July/August 2006, Issue 474 www.warc.com
Marketing to the four-eyed, four-legged consumer
Tim Coffey, David Siegel and Greg Livingston The nature of the four-eyed, four-legged consumer (4i4l), otherwise known as mother and child, changes as the child matures from prebirth (pregnancy) to teen. Today's mothers and their children are substantially different from previous generations in their approach to life, and parenting in particular. By examining their lifestages, we can better understand how the 4i4l develops and changes over time. Each stage brings a new relationship between mother and child that significantly affects how they make decisions together, with each stage informing the next one. Most importantly, each stage requires a different approach to marketing effectively. In relationship terms, we see three stages – Dependence, Conditional and Interdependence – which emerge over time. Each stage is characterised by a different mix and balance of mutual decision-making styles. For several decades, this decision-making relationship has been characterised as a nagging child who pesters and cajoles the parent to get what s/he wants, with the parent (mostly the mother) represented as the 'gatekeeper' who decides which requests are granted. We are not saying that there is no truth in these characterisations, but we have seen from research that there is much more to the story. There is far more generational collaboration than was once believed, as both mother and child seek to meet their respective needs. In our 2005 study of mother–child influence, we found clear evidence of this more collaborative relationship even with children as young as two to four years old, increasing as the child grows older. Styles of interaction are shown in Table 1. MOTHER-DRIVEN INFLUENCE • Providing is defined as a mother offering products without explicit communication from the child. She may be considering the wants and needs of her child while she considers her own values, or she may operate mostly on the basis of what she considers best. Even when a mother is operating on her own values, she is always considering the child to some extent. • Choice-offering is when a mother explicitly offers alternatives and asks for the child's input. Go to any store and you see mothers offering children choices, saying something like, 'Would you like this one or this one?' Here, she is still maintaining a high level of control, but she is purposefully engaging her child in the choice process. Why does she do this? Some mothers do it to help their kids learn how to make decisions. Others we have talked to suggest that it also builds 'buy-in' on the part of their children, ensuring that they will use the product once they get it home. Another version of choice-offering is when a mother chooses the occasion and brand, but allows the child to choose the variety. • Asking is a common occurrence, as when mothers ask their children, 'What do you want for dinner?' Of course, asking occurs in all kinds of situations, as mothers want to short-circuit the discussion and go straight to the source, the child. In most cases, she is genuinely seeking information and help. She still holds some control over the decision, maintaining the right to veto the choice if she deems it inappropriate. As children get to be tweens and teens, the mother may even view the child as having more expertise regarding certain products than she does. Mothers are not all alike when it comes to how they behave towards their children, of course. We performed a segmentation analysis of mothers in the 2004 Simmons Study that identified a continuum of styles from more permissive to more restrictive. The overall proportion is 40/60 permissive versus...