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Children are not only bundles of joy, but also an undeniably important marketing demographic, with a purchasing power estimated to exceed $30 billion each year. They have sway over their parents’ spending (one estimate suggests children between the ages of 8 and 12 influence their parents to spend some $150 billion a year), and – perhaps most importantly – they are the consumers of the future. With research from the Center for a New American Dream suggesting 6-month-old babies can form mental images of corporate logos and mascots, and brand loyalties can form as early as age 2, marketers would be remiss to dismiss the power of “kidfluence.” But targeting children today isn’t so much the issue as the ways in which they are targeted. It’s not just shaping tomorrow’s consumers, but also the future of marketing.
Maybe I’m just blogging out loud, but it seems like, when marketing to children, the line between careful and careless is fine. Savvy brands exercise accountability, and they show children and their cash wielding, gatekeeping parents R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
When a marketing campaign goes awry, the media’s quick to point fingers at the brand and the advertisers and marketers who support it. When Abercrombie & Fitch introduced a padded swimsuit top for pre-teen girls, parents across the Internet expressed emotions ranging from outrage to sadness. The same occurred when Sketchers unveiled its most recent Shape-ups line, targeted for girls young enough to still be wearing Velcro. But statistics suggest we long ago passed the blame game of marketing to children and are now toying with the inevitable consequences of modernity. Today’s young people are “connected” – to brands, ideas, news and each other – in ways like never before. Not only would it be foolish for marketers to ignore them, it’s seemingly impossible. But like my Vertical Marketing Network colleagues often say, accessibility does not negate accountability. Manufacturers and marketers need to put children and the needs of children first in order to succeed. And they must act responsibly. The Kaiser Family Foundation says young people are multitasking their way through a wide variety of electronic media every day, juggling iPods and SMS with cell phones, television and the Internet. It’s estimated that young people cram 8.5 hours of media exposure into 6.5 hours of each day, every day, meaning they spend more time “plugged in” than they do in school. Cell phones and credit cards are no longer just for mom and dad; credit cards are frequently featured in games for kids, as well as toys such as Barbie, and we already know that Smartphones are creating a new kind of m-commerce. The Internet – it seems – is to young people today what television was for Generation X. The challenge for brands and marketers alike is to employ these various tools without sacrificing their product image and compromising their relationships to consumers both young and old. One noteworthy example of a brand doing just that is Los Angeles-based Jr Imagination, which recently launched the mobile application Creative Genius On-The-Go! Featuring some 150 scenarios that challenge young people to think creatively and critically, it’s getting rave reviews. Kids love it because it’s fun, and parents love it because it enhances their children’s lives.
A marketer who truly understands a child’s needs and a parent’s concerns is a marketer on top of their game. In a way, good marketing is a lot like good parenting – not without challenge, but full of reward.