Special Report: VSDA Convention: Kids are still kids

Just yesterday there was an armed robbery at our local donut shop. There had never been an armed robbery in our neighborhood before, and, as I was reading aloud the details of the incident in the local newspaper, my six-year-old son,...
July 1, 1997

Just yesterday there was an armed robbery at our local donut shop. There had never been an armed robbery in our neighborhood before, and, as I was reading aloud the details of the incident in the local newspaper, my six-year-old son, who was listening, was outraged. ‘Is that our donut shop, momŠthe one where I get my donuts?’ ‘Why would bad people want to rob them?’ ‘Did they take all of the donuts?’ After I explained that the men robbed the store for money, my son looked at me with a most puzzled look on his face. ‘But, mom, if they wanted money, how come they just didn’t go to the ATM?’

After all is said and done, despite the sophistication of the children of the ’90s, their concept of money, and of how things really work in the world, is very limited.

The electronically savvy kids of today can turn on the television set and use the remote control to choose their own programming, have learned to master the VCR so that they can watch and rewatch home videos, and can even adeptly use computers and the Internet all in their single-digit years.

Studies have shown that, on average, children from the second grade through the high school years spend more than three hours per day watching television or using some form of electronic entertainment. After finishing homework, playing sports and participating in extracurricular activities, watching television or videos and playing video or computer games occupy much of their time. Many young children even have their own television sets, or control over a second set in the home to use as they choose.

Television and videos are not isolated experiences and have a distinct role in the family and on social interaction. The television’s form is comforting, and it is a non-threatening, non-punitive medium. Television has an almost seductive appeal to kids, who watch it to escape being judged by their parents, teachers and peers. Studies have shown that children between the ages of seven and 15 watch television primarily for parasocial interaction, to learn something and to escape. Videos have the same appeal, and additionally enable kids to be their own programming directors, providing them with even more choices and control.

Television and video legitimize relaxation. How many of us also ‘zone out’ in front of the television? Television provides us with an ongoing topic of conversation, teaches us about new people and places, helps increase/decrease family tension and has definite implications on how we schedule our time. How many of us planned our time around the recent ‘coming out’ episode of Ellen, and then discussed it with our friends?

Despite the fact that they have virtually memorized the scenes, kids enjoy the constant repetition of programs, and do so with great enthusiasm. Many kids talk along with the programs. Unless a commercial grabs their attention, life continues during commercial break time kids unglue their eyes from the television sets, and return to being kids, grabbing snacks and playing.

They may not have seen an advertisement for a particular product, but kids still want products, just because their friends have them. Through the enormous power of word-of-mouth communication, and through the social influence of their peers, young people gain immense exposure to products. Kids regularly discuss the latest products that are ‘dope,’ chat about TV shows, movies and videos they watch, and discuss toys and clothes they have or want to have, all at recess, underneath the school jungle gyms.

With their keen electronic expertise, and broad experiential background, the fact remains that even though kids appear much more sophisticated than their years, many of our intended messages simply do not effectively connect with them. Through well-designed, age-appropriate promotions, by targeting kids where they are (at home through mailed samples, creative giveaways and coupons), through grass-roots efforts and by designing innovative packaging and point-of-sale materials so that a child can easily recognize the products and brands in-store, the ability to connect with this market is increased.

But perhaps the real key to unlock this children’s marketplace is to continuously keep in mind that kids are still kids.

Debbie Weber, who has her Masters degree from Harvard University, is the president of Multi-Media Promotions, which specializes in developing targeted marketing campaigns and creative programs that tap into entertainment licensing.

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