The Real Marketing Decision Makers – Selling to Children is far from Child’s Play
Children influence almost 80 percent of parents’ brand purchasing decisions. Fifty-eight percent of children across the globe claim they tell their parents what to buy.
When it comes to buying high priced items, children’s opinions carry a lot of clout. Sixty-seven percent of parents across the globe buy new cars on advice given by children, who are not old enough to drive. In addition, parents in countries as diverse as India, Japan, Brazil, Spain, Turkey, Germany, Thailand and Denmark, buy 62 percent of mobile phones and 65 percent of clothing brands based on their kids’ opinions.
This data comes from BRANDchild, the world’s largest study on kids and brands, showing overwhelming evidence that household brand purchase decisions across the board are increasingly made by children.
Children, falling roughly between the ages of eight and fourteen, influenced the spending of an astounding US$1.88 trillion in 2002. This emerging generation is known as the tweens. They are not quite teenagers and are no longer considered children.
According to Jean McDougall, group director of communications and marketing at Millward Brown, the value of the tween market is enormous. In 2002, “tweens spent a staggering US$ 40 billion on themselves and influenced the expenditure of more than US$500 billion in the USA alone.”
Brand marketing guru and co-author of BRANDchild Martin Lindstrom, says tweens are an increasingly powerful and smart consumer group. “They are currently worth $4 billion to the Australian economy and command influence over $30 billion of spending decisions – from mobile phones and carriers, electronics, cars and entertainment, to what their parents should wear.”
The power this young generation wields over parents is nothing short of mind boggling. More significant is their value as consumers in the future. Ann Sutherland and Beth Thompson, authors of Kidfluence: The Marketers Guide to Understanding and Reaching Generation Y, Kids, Tweens & Teens, say this is an era unlike any other.
Sit up and take notice
Marketers should take tweens very seriously. From what breakfast cereal they buy to where families vacation, this young group, often referred to as Generation Y, has a dramatic impact on household purchasing decisions and commerce.
“Businesses are taking notice,” says Sutherland and Thompson. “Cereal advertising is geared to kids, cruise lines cater to their desires and car companies invite them into the boardroom.”
Commenting on who handed kids the reins of purchasing power, Sutherland and Thompson say there are a number of forces at play among this group. Their sheer numbers combined with their spending power (a cool $15 billion) and a variety of evolving cultural and social attitudes, make Generation Y (or the tweens) a force to be reckoned with.
Lindstrom says this means every message targeting the adult market must be reconceived and reframed. “Marketers will increasingly have to consider how to capture the attention of two very distinct audiences in one message by appealing to the adult purchaser, as well as the kid who influences them.”
According to Sutherland and Thompson, tweens save money – one in ten invest in mutual funds. They are responsible, green, mature, self sufficient and have Internet savvy.
Marketing to South African tweens
“Given South Africa’s population skew to young consumers, consumer marketers must consider the role of tweens in their marketing strategies,” says senior lecturer at the Gordon Institute of Business Science, Nicola Kleyn.
She adds, “Although tweens represent purchasing power in their own right, their influence on the product and brand spend of family members who hold the purse strings to disposable income, as well as their status as future adult consumers, puts them high on the radar of marketers in product categories like food and beverages, media, banking, clothing, electronics and mobile airtime.”
A recent South African study found that children from poorer communities increasingly make core decisions about shopping for their families. This gives marketers opportunities to pitch basic goods directly at kids.
According to a Sunday Times newspaper report, these kids make core decisions about what, when and how much they will buy. It cautions marketers to, “Do away with old stereotypes and face up to the daily realities of confronting these groups of children and young people.”
These children have to deal with absent fathers, working mothers, living with grandparents who are physically unable to shop and being orphaned. They run the household income deftly and with amazing insight and determination.
“Tween marketers need to balance satisfying tween’s growing demands for products with the ethical constraints implicit in marketing to children,” Kleyn points out. “Although they may be surprisingly informed and sophisticated in their brand and product evaluations, tweens require protection from exploitation.”
Children are not really loyal to brands
Millward Brown’s BRANDZ study, which measures the equity of more than 18 000 global brands, indicates that very young children do not really bond with particular brands.
Kids are 40 percent less loyal to brands than adults. This weaker brand loyalty is partly the result of childrens pre-programming to explore the world around them. Brands are no exception.
However, once kids enter the tween phase, bonding to brands increases rapidly and reaches a peak around the age of 25.
Dougall says there are other reasons why tweens are less loyal than adults. “With more and more promotional activity around, it is easy for tweens to jump from one brand to another.”
Millward Brown’s research suggests that sales and pack promotions, which are used to drive sales, often do little to build strong brand foundations.
According to international research, tweens are racially diverse; one in four lives in a single-parent household; and three in four have working mothers.
Whether marketing kid or grown-up brands, all marketers should consider tweens as potential targets.
Dougall recommends the following:
• Consider ethics a priority – Kids may have huge spending power and influence, but they are still kids.
• Establish presence – Getting your brand known among tweens is a critical first step and gives a brand respectability, opening the door for acceptance by the group.
• Build a brand story tweens can believe – To survive, brands need to have opinions and attitudes. Be prepared to reveal weaknesses, as well as strengths.
• Plan your product evolution over weeks and months, not years – Ensure there is a sense of consistency that tie subsequent evolutions together.
• Put tweens at the centre of any marketing programme aimed at them
• Make your brand work around tween hours, not traditional business hours
• Constantly monitor the marketplace
• Think mobile – Tweens are always on the move.
• Maximise your mix of media channels – Consider viral campaigns, the Internet, events, product placement and mobile phones, instead of, or as well as, traditional media.
• Learn ‘tween speak’ – Make sure you understand virtual worlds and interactive computer games. These may soon become one of the most important forums for tween interaction.
• Be flexible and patient – Listen to what tweens have to say. They hate to be sold to, but love to be respected.
Tweens do not go for the old school advertising, which pushes slogans and images.
A something-for-everyone web appeal
Commenting on what this means for a company’s online brand strategy, Lindstrom says it is vital for companies to structure messages that appeal to both the adult and tween markets.
“Obviously, some features appeal more to parents, others to their kids,” he says. “The challenge is to determine what appeals to each age group.”
The BRANDchild survey shows that structured product presentations appeal to the adult segment, while products presented in their environment appeal more to tweens.
A company’s web site needs to have a something-for-everyone appeal, whilst maintaining the core message’s integrity.
“One method would be to build in a separate section where kids can explore products in a more dynamic way,” says Lindstom. “Language also needs to be kid-friendly and graphically appropriate to secure their full attention.”
Tweens respond to humour, irony and the cross-your-fingers-and-hope-to-die type of truth.
Be completely honest
Companies need to be completely honest and ensure they fulfil whatever it is they promise to deliver.
Marketing to kids is much more than simply pestering them with marketing messages. “It is about achieving balance,” says Lindstrom.
Tweens can detect deception a mile away. They are companies’ “future brand customers and deserve the highest ethical standards” deliverable.
Christine Leonardi is a freelance writer, communications practitioner and the editor of the Gordon Institute of Business Science’s online journal, The GIBS Review.