As children get older younger, the latest generation is more media-savvy, more conscious of brand power and has more cash. A child’s pocket money, according to the Winter 2004 Childwise Monitor, currently runs at £11.04 a week, 13% up on 2001.
This sets challenges to retailers, suppliers and advertising/communications agencies such as mine. One of the most pressing is to find appropriate ways of engaging these early-maturing kids. A recent Ogilvy study revealed that 70% of UK mums admitted their children influence most family purchases, either positively (through involvement and discussion) or negatively (through parental acquiescence). This means their economic influence stretches way beyond that £11 a week.
Selling to kids is now a very complex business, with all kinds of ethical issues. Parents are concerned about health, and although they are susceptible to pester power, they are unlikely to give in to it if they think a product is bad for their offspring.
Children are too smart to be sold to in a crudely direct way and they can also enjoy ads for their own sake. They enjoy watching commercials for adult-specific products as much as those aimed specifically at them. Indeed, in recall surveys, it is the adult ads that are generally mentioned first. The most favoured ads are appreciated because they are well made and humorous.
Six-year-old girls’ favourite ads were for Tango Clear - a product not aimed at this particular group. The most popular commercial among under 16s in 2003 was John Smith’s Bitter Dive bombing ad; before that it was the Budweiser Frogs and Wassup! campaigns (2001 and 2002 respectively). These are products which under 16s cannot legally buy or consume, so why are these commercials so popular?
It’s because they use what’s called
the child ego state. The Simpsons is a favoured TV show among children because it’s a form of peer-to-peer communication that leaves them feeling nicely grown-up.
Peer-to-peer communication is the key. Friends and contemporaries have replaced parents, teachers and other authority figures as key influences in determining behaviour.
This means that the concept of acceptance by one’s peers, or ‘cool’ if you like, has become an important factor in determining brand loyalty or a purchase.
So what can we all do to generate this adult edge? First, there needs to be more research on what children, especially girls aged five to eight, really want. Secondly, we all need to communicate with children in a way that they find enjoyable and which makes them feel grown-up.
A TV ad for Capri-Sun, entitled The Magic Pouch, married cartoons and photography with a cool soundtrack. In a typical ad break full of hard sells, this really made an impression. Any ad that incorporates humour and irreverence will endear a brand to young consumers.
Thirdly, we all have to move a lot quicker. Cool is a transient concept so that means thinking tactically and exploiting opportunities as quickly as possible. It means dropping things quickly as well. It’s better to leave kids wanting more, rather than trying to sell them something they regard as passé. For most mainstream brands, the only way of capturing that elusive cool is to jump on a wave, ride it for a bit and then move on to something else.
For inspiration, look no further than Apple, currently the world’s coolest brand. The company has got where it has today not just by creating beautifully designed, inherently desirable objects but by placing itself outside of the mainstream and by dropping products; the iPod Mini, the world’s best-selling digital music player, was suddenly dropped in September for the achingly gorgeous iPod Nano, which, of course, is selling like the hottest of hot cakes. Ask any kid what they most want and I guarantee they’ll want an iPod. Isn’t this exactly what we should be doing?