FRANKLIN,Tenn. - Hardee's is partnering with a seven-year-old YouTube star, Ryan, to bring back its kids' meals.
Ryan, who goes by his first name only for privacy, was the top-paid YouTube star last year, according to Forbes. His channel, Ryan ToysReview — which includes videos of Ryan and others playing with and reviewing toys — has over 19 million subscribers. The partnership is a first for Hardee's, and it's one that could help it reach consumers, particularly families, in an entirely new way.
The meals will include four exclusive, new toys from Ryan's World, a brand of toys. Later this summer, toys from HobbyKids Adventure, an animated show based off the popular HobbyKids TV YouTube channel, will also be distributed through the meals.
YouTube is an important channel for Hardee's. "Our consumers are digital-first," Jenna Folk, Hardee's director of brand marketing, told CNN Business. "We want to connect with them where they are." She added that the video platform in particular is "an exciting space for us."
The burger chain stopped selling its Star Pals kids' meals eight years ago. But since then it has noticed an increase in families eating at quick-service restaurant chains, Folk said. She cited a University of Connecticut study that found that in 2016, 91% of parents said they had purchased lunch or dinner for their kids at a major fast food chain — up from 79% in 2010.
The return of the kids' meal could encourage parents to choose Hardee's. And the brand is hoping a collaboration with family-friendly YouTubers will make the meal even more attractive.
Ryan will feature the four toys on his YouTube channel, Folk said. The Hardee's Star Pals kids' meals, which include a choice of chicken tenders or a burger, plus an optional side and drink and start at $3.99 per meal, will become available for purchase next week. The toys will also be available in kids meals from Carl's Jr., which has the same parent company as Hardee's.
The partnership may bring in new customers, but it could also open Hardee's and Carl's Jr. up to criticism. McDonald' has caught flak in the past for giving away toys in kids' meals, which opponents said encouraged children to eat unhealthy food.
Hardee's, however, said it isn't anticipating backlash. When asked, Folk said "we want to make life easier for families in general," and that the kids meals can help.
Ryan's natural interest in fast food made the Hardee's deal a good fit, Stone Newman, chief revenue officer for pocket.watch, told CNN Business. Pocket.watch is a digital studio that works with Ryan ToysReview and HobbyKids TV.
The Ryan ToysReview channel already includes videos showing Ryan and others playing with McDonald's branded toys. Those were made organically, Newman said, without any type of deal with the fast food giant.
And Newman is not bothered by the burger chain's other, more mature campaigns. Even as they pursue older guests, "they are still trying to market to families," he said, and "doing it in a nice way."
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