Marketing to children is a controversial and often emotive topic. Whatever your personal view on the subject however, there is no doubt that it is big business. Food companies alone spend $1.6 billion a year advertising directly to kids, and children under 12 are estimated to be responsible for over $500 billion in purchases per year.
Children are key influencers and consumers in their own right. They have a potent effect on parent’s wallets through so-called ‘pester-power’, a strong word of mouth network with their peers and the potential to be brand loyalists and advocates for a lifetime.
And in today’s environment, the current cohort of millenials and generation Alpha now have even further reach and influence. Having grown up with mobile phones, the internet and xboxes, they are tech savvy digital natives who are now getting social.
Even though the official entry age is 13, it is estimated that 7.5 million kids under 13 use Facebook, (five million of whom are less than 10 years old) and 14% percent of tweens and teens are regularly blogging. Even PlaySchool is tweeting to the kindergarten age.
Word of mouth in the schoolyard is suddenly a world of mouth.
As a result, social media is an increasingly popular choice for marketers wanting to cut through to a generation who can consume media when, where and how they want, across multiple platforms and a range of digital devices.
This is not just through Facebook likes. One of the most popular social media methods used to target younger audiences is ‘gamevertising’ or ‘advergames’. Also known as immersion advertising, as the name suggests, it integrates branding and advertising messages into virtual social worlds and digital games via characters, plotlines, sponsorships and pop up ads. In Nickelodeon’s NeoPets for example, kids have been known to search for ‘lost chicken mcnuggets’ in the McDonald’s Meal Hunt or retrieved stolen Nestle frozen snacks from the hungry Neopets.
On sites such as Stardoll, over 100 million tween (7-12) girls dress digital paperdolls, join clubs, enter contests and connect with friends in a virtual world peppered with logos and offerings from the big brands including Mattel, UniLever and Dove. They shop for their ‘MeDolls’ and decorate their ‘suites’ with products from virtual branded boutiques like DKNY, Vivienne Tam and Sephora. Friends can send virtual branded gifts to each other and play games like ‘Brand Detective’ where they look for Prada, Antik Batik and Halston in the Word Search.
The social nature of these virtual communities encourages children to connect and influence their friends both online and offline through their virtual purchases, the way they dress their avatars and their wishlists.
Interestingly however many of the brands showcased on StarDoll are luxury products, at the top end of the market which suggests that some brands are pursuing social media channels as a long term strategy to inspire future purchases. Others aim for immediate engagement and buzz (e.g. Justin Bieber movie launch) and utilise the network to drive traffic and sales offline.
The challenge of course is whether brands can convert virtual selections and brand awareness into tangible purchases. Within its first 16 days on StarDoll, Kohl sold 1.8 million garments. Virtually. In the same period they recorded 97,000 click throughs to their website. Less than 20%, and what proportion made it instore?
It has been said that this generation are not interested in ‘liking’ brands or entering into a dialogue. They just want brands to help them connect with others. Social media is certainly a way to do this, but are the new generation of savvy kids turning the table on advertisers by utilising free branded resources to express their preferences rather than commit to an actual purchase?
Or is this type of immersion advertising a little more sinister? Is it shaping impressionable minds at a vulnerable age?
What do you think? Do you, or would you, let your kids enter these ‘branded social networks’?
Until next time…