Marketers study how children nag in order to take advantage of it for their marketing efforts. It has been noted that “a persistent whine is one of the most powerful forces in the grocery business”.
A Harris Poll found that 73 percent of people working in the youth industry (including advertisers, marketers, media, and market researchers) agreed that “most companies put pressure on children to pester their parents to buy things”.
Children begin to ask for things that they see and make connections between television advertising and store contents from the age of two. They pay more attention to ads and the list of things they want increases. At the same time, the youngster is learning how to get parents to respond to his or her wishes and wants. This may take the form of a grunt, whine, scream, or gesture—indeed some tears may be necessary—but eventually almost all children are able on a regular basis to persuade Mom or Dad to buy something for them.
Langbourne Rust in the Journal of Advertising Research advises advertisers to “direct information on the cart to the child inside... The child taking a ride is a captive, and sometimes restless audience, hungry for focus and stimulation.” He also advises retailers to display products at cart height and make sure it is noticeable from “middle-of-the-aisle distance.” And he advises advertisers to incorporate the image of children riding in carts in their advertising imagery so the connection can be made by the child between the advertised product and the store.
When supermarkets found parents with young children avoiding the biscuit and cracker aisle to avoid the pleading and tantrums that would follow they rearranged the aisles so they could not so easily be avoided, for example by placing the cookies on the other side of the aisle from the baby food. Walmart showed a conveyor belt of toys on its Toyland website around Christmas time so that children could make up a wish list of items to email to their parents, courtesy of the site to “help pester your parents for you”.
Rust also suggests advertisers and marketers take advantage of the way children point to things they want by incorporating “physical gesturing in advertising copy: Why not develop pointing as a routine or ritualistic part of what people do when they see your product?” He suggests that products need to be easily recognisable from long distances so the child can see them coming up the aisle and be prepared to ask for them when they get closer.
Papers are regularly given at industry conferences on fostering pester power. A session at the 2003 Kid Power Conference in Sydney was entitled “Harnessing Pester Power” and included information on the “role of the gatekeeper”.
A representative of Nestlé gave a paper to Kid Power Asia 2003 on “Investigating (& Leveraging) the Pester Power Phenomenon” examined “how children influence purchases & ‘pull tricks’ on their parents”.
Marketing consultant, Anne Sutherland, says: “I started to see what makes kids tick when I questioned them on how they nagged and cajoled their moms to choose the snacks they wanted and then I had it quantified in persuasion testing…. The nag factor is a big factor in business today.”
In order to take advantage of pester power, advertisements not only have to attract children and get them to want the product, but they also have to give them an argument to use on their parents for why they should buy them. Child and Parents Studies help marketers to work out whether they are providing sufficient information to children to enable them to make a convincing request to their parents.
Nagging becomes even more necessary if the products being promoted are not healthy, or are beyond the normal parental budget. The Kid Power 2004 conference had a workshop on “The Targeting Dilemma – How to Decide if you should choose Moms or Kids” and noted that “If you are marketer of a pre-sweetened cereal it’s pretty easy to figure out who to target.” In other words, if you have an unhealthy product, it is better to get kids to nag for it because parents will not want to buy it.
Marketers and advertisers who promote children’s nagging knowingly cause stress in families and undermine the values that parents are trying to teach their children, values that are often in conflict with materialism and consumerism but values that are more likely to be in the child’s interest.
Source: A. Sutherland and B. Thompson, Kidfluence: The Marketer's Guide to Understanding and Reaching Generation Y – Kids, Tweens, and Teens, New York, McGraw-Hill, 2003, p. 115.