Behind the scenes at Kidzania

It’s the child-sized replica of a real city where the kids are in charge, and it’s opening up a new area for brands and licensors, with The Pokémon Company leading the way. We find out more about the UK’s first Kidzania.

There’s something of a quiet revolution happening at Westfield shopping centre in London’s Shepherd’s Bush. While all may seem normal on the face of things, in a far corner – tucked away next to M&S – the children are taking over.

According to the Mexican entrepreneur behind it, KidZania is all about real-life experiences, empowering, inspiring and educating kids through role-play. But the concept is also offering brand owners a new avenue to get in front of their target market.

Founded in 1996 by Xavier López Ancona and a group of fellow Mexican businessmen, KidZania’s first location opened in Santa Fe, Mexico in September 1999. In its first year, it exceeded all expectations, attracting nearly 800,000 visitors. It is now in 20 locations around the world and has entertained over 42 million people.

“Every kid dreams of growing up and doing something exciting, but sometimes these dreams can be lost if not nurtured and encouraged,” explains Hannah Walker, head of marketing at KidZania. “The KidZania environment is designed to remind kids that life is about options and to aim as high as possible.”

“We’re always on the lookout to provide children with more ways to have fun with Pokémon and saw this as a fantastic opportunity for our fans.”

Anthony Cornish, Pokemon Company

High profile brands have been keen to get involved with the London branch, however they have to meet one of KidZania’s main principles of having a sense of realism in the activities. “We rely on industry experts to ensure the values of their respective professionals are present in each activity in order to nurture a child’s learning,” Walker continues. “An airline knows about planes and a car company knows about mechanics. Industry partners make each KidZania experience organic and very real.”

Partners include Bank of England, British Airways, Cadbury, Early Learning Centre, Eat Natural, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, H&M, Innocent, Mothercare, Renault and Unilever to name a few. In terms of entertainment brands, The Pokémon Company is flying the flag.

Anthony Cornish, marketing director at TPCI, says: “Because Pokémon is renowned for its interactivity and delivers a deep and immersive sense of role-play to kids across its range of products, we felt that a partnership with KidZania was a no-brainer, given the role-play entertainment that KidZania establishments are famous for.

“We’re always on the lookout to provide children with more ways to have fun with Pokémon and saw this as a fantastic opportunity for our fans.”

The Pokémon Animation Studio is the first of its kind in Europe and opened in August. The activity lasts around 20 minutes, with children having to complete a short film using stop-motion animation techniques. The session will start with a short lesson on the history of Pokémon animation, an introduction to different animation techniques and a task briefing. The young animators will be split into pairs – one director and one producer – who will be assigned their own studio booth, each of which is equipped with the latest stop-motion animation software, pre-loaded with the animated short they need to complete.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 25:  300 children converge at Kidzania London as doors open to child-size city which is now open at Westfield London on June 25, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images for KidZania London)

Tomy’s Pokémon figurines and props will be provided to help children create the ending of the short film. At the end of the session, their masterpieces will be displayed on a screen outside for parents to see their work. Every child will be paid in KidZos – the KidZania currency – on their way out for their completion of the task. They can use these in the Redemption Store, where Tomy products will also be sold.

Cornish and his team also joined forces with The Entertainer to help build consumer awareness. The six-week campaign saw a special window takeover at the flagship store at Westfield, while promotions running during the period including competitions to win entry tickets to KidZania and reward promotions for visitors to collect free Pokémon Trading Card Game sampling packs and collector’s albums from the store.

“Future initiatives are under wraps at the moment, but expect a year-long campaign with cross-promotional activities with Tomy and KidZania,” says Cornish. “The ultimate aim of the studio is enabling children to have fun with Pokémon; fun is and always has been at the very heart of our brand and core values.

“Having a permanent Pokémon-focused experience within London is an exciting boost for the brand.”

KidZania, too, has high hopes for the Pokémon Animation Studio and Walker admits it is also in discussions with a number of future entertainment partners as well. So what would any interested parties from the licensing realm need to consider?

She says: “All of our industry partner relationships are considered on their individual merits, but our over-riding criteria is always that they have the desire to engage with the next generation and that we have the scope and ability together to create truly engaging and inspiring activities.”

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