07.18.2017

Marketing – A Children’s Game?

At first glance the idea of creating marketing and advertising campaigns targeting children and adolescents seems rather inappropriate. Although it may not always be an area where moral boundaries are clearly outlined, this approach can be extremely lucrative for companies.

Even if most children are at least ten years away from the purchase of their first car or their own vacation, they are frequently being addressed by companies and their marketing efforts. The reason for this behavior is that the young target group often has a lot more market potential than one would expect. When working in this area of marketing, the most challenging task is grabbing and sustaining the attention of the children and adolescents being targeted. One of the most popular ways to do this is with storytelling. When a story is successfully integrated in the marketing for a product, the children become excited and curious which leads to them bringing their parents into the experience by convincing them of the meaningfulness of the story. This creates a powerful connection between the advertisement, the children and their parents. This is then the basis for the successful sale of a product.

So-called focus groups have formed to find out how much children really know about companies and their products. Within this type of research is a lot of potential to better understand younger people and how they behave within the context of advertising and marketing. With the results from this research, companies can develop their products, advertisements and marketing strategies in specific ways to reach their target audiences more effectively. In special tests, children are fitted with helmet cameras and given the opportunity to wander through supermarkets. The researchers use this new perspective to see what catches the children's attention. By using this perspective, companies are better able to adapt their efforts more specifically to this younger target group and in doing so, generate massive revenue.

When children are only eighteen months old they begin to recognize specific product labels. Only a year later they are able to link items in their environment with specific brand names. American researchers have discovered by the time children are in the first grade they are able to distinguish between over 200 different logos. The number itself is impressive, but what's even more impressive is the probability the knowledge of these logos will accompany the children for the rest of their lives.

Advertising companies are able to benefit from the so-called "Mere Exposure Effect". This social psychological theory states repeated exposure to anything ranging from people, to random symbols all the way to advertisements will cause people to objectively "like" them more. In the marketing/advertising world, that means short and frequent exposure to marketing materials will lead to the viewers subconsciously increasing their desire for the product or service. Companies that use this theory with younger audiences can begin to create this subconscious favorability from an early age, which has the potential to have an enormous influence on the children and adolescents being targeted and their consuming behavior later in life. Also since children and adolescents aren't exposed to the same gross quantity of media as adults, these repetitions can be easier to create and have a more powerful effect. Children's marketing therefore appears to be a very promising approach, which is why brands are so keen to display their logos to as many children as possible, as frequently as possible. Also, to the great advantage of the marketers, humans only develop the ability to recognize something as an ad from the age of seven or eight. This means people younger than seven or eight aren't even aware they are being targeted by an ad, making the advertising much more effective.

Children also play an important and influential role within the family when it comes to purchasing decisions. Advertisements for products like cellphones or cars shown during cartoon series often have parents as the secondary target audience, with the primary target audience being the children since they are much easier to reach with advertising. It is therefore not surprising that marketers are more focused on persuading children to "convince their mother" in their "very own way" instead of turning directly to their mothers.

Visually, it is also very obvious which advertisements are targeting children. The children-specific advertisements are often loaded with bright colors, fast movements and captivating characters to quickly win the attention of the children. Through the use of so-called "stealth" techniques, marketers succeed in concealing the intention of advertising, so brands are perceived as trustworthy or reliable by their audiences.

With the rapid and widespread growth of social media in the last few years, companies have begun utilizing social media to reach new audiences in innovative ways. Companies can use Google-AdWords or find an influential advocate to create a successful influencer marketing campaign that can place the product or service in the day-to-day life of younger people in a natural and organic fashion. With influencer marketing, companies have the ability to reach certain specific audiences based not only on age, gender and location, but also interest. This form of marketing allows companies to reach these very particular target groups and have their products/services stay in the audience's memory longer.

Children are currently finding their way into the complex world of various forms of media earlier than ever. They spend so much time navigating these worlds of media filled with both high quantities of advertising content as well as entertainment content that at times it can be difficult to differentiate between the two. For example, through In-Game Ads, the entertainment experience of online game playing is full of commercial material. During the game players are encouraged to click sponsored banners to increase their own virtual currency. This form of content marketing allows children to interact with the product, whereas with simple product placements in films or series that is not the case. This way, marketers create a long-term loyalty towards their own brand. In addition, children are targeted by companies with special offers ("freebies") for premium content, which is then available in exchange for a "like". This allows marketers to gain access to the personal information of the targeted group. By means of complex algorithms, the advertising in the next phase is then tailored to the interests of the individual children and can thus achieve greater effects.

However, if you are impressed and intrigued by the marketing ideas designed to target younger people, you should first ask yourself the following question: is advertising directed specifically towards children and adolescents before a certain age moral or at all justifiable?

Even if the elimination of "child-centered" advertising is unrealistic in today's world, it is very important to make sure advertisers understand their responsibility and the potential for negatively effecting children. It would be useful to find compromises and limit the influence of companies on children's development. However, the companies doing the marketing shouldn't be the only ones responsible for monitoring the extent of advertising directed towards children and adolescents. Parents are also responsible for their children and limiting the quantity and types of media that their children are exposed to. This is crucial for successfully restricting the contact points between the children and brands and their various creative advertising strategies.

Andreas Kroll

Account Manager