 lakh children visiting KidZania on school picnics collectively from Delhi NCR and Mumbai. We also have a tie-up with Kinder Joy and Frooti, where the kids learn how these products are made and can take them home as well. The kids are also taught that once they spend money, they have to go and work somewhere. They work in DHL Logistics and become logistics experts, delivering parcels and earning money,” adds Dhamdhere.

Collaboration with MP Tourism

In May 2024, KidZania and Madhya Pradesh (MP) Tourism announced a partnership to introduce children to the heritage, culture, wildlife, and adventures of the state via augmented reality (AR) experiences. This initiative aims to establish the MP Tourism Experience Center at KidZania in Mumbai and Delhi NCR.

Dhamdhere says that MP Tourism is the first government client KidZania partnered. He praised Sheo Shekhar Shukla, IAS, principal secretary, tourism, and managing director of MP Tourism stating that he is the most far-sighted and innovative person.

Speaking on the story behind the partnership Dhamdhere states, “Mr Shukla thought that if kids cannot visit Madhya Pradesh, then the state can visit them. Kids who visit KidZania come from various backgrounds. The objective was to bring MP to them, spark their curiosity, and encourage them to visit the state because MP is the best tourist destination in terms of wildlife and heritage.”

We are trying to partner with some Ayurveda and millet brands, including the Ministry of Agriculture.

He adds that since KidZania’s policy has no compete clause, it cannot get into an agreement with any other government tourism bodies. However, he shares that the company is in talks with other government brands.

“We are trying to partner with some Ayurveda and millet brands, including the Ministry of Agriculture. If not government, private sector millet brands can come to us. Both Ayurveda and millet are categories that people want to build an interest in from childhood,” he notes.

Brand partnerships and ads

KidZania has several brand partners such as Air India, MP Tourism, DOMS, Mahindra Lifespaces, TVS, SMOODH, IDFC First Bank, INOX, Nutella, Britannia, Chicago Pizza, Mad Over Donuts, Pepperfry, and more.

I believe that the only way to build a brand today is experiential marketing.

Dhamdhere says that he is a former advertising professional and has worked with a renowned ad agency for about nine years. According to him, advertising has changed completely.

“I believe that the only way to build a brand today is experiential marketing. 9 out of 10 times, when mothers ask their kids to go and buy a biscuit in a hypermarket at KidZania, they buy it because they know how these products are made,” he states.

He recalled another instance where a senior management person was visiting KidZania. He saw someone sitting and eating Kinder Joy. When he asked him whether he liked it or not, the man said he loved it. Upon asking why, he said it was because he made the Kinder Joy himself.

“This is something that no outdoor, digital, or print ad campaign per se will ever provide. It is always the experience and this is what is different about KidZania. The new generation of brand managers do not understand this. They always want to do a 30-second commercial on television, or a print ad in the Times of India, even though nobody reads print anymore. But this kind of integration is the way to go as the whole world is changing into experiential marketing,” says Dhamdhere.

He states that the biggest marketing medium for KidZania is digital, and even more effective than that is word of mouth. “When a parent is happy with the concept of KidZania, they come in and tell us that they too wished they had such a setup while growing up. That is where it will resonate deeply with people.”

Competitors

Other players in the children’s gaming and entertainment category include SMAAASH, Timezone, and Fun City. From a format-to-format perspective, Dhamdhere says that none of these come close to KidZania in terms of size, brand integrations, baking studio, TV studio, or aviation academy.

Places like Timezone and SMAAASH are also our competition but their target audiences are different. People from all age groups are seen there. Our age bracket is 1-14 years.

He always tells his team that when a parent gets up on a weekend and thinks about where they can take their kids, the names that pop into their head are the brand’s competition.

“A farmhouse, amusement park, or Gateway of India in Mumbai is my competition. Places like Timezone and SMAAASH are also our competition but their target audiences are different. People from all age groups are seen there. Our age bracket is 1-14 years,” he remarks.

Feedback from parents and children

Feedback from parents and children is crucial for brands as it provides insights into their experiences and perceptions. To understand and implement the needful, KidZania has CounZil Kids. The company appoints children and they represent the voice of it in India.

We also take a lot of feedback from parents, especially mothers.

Dhamdhere says that the children are chosen based on their age, the class they study in, and different parts of the city. Noida and Mumbai have 15 and 10 CounZil Kids respectively.

He describes, “We do special interactions or discussions with children to understand what are their requirements, likes, dislikes, and areas of improvement. We also take a lot of feedback from parents, especially mothers.”

Expansion plans

KidZania is keen on expanding to cities such as Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, and Ahmedabad. The main challenge, according to Dhamdhere, is logistics. The company requires a minimum of 40,000-50,000 square feet of space and 10-12 metres of height to establish KidZania in a new city.

“We had tied up with Phoenix Market City in Bangalore before the Covid-19 pandemic and were supposed to get a floor space index (FSI) from the government. However, due to some reason, we could not complete the process. We are eagerly exploring more locations to open up. We will surely open in Bangalore,” he says.

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