How Marketers Target Kids

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How Marketers Target Kids

Kids represent an important demographic to marketers because they have their own purchasing power, they influence their parents' buying decisions and they're the adult consumers of the future.

Industry spending on advertising to children has exploded in the past decade, increasing from a mere $100 million in 1990 to more than $2 billion in 2000.

Parents today are willing to buy more for their kids because trends such as smaller family size, dual incomes and postponing children until later in life mean that families have more disposable income. As well, guilt can play a role in spending decisions as time-stressed parents substitute material goods for time spent with their kids.

Here are some of the strategies marketers employ to target children and teens:

Pester Power

"We're relying on the kid to pester the mom to buy the product, rather than going straight to the mom."

Barbara A. Martino, Advertising Executive Today's kids have more autonomy and decision-making power within the family than in previous generations, so it follows that kids are vocal about what they want their parents to buy. "Pester power" refers to children's ability to nag their parents into purchasing items they may not otherwise buy. Marketing to children is all about creating pester power, because advertisers know what a powerful force it can be.

According to the 2001 marketing industry book Kidfluence, pestering or nagging can be divided into two categories—"persistence" and "importance." Persistence nagging (a plea, that is repeated over and over again) is not as effective as the more sophisticated "importance nagging." This latter method appeals to parents' desire to provide the best for their children, and plays on any guilt they may have about not having enough time for their kids.

The marriage of psychology and marketing

To effectively market to children, advertisers need to know what makes kids tick. With the help of well-paid researchers and psychologists, advertisers now have access to in-depth knowledge about children's developmental, emotional and social needs at different ages. Using research that analyzes children's behaviour, fantasy lives, art work, even their dreams, companies are able to craft sophisticated marketing strategies to reach young people.

The issue of using child psychologists to help marketers target kids gained widespread public attention in 1999, when a group of U.S. mental health professionals issued a public letter to the American Psychological Association (APA) urging them to declare the practice unethical. The APA is currently studying the issue.

Building brand name loyalty

Canadian author Naomi Klein tracks the birth of "brand" marketing in her 2000 book No Logo. According to Klein, the mid-1980s saw the birth of a new kind of corporation—Nike, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, to name a few—which changed their primary corporate focus from producing products to creating an image for their brand name. By moving their manufacturing operations to countries with cheap labour, they freed up money to create their powerful marketing messages. It has been a tremendously profitable formula, and has led to the creation of some of the most wealthy and powerful multi-national corporations the world has seen.

Marketers plant the seeds of brand recognition in very young children, in the hopes that the seeds will grow into lifetime relationships. According to the Center for a New American Dream, babies as young as six months of age can form mental images of corporate logos and mascots. Brand loyalties can be established as early as age two, and by the time children head off to school most can recognize hundreds of brand logos.

"Brand marketing must begin with children. Even if a child does not buy the product and will not for many years... the marketing must begin in childhood."

James McNeal, The Kids Market, 1999 While fast food, toy and clothing companies have...
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