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Toy creator convinces KFC to give untried product a shot

KFC is taking a chance on imagination this June. In a departure from traditional kids meal promotions, the fried chicken chain will introduce a pair of children's characters that have never appeared in a movie or television show. Slimamander, a bipedal...
June 1, 1998

KFC is taking a chance on imagination this June. In a departure from traditional kids meal promotions, the fried chicken chain will introduce a pair of children’s characters that have never appeared in a movie or television show. Slimamander, a bipedal salamander sporting Bermuda shorts and a perpetual thumbs up, will be featured with his amphibian friend, Leap the Frog, during KFC’s summer Kids Meal event. The reptilian duo originated in the creative mind of Clifford Medney, CEO of a kids product development company called Creative Tub Time.

Three years ago, while working at Nabisco as director of consumer promotions and integrated marketing, Medney decided to design a character that would make bathtime and pool play fun and stimulating for small children. ‘As a father of two, I realized that kids have a love affair with anything slimy,’ he says. ‘They’re really fascinated by salamanders because they’re both slimy and exotic.’

After fine-tuning Slimamander, which started life looking like a cross between the Incredible Hulk and Godzilla, and testing the character during pizza lunches with his children and their friends, Medney decided to show Slimamander to Cathy Snow, one of his colleagues at Nabisco. She loved the concept so much that three years later, after joining KFC as director of kids meal marketing, Snow tracked Medney down and asked him to present the idea formally to her company.

‘At that point, Slimamander and Leap had been turned down by 70 other corporations because they didn’t have the built-in recognition and popularity of TV characters,’ says Medney. Refusing to give up, he convinced the group of KFC executives to take a chance on his characters. ‘I told them that fast-food restaurants create a social environment that draws children like flies and that if they featured original characters that are colorful and engaging enough, kids will respond to them.’

Medney presented the group with videotaped focus group sessions showing kids enthusiastically responding to Slimamander and Leap the Frog. He also used some creative toy prototypes created by Applause, including a water-spraying wrist squirter, a retractable bubble-blowing wand and glowing goo ‘slime’ in a Slimamander-shaped case (Medney’s personal favorite), to sway his executive audience. His efforts paid off.

KFC plans to distribute six million of the original toys in kids meals sold in more than 4,200 restaurants in the U.S., Canada and Mexico during the summer premium event.

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