Earning our way into the kids world

Whenever I'm inclined to underestimate the scrutiny kids advertising is subjected to, I'm reminded of the interest that surfaced with national exposure of our own research into kids advertising earlier this year....
July 1, 1998

Whenever I’m inclined to underestimate the scrutiny kids advertising is subjected to, I’m reminded of the interest that surfaced with national exposure of our own research into kids advertising earlier this year.

Our Kid Ad-Traction study probed 800 children to determine what works, and doesn’t, in advertising. We observed kids are generally attracted to advertising for the same reasons adults are – they have sophisticated tastes and an appreciation for genuine creativity. Just like adults, kids associate great advertising with cohesive storylines, humor, music, elements of surprise and interesting characters.

That’s all we concluded. However, many others, including state and federal government agencies, and various consumer interest groups, arrived at a different perspective. Because our study noted the popularity of Budweiser advertising, various parties assumed this meant underage and vulnerable consumers were attracted to Budweiser beer. In fact, many children noted they felt drinking was bad and not for them. Moreover, we had no evidence in our study that kids drew any correlation between the commercials they liked, and an affinity for the products they promoted.

But such is the universe we live in. The profound purchasing influence of today’s youth – estimated at some $200 billion annually – has attracted the attention of marketers. And contributed to an assumption we are up to no good.

Claims of manipulation are not new to advertising. Speculation over our motives has merely shifted to a younger population with newly recognized consumption power.

How can we responsibly market kid brands in an environment that seems predisposed to suspect the worst from us?

That’s a question we all wrestle with, because the answer ultimately lies in what we as adults believe our responsibility is to kids. And for the vast majority of us in this ‘kids business,’ there is genuine desire to market our products responsibly.

This responsibility is, in my mind, expressed in four essential ways:

Welcome to My World

For an industry that prides itself on decades of accumulated adult consumer insight, we’re remarkably immature about understanding kids. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that any concerted effort was made to really study this market. And what we’ve learned convinces us today’s kids are remarkably more discriminating than any preceding generation. But we need to better understand why and how this is, and what impact it has on what and how we market to them.

The Object Of Our Affection

We need to ask ourselves whether or not what we have to sell is relevant to a kids world. Today’s kids world is a complex, exciting and rich place – presenting plenty of opportunity to positively stimulate imagination, learning and out-and-out fun. But if our only reason for being is profit-making potential, chances are we’ll have a dismal failure on our hands. Kids will likely reject these new products or services, and we’ll have contributed to mounting skepticism over our intentions.

What You Say & How You Say It

It’s critical we don’t talk down to, or at kids – but rather, to them, with engaging messages. We also need to respect their world and space. The minute we attempt to speak their language, or try too hard to be cool, kids will tune us out. We need to show respect by providing them with relevant brand messages delivered in an appropriate tone. Even a ‘gifted’ product can be, and is, dismissed, because the communications about it doesn’t reflect what’s relevant to them. Worse yet, the kids quickly sense a lack of respect from the sponsors who brought them, what they call that ‘bogus’ message.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Virtually every marketer of kids products and services claims a genuine commitment to kids. But how many have bothered to express that commitment in tangible ways? General Mills, a marketer of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and other kids cereal brands, takes its conviction to the marketplace in a program called ‘Box Tops for Education.’ Consumers who purchase General Mills cereals can redeem their box tops for money to support schools in their communities. The effort addresses kids educational needs at the grassroots level, and invites kids and parents into the process. That’s an example of how we can all demonstrate genuine intent by meaningful, relevant, tangible action.

As I’ve learned from spending time there, a kids world is a magical place. A world that inspires the imagination, whatever the age. But like any treasure, it deserves understanding and respect from those of us who truly appreciate its special value and potential.

By Christine Fruechte

Vice President/General Manager, CME KidCom, a unit of Campbell Mithun Esty. CME is a Gold Sponsor of The Golden Marble Awards.

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