Marketing to children is such big business that a dozen or so companies run conferences on the subject and there are awards for the best advertisements and marketing campaigns with hundreds of entries. Such conferences are held all over the world; in Europe, South America, the Middle East and Asia, including China. At these conferences marketers and advertisers insist on calling children “kids” to avoid the use of the term “children” which evokes notions of vulnerability and adult responsibility to protect them. “Kids”, on the other hand, evokes notions of play and fun.
According to a senior vice president of Grey Advertising: “It isn’t enough to just advertise on television... You’ve got to reach kids throughout their day... You’ve got to become part of the fabric of their lives.” Moreover, the distinction between advertising and content, between marketing and entertainment, is becoming more and more blurred so that children don’t even know they are being marketed to.
Much marketing to children now consists of sales promotions such as direct coupons, free gifts and samples, contests and sweepstakes, and public relations exercises such as using celebrities and licensed characters to visit shopping centres and schools. These additional forms of marketing have supplemented rather than replaced advertising as the importance of the children’s market has grown. Their aim however is the same as advertising.
James McNeal in his book Kids as Customers points out that retailers and manufacturers have two sources of new customers: those whom they can persuade to change from their competitors, and those who have not yet entered the market. Those who switch are likely to switch again but those who are nurtured from childhood are likely to be more steadfast.
Even the 0 to 3 market – babies and toddlers – has become a focus for marketers, said to represent $20 billion a year in the US. Susan Gregory Thomas notes in her book Buy, Buy Baby that “Selling to this age group is a rapidly growing industry manned by a battalion of specialized and sophisticated advertising firms, child psychology researchers… and cross-marketing campaigns that deliberately intertwine educational messages with subtle commercial ploys.” As a result the daily lives of toddlers are becoming increasingly filled with classes and stimulation from computers, television and videos all supposedly helping them to learn but really aimed at teaching them to be consumers.
Viral marketing and underground marketing are part of a new suite of marketing techniques that seek to disguise themselves so that people do not realise they are being advertised to. These techniques are particularly successful with children and often go undetected by the gatekeepers: parents, teachers and community leaders.