Chuck E. Cheese Navigates Balance Between Marketing To Kids -- And Adults

To say the Chuck E. Cheese brand has “evolved” is a massive understatement. After declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June 2020, the brand has since undergone a completely modern overhaul, reimagining and redesigning the eatertainment experience specifically for today’s decision-making kids. Gone is the dated animatronic band and mainly kids’ menu -- replaced with a high-tech arcade experience, an actual “live” Chuck E. Cheese mascot with his own YouTube channel, partnerships with NASCAR, and a new menu just for grown-ups.  

As a keynote speaker at the most recent Mediapost QSR Insider Summit in New Orleans, CEC’s Senior Director of Brand Marketing Blake Johnson discussed how the almost 50-year-old brand has evolved post-pandemic with a fresh, modern look and feel. We followed up with Johnson after the Summit with a few more questions on what’s next. 

The following interview was edited for clarity and length.

QSR Insider: Marketing to kids is always tricky. How do you navigate appealing to kids, who then have to essentially pitch you to their parents?

Johnson: We’re a kids-focused brand that appeals to families and have been doing this for almost 50 years.  And it’s still tricky to find the right balance between talking to your core audience, three- to nine-year-olds, while simultaneously making your pitch to their parents.

What we’ve always found, and this was true in the ‘80s, ‘90s but also today: the kids are the ultimate decision makers. So, we make sure we are always present, and, in a major way, in and on content children consume.  And beyond just traditional advertising on kids-focused linear and streaming and the like, we’re finding other, more endemic ways to be more present in and around kids’ content, like strategic partnerships with KidzBop, kid influencers like Ryan’s World. and more.

QSR Insider: Considering the popular Chuck E. Cheese YouTube channel, how important are outside brand extensions to overall marketing?

Johnson: We are first and foremost an entertainment brand, and always have been since our inception. Part of our brand mission is to now expand that entertainment beyond just the fun centers and entertain families across the world in new, exciting, and current ways, whether through entertainment content on YouTube or other kids-focused channels, specials, licensed products, games and more. 

So while my primary focus as director of brand marketing is to drive awareness and traffic to our Fun Centers, I think of that as only just one integral part of our overall mission as a brand and IP.  We think of driving a larger affinity towards our characters and content, in whatever form that takes, as the larger mission. 

QSR Insider: What perception of Chuck E. Cheese would you like to change? How are you doing that?

Johnson: Obviously, with a legacy brand like Chuck E. Cheese, and one with such a rich and diverse history, perception is something we’re always consistently working to keep updated.

Everyone has an idea of what the Chuck E. Cheese experience is.  And sometimes that “idea” may be severely outdated, depending on the last time you visited. We’ve always been on the forefront of technology and entertainment evolution, and in just the last four years, we’ve completely updated the brand to fit the period.

Also leading this evolution and change is how we entertain our core audience: the modern child.  We’ve invested over $300 million into a complete refresh of the Fun Centers nationwide. More than just a remodel in the cosmetic sense, we’ve made several huge updates to our core experience, including retiring outdated attractions, like the beloved animatronics. While millennials like myself grew up enamored and entertained with them, the modern child isn’t impressed, and experiences entertainment in a much more dynamic way. 

We updated our game rooms with a huge video wall and interactive dance floor, piping in custom-produced content daily. We feature new games, new prizes, new active-play attractions like Trampoline Zones and Ninja Run obstacle courses. For the adults, our fun centers are brighter, cleaner, more modern and safer than they have ever been.

All this investment is core to keep the perception of Chuck E. Cheese accurate and more on-par with where we are today.

We’re also sometimes perceived as being more of destination for special occasions. We are proudly the “birthday capital of the universe,” hosting over 20 million birthday parties since our inception.

But with affordable pricing and new options for everyday visits like our Summer Fun Pass, it’s never been more affordable to visit Chuck E. Cheese, and more frequently, during school breaks and holidays, for instance.  We were founded as a more accessible destination than say, theme parks like Disney World, and we are still very much honoring that intention in the current iteration of Chuck E. Cheese.


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