Children today represent an important demographic to marketers, having their own purchasing power. They are markerter’s best friend. Indeed, this statement is backed up by evidence from watch groups such as Media Channel: In the year 2007, they highlighted the fact that in the US, close to 2 bilion dollars was spent on advertising to children. It seems to be a lot of money and people may think “are children that profitable?”. Of course they are ! Keeping the US example, the average spending for children aged 7-12 is about 9 billion dollars a year and about 100 billion dollars of their own for the ones between 10 ; 17 years old. (Mc.Gee ; Heubusch, 1997).
It was also revealed that children greatly affect the commodities their parents buy as we will note later on this essay which is refered to as “pester power”. What’s more, the money they will spend when they grow is another reason why they are increasingly the target of advertising. In short, targeting them is extremely profitable for marketers. But how do marketers target children and how do children perceive advertising? What are the consumer behaviour concepts that marketers have to understand to design the best tactics? Also, what effects does advertising have on children and their perception of the world? Are there any issues with the ways to communicate with them?
In a 1st part, we will define the concept and its dimensions, talking mostly about the ethical issues that have risen all along these years. In a second part, we will discuss the main consumer behaviour concepts that marketers have to understand and we will see what the best strategic tactics to design are to influence children, using industry, product and market examples that have been demonstrated to be efficient.
I. THE CONCEPT AND ITS DIMENSIONS
A. Definition of the concept and the people involved To start, let’s define the age group of what is called a “child”. If we refer to most of the documents released by the FTC about the issues of advertising on children, they recommend the measures to be taken for children under 12 mainly, making even more specific requests for children under 8: This age group : 0-12 will be the subject of our matter then. (NB : Other sources would take into account all the people under 18 though. (Sian Powell ; Bernard Zuel, 1993) Having a greater role in the family decision making, the ability of children to influence and “nag” their parents into purchasing items they may not otherwise buy is nowadays refered to as “pester power”. This is known as a conflict-cause phenomenom between most of parents and their child.
According to the 2001 marketing industry book Kidfluence, (by Anne Sutherland) pestering or nagging can be divided into two categories-“persistence” and “importance.” Persistence nagging (a plea, that is repeated over and over again) is not as effective as the more sophisticated “importance nagging.” This latter method appeals to parents’ desire to provide the best for their children, and plays on any guilt they may have about not having enough time for their kids.
Pester power is the main result that comes out from communicating to children. Indeed, Marketing to children is all about creating pester power, because advertisers know what a powerful force it can be. B. The issues regarding the communication/marketing to children he term cognitive status is used here to refer to children’s attitudes and knowledge relative to being a consumer: That is, what they know about the numerous components of the market place and what their evaluation of them are. What follows are some brief profiles of children’s attitudes and knowledge regarding specific components.
First and foremost, children are at a stage of development called ” proximal development. At this stage, they simply take elements of what they perceive in the world around them and then use it in various aspects of their lives. There is a certain level of trust that children have over and above than one of adults. They lack the ability to weigh arguments in a sober and even sometimes a cynical way. Consequently, this makes them very vulnerable to exploitation (Murphy.P & al, 2004) To start with advertising, the main issue is therefore about the ability of children so young to understand advertising and its intent, purpose, influence and not be deceived and manipulated by it.
Experts say that children do not understand persuasive intent until they are 8 or 9 years old and that it is unethical to advertise to them before then (Stephen Frith, 1996). According to Karpatkin and Holmes from the consumer union, “young children, in particular, have difficulty in distinguishing between advertising and reality in ads, and ads can distort their view of the world (Karpatkin & Holmes, op.cit) : They are unable to evaluate advertising claims. One study by ROY FOX, Associate Professor of English Education at the University of Missouri, found that children watching athletes in TV commercials thought that the athletes paid to be in the ad to promote themselves rather than the product. They believed children in ad were real rather than paid actors: In short, they do not see the manipulation.
Regarding the stores, they believe that the stores are owned by a person (not a corporation) and they feel they know the person who owns thm.Concerning the price of the goods, children are not price conscious to any significant extent (Saenz, 1979) So we can obviously say that calling a child a consumer is an overstatement as there are plenty of things he should be aware of that he is not. Therefore, targeting vulnerable, naive markets is unethical.
What’s more, more than targeting vulnerable markets, marketers emphasize the non-ethical marketing by the utilization of psychologists. About that, they are recommending that there should be some sort of strategy to protect the young ones from exploitation through this use of psychological ploys (Beder, 1998). As an example, advertising targeting a child may become a problem if it violates the right to privacy, transparency, honesty or autonomy. By using psychologysts in the process of creating ads for children, marketers are imposing upon children’s right to autonomy & transparency.They try studying children’s behavioural trends ; they use this to exploit those children: this is quite unethical.
3. CHILDREN TARGETED ALONE
Unethical ads are those ones that do not involve getting consent from parents. Most of the time such ads are usually aired in the afternoon during kids’programming sessions. They usually create desires in children to have those ads at all costs. When advertising is done without parental consent; that is when children are watching shows on their own then it becomes unethical as they are too young to realize the manipulation. Ex: Those ones that have cartoon characters and are seen as specifically meant for children. At this point, children feel like they are the only ones with the ability of purchasing the item yet it is their parents who have to foot the bill. Marketers try to make children think they can do it by themselves and that they are mature enough.They just send the wrong message and it is not fair.
Ads targeting children alone have shown their effects in a number of ways. In the year 2007, it was found that about 58% of all items purchased by children (through their allowances) are sweet and toys (DAVIDSON, 2002) . The FTC felt a lot of concerns about that, especially regarding the glamorization of food or food habits involving health risks, mainly dental health risks from sugared food or even obesity. The rationale was that youngsters under 12 do not have a good enough background in nutrition knowledge. (FTC report, 1978, Advertising age)
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