The Kids' Content is Alright
Using kids to push products is as old as advertising itself. In its Rewind archive series, AdAge recently featured a 1950’s campaign for 7Up that depicted babies drinking the soft drink. The accompanying copy, devoted to explaining “why we have the youngest customers in the business,” also recommended that mothers serve their babes the “wholesome combination” of 7Up and milk.
No wonder Mad magazine had such fun lampooning Madison Avenue back in the day, but that was pretty light stuff compared to the present world of kids and consumerism.
Putting kids in ads is not the issue. From Life Cereal’s “Mikey Likes It!” campaign of the 1970’s to E*Trade’s stock-trading, mobile phone-wielding baby of today, kids in advertising, as long as they are not cloying, tend to create a positive consumer impression. What changed was the push of advertising and marketing content at kids, reaching beyond the traditional categories such as toys, movies, candy and fast food into a much wider product range.
There are uniquely creative examples, such as Nickelodeon's pioneering adaptation of the adult celebrity award show format via its annual Kids' Choice Awards. Starting with mail-in balloting in 1986, the show has evolved into an entertainment juggernaut, employing every social media and digital communications tool under the sun to entice consumer interaction, draw audience share and create platforms for content and product placement.
Increasingly, though, the dynamic shifted to getting to adult consumers and their wallets through their children. A good read on the subject is Juliet Schor’s book “Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture.”
With findings such as “the average 10-year-old has memorized about 400 brands, the average kindergartner can identify some 300 logos and from as early as age two kids are "bonded to brands,” Schor, an authority on consumerism and economics, reveals how “children's spending power has mushroomed to an estimated USD30 billion in direct purchases and another USD600 billion of influence over parental purchases.”
Keep in mind that the book was published in 2004. The proliferation of media channels and devices since can only mean adversely deeper reaches still into the minds and wallets of children unable to distinguish ads from content. It’s not just kids on a sugar high of buy, buy, buy that end up losing touch with rational decision-making and the true appreciation of product value and quality, though. Hyper-consumerism also impacts adults by fragmenting or diluting their relationships with and loyalties to brands—there is little thought given to the “why” of the “buy.”
This is where targeted, branded, customized content can make all the difference. The marketing objective will always be to get people to bond with brands and to remember logos and ultimately to spend money, and there is no reason why that cannot begin in younger, pre-consumer days. The resiliency and longevity of the relationship, however, depends on the nutritional value of the message: what content are you serving your “kids” today?
Jeff Heilman covers business, marketing, law and travel for a range of custom and trade publications. Also an award-winning photographer and copywriter, he ghostwrote Courageous Counsel, a book on the history of women general counsel in the Fortune 500, published September 2011.