Breakfast ‘Prom’-o

Chicago students win a dream prom by boosting their breakfast participation in a program featuring radio personalities.

Marketing to high school students can be a daunting challenge, especially when the goal is to entice them to start the day with a nutritious breakfast—and thus effect an increase in reimbursable meal participation.

Perhaps they’re running late—what else is new? Or they figure eating breakfast just isn’t “cool.” But for James Neal, marketing manager for the Chartwells/Thompson Hospitality team running foodservice in the Chicago Public Schools system, it’s all about understanding—and applying—the principles of urban marketing.

“When you think ‘urban marketing,’ you have to speak to these students in terms of their ‘passion areas,’ such as music, fashion, technology or exclusivity,” Neal explains. “We tapped into their desire to have exclusivity—something no other Chicago high school would have—with the Perfect My Prom Breakfast Contest.”

Repeat performance: The promotion ran last October through December, with the reward coming during this spring’s prom season. It was so successful in the approximately 80 participating high schools that Neal plans to repeat it this coming fall semester.

The school that wins—this year it was Westinghouse High School—receives a $10,000 injection of cash and services to overhaul its prom. The concept is based on the MTV program, “Pimp My Ride,” in which cars are overhauled to the extreme.

“We partnered with a tuxedo rental place for part of the prize, then we gave out department store gift cards for a total of 12 tuxedos and 12 prom dresses,” Neal reports.

The school that registers the greatest increase in reimbursable breakfast meal purchases versus the same period of the previous year is the winner. Westinghouse, with about 600 students, had more than a 20% increase.

Numbers are percentage-based since schools are not all the same size.

Radio power: To increase interest, a made-to-order program featuring pancakes and omelets was offered at about 10 of the schools. But the real generator of student enthusiasm stemmed from Neal’s urban marketing savvy in partnering with Power 92, a popular, local radio station.

“We ran radio spots, plus the station sent Power 92 ‘street teams’ to the cafeterias at various schools during the breakfast period,” he says. “They did a remote dial-in (to the station) from the lunchroom. For example, the DJ might say, ‘Hey, we’re at Westinghouse High School this morning and we’re getting breakfast jump-started.’ This would be followed by a ‘call’ and ‘response’ from the students, so they’d be heard on-air. Best of all, Power 92 will do a live remote from the prom. That’s a big draw.”

Primary target: At the elementary school level, the back-to-school promo focused on increasing reimbursable breakfast meal participation. Neal and his team, in conjunction with the Midwest Dairy Council, gave prizes to schools that increased milk consumption during the month of October.