Children as Consumers

The moment a child can see clearly they become a consumer. The mini-me phenomenon of today encourages children to be brand sensitive at an early age. Babies don’t ride in plain strollers anymore instead they ride Maclearens and high end Bugaboos, their car seats have Eddie Bauer labels, and their diapers are Disney Winnie the Pooh Huggies or Sesame Street Pampers (Thomas 2). The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood reports that by six months, babies are forming mental images of corporate logos and mascots, and that babies request brands as soon as they can speak. Other studies show that by the time an American child is 3 years old, he or she can recognize an average of 100 brand logos (Braiker).

In 1978 the federal trade commission investigated television ads aimed at children, and the report showed that babies and children were typically exposed to 20,000 commercials a year. In the 1980’s companies began to produce program long commercials called PLC’s, wrapping story lines around product marketing. They became essential to the launch of mass market toy lines. Some examples being GI Joe, Care Bears, and Strawberry Shortcake which were all created to sell toys. By 1985 all the top 10 best selling toys had their own shows (Thomas 55).

Children are very influential and much effected by what they see and here. For young children the more they see and hear about a product the more they feel comfortable enough with the product, it become familiar. Cereals, for example, have characters used for recognition, the kids don’t recognize the product but they do recognize the character (Thomas 125). Infants and toddlers clearly form attachments to characters designed to appeal to them. The main thing that infants and toddlers learn from such characters is the ability to recognize them. Attachment to characters deepens the more often they encounter them, and the presence on a wide variety of merchandise seems to be toddler’s first experience of developing loyalty to an early concept of the brand (Thomas 143).



Toys, Toys, Toys

Characters have been used to sell stuff to kids for nearly a century. When the Walt Disney Company began marketing Mickey Mouse in 1929 it established a model for much of today’s standard marketing practices in the kid’s media industry. Disney made licensing its cartoon characters to toy and children’s apparel companies a pillar of its business strategy. Now Mickey Mouse is recognized globally as one of the all American icons (Thomas 114).

Executives in the children’s entertainment business use the word “toyetic” to describe television characters that will translate well into toys. Stan Clutton the senior vice president of licensing and new business at fisher price observed several key factors which contribute to a media property making a splash. One bring repeat exposure is crucial, young children thrive on routine and familiarity, and encountering these characters over and over again breeds trust (Thomas 119-120).

Toy makers wanting to capitalize on the action figure formula for girls, so they began to create little girls characters that were intended as licensing properties from the start. Strawberry Shortcakes look was a product of sophisticated marketing. Her superficial message of “friendship” appealed to overworked boomer parents who, too overwhelmed to vet toys carefully, would gravitate on impulse to anything that that seemed innocent. It was designed to attract generation X mothers, whose notoriously unstable upbringing made them feel vulnerable and insecure. The character of strawberry shortcake was chosen after market surveys showed that little girls connected emotionally with it and felt security and affection in relation to them (Thomas 58).


Parents as Consumers

Thanks to TV, websites, & magazines (eg. Sprout, Babble.com and BabyCenter.com, American Baby and Parents), today’s generation of parents offers a key audience for marketing. Pushing everything from strollers to organic snacks, parent-focused advertising is big business for established brands and niche industries. One of the most convincing strategies that companies use to reach parents is playing up the emotion of guilt. Marketers tap into parents’ insecurities and have an easy opening when pushing a product that promises to bring happiness to their child’s life (Ai Insite: The Parent Trap: Marketing to Parents). For example many children between the ages of 6-11 now have their own cell phone, their parents purchasing this mainly because they are worried about their children and it provides definite communication. Possession has grown 68% in the past 5 years, and more than 12% of parents say they intend to buy a cell phone for their child within the next 12 months. Originally all the child needed was a Firefly, a phone with 2 programmable buttons, however this turned into needing something more, something newer (Kelly).

In general, families are one of the largest consumer segments in American society, Brand strategist Jamie Dunham says, buying more food, more clothes, and more products overall once children come along. The Marketing to Moms Coalition recently reported that mothers are worth more than $2 trillion to U.S. brands. Advertisers just need to understand the differences among parenting groups. For example, Baby Boomers typically have kids in college or young grandchildren, and are experiencing their own unique parenthood needs. Generation X parents often gravitate toward products that offer straightforward solutions to problems, while Millennials currently the very youngest parents, respond to more emotional advertising and products that enhance their well-being, she says (Ai Insite: The Parent Trap: Marketing to Parents). This is exactly what happened when the Baby Einstein Company was launched. At this point Baby boomers were having their children later and wanted products that promised to stimulate early literacy, while Generation X women were now starting to have babies too and were bringing some of their technology know how to lap time. The obvious genius with this product was the name and its power of suggestion. It implies to the parents that their child could be the next Einstein. Another great thing about this product is that the creator herself was a young mother, and this is very relatable (Thomas 7).

Gen X Parents Vs Boomer Parents

Fisher price learned the hard way in the 1990’s when gen-x were becoming mothers, marketers new very little about them, and a lot about boomer moms. Research showed mothers and fathers clashed over who would attend to the crying baby, boomers were under enormous pressure to compete with men in the workplace, and the friction was stressing their self esteem and marriage. And if a company could offer a product to solve this, mothers would buy it. So Fisher Price developed a mobile which was remote activated. The commercial was a before and after scenario, the first frame with the parents fighting over who would attend to the baby and the second with the couple reaching for the remote. The research was solid and they were pleased, but the mothers hated it. They were offended that a mother would be portrayed as unfeeling. The researchers retraced their steps and found there was a new target mother. The Gen-X mother wanted her presence felt; she wanted her child to feel that she was there no matter how briefly she was gone. She fisher price used this information. They needed to convince her that their product was her surrogate. This time the commercial showed a mother and father relaxing and when the baby is heard both parents rise. But the mother says don’t worry and she activates the remote, and the voice over assures viewers that mother can be there for her baby without having to disturb him, giving her child the ability to self soothe. This time the commercial was a huge success. They identified with the scenario (Thomas 66-69).

A new way in which marketers advertise to parents is through Newstalgia, the love of old things from the past revived into what designers call the contemporary classic. It has inspired film revivals, and sparked renewed interest in fashion (Thomas 148). The Newstalgia Campaign promoted the defining saga of Gen-X’s childhood, star wars. With the 2005 release stores were stacking merchandise which parents were running to purchase. Parents were even bringing toddlers to see a movie which featured a lot of violence to mature for them. The violence didn’t matter because of their emotional attachment to it which trumped their other decisions. The brand association was so powerful that it overrode other concerns. And because these over protected parents could turn a blind eye it was proof that Newstalgia was powerful. This was brand equity (Thomas 152-153).