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Empowering kid altruism makes marketing sense

Looking for a way to stand out in today's increasingly undifferentiated advertising market, where familiar tools like commercials and online gaming may not have the pull they once did with kid consumers? A new study from Stamford, Connecticut-based research, strategy and product innovation company Just Kid Inc. that delves into a growing altruistic impulse in US kids may inspire a new direction. According to Kids as a Force for Positive Social Change, marketers stand to forge stronger connections with their consumers and inspire more brand trust in parents by helping kids act on their desires to serve their communities and make tangible changes in their world.
April 1, 2008

Looking for a way to stand out in today’s increasingly undifferentiated advertising market, where familiar tools like commercials and online gaming may not have the pull they once did with kid consumers? A new study from Stamford, Connecticut-based research, strategy and product innovation company Just Kid Inc. that delves into a growing altruistic impulse in US kids may inspire a new direction. According to Kids as a Force for Positive Social Change, marketers stand to forge stronger connections with their consumers and inspire more brand trust in parents by helping kids act on their desires to serve their communities and make tangible changes in their world.

The study, which compiled focus group research and the results of online polls of 600 moms with kids age six to 14 and 2,000 kids in that age bracket, found that 90% of kids believe it’s important to help others or give back to their communities. The problem right now, says Just Kid CEO George Carey, is there are very few outlets available to them, and they’re extremely frustrated at not being able to act on their impulses.

‘Kids are tired of being viewed as victims and want to be able to affect change,’ he says, adding 42% of the kids polled said they would be more engaged in service activities ‘if there were more programs or opportunities for kids their age.’ That figure rises to 44% with tweens and 46% of teen responses. Carey believes this attitudinal shift is a golden opportunity to turn the current kid marketing paradigm on its head – instead of appealing to children’s desires to get, marketers could have more to gain by helping them to give.

Corporate social responsibility, it turns out, can pay dividends in building relationships with kids. The survey asked kids what actions they would take to help the cause they cared about most – hunger (60%), pet safety (59%) and safe places for kids (58%) were the top-three issues most vital to the kids surveyed – and a full 51% said they would buy or ask their parents to buy a product that donates money towards the cause. Thirty-eight percent said they would be more likely to purchase a product or brand linked to a cause they were invested in over one with a cool commercial (22%).

And when Just Kids asked respondents in a mock test which box of Frosted Flakes they would buy, 58% chose the box pledging a portion of the purchase price to building a hospital for injured baby tigers and other animals, while the box that gave them a chance to win a US$1,000 allowance trailed by a sizeable 16% – 42% of respondents picked that option.

Gains are also to be made with moms. Of the moms surveyed, an impressive 91% said they would trust a brand more if it gave their children an opportunity to give, deftly beating out the 60% who said they would trust a brand more if it stopped advertising to children entirely.

The study also indicates that cause-related goods would also drive mom’s purchasing behavior. A full 76% of moms said they would be far more likely to give into a product request from their child if the purchase did something to help an issue or cause, while only 21% would be swayed by a giveaway offer. When it came to food shopping, 35% said they’d be more likely to buy their child’s favorite food if it provided an opportunity to help. Not surprisingly, only 6% said they’d pick up the item touting a fun toy or contest, with 5% giving the nod to foodstuffs sporting their kid’s favorite character.

Carey admits that cause marketing is not new to the adult consumer space, but says it’s relatively untapped when it comes to kids. He could only cite programs for Kraft’s Lunchables and Mattel’s American Girl carried out last year.

It’s unlikely, however, that the field will stay empty for long. Nickelodeon has just thrown its hat into the kid-empowerment ring with the announcement of its international environmental initiative The Big Green Help, set to launch this month in the US. While building towards the November rollout of what it’s touting as the first green MMOG for kids that will provide them with actionable, measurable steps to positively contribute to helping the environment, Nickelodeon is kicking the campaign off with PSAs built around The Big Green’s themes of waste reduction, recycling, energy efficiency and natural resource preservation. Additionally, retail behemoth Wal-Mart plans to distribute 1.2 million green seed packs to kids visiting US stores in April. The packs contain ‘secret green codes’ that kids can enter on www.thebiggreenhelp.com to access a special eco-centric SpongeBob game.

And for other kid marketers looking to follow Nick’s lead, Carey offers some must-follow steps towards setting up initiatives that appeal to kid altruism. First and foremost, the promo/event really needs to look like a party any kid would want to attend, despite the severity of the issue being tackled. Secondly, marketers have to give kids a clear measurable mission – reforesting 1,000 acres of wilderness, for example. Then you have to follow up and show the kids that the mission was accomplished. ‘Kids need to see the impact of what they’ve done,’ says Carey. ‘A problem/intervention/solution structure is a key part of engaging kids. You can’t offer something abstract.’

About The Author
Lana Castleman is the Editor & Content Director of Kidscreen and oversees all content for Kidscreen magazine, kidscreen.com and related kidscreen events. lcastleman@brunico.com

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