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Marketing to Kids

What is the impact of advertising on kids?

Advertisers know that the earlier kids learns about a brand, the more likely they'll be to buy the product later (or beg their parents to buy it). Marketing to preschoolers mostly entails commercials on television (or streaming services), since television is still the dominant medium for young children.

As for preteens, advertisers spend many billions of dollars per year making sure their products get in front of their eyes, and they have more places to capture their attention: television, the Internet, games, movies, apps -- you name it. Advertisers also know that kids greatly influence their parents' buying decisions, to the tune of $500 billion per year. The most significant aspect of marketing to preteens, though, is that now they can talk back.  Although companies are limited in the data they can collect from kids under 13, they can still gain insights into their behavior and preferences.

Finally, teens are one of the most important demographics for marketers. Their brand preferences are still gelling, they have money to spend, and they exert a strong influence on their parents' spending (even on big-ticket items such as cars). Because 25 percent of teens access the Internet through mobile devices, companies are targeting them where they hang out: in apps, in games, and on websites that stream music and video and offer other downloadable content. Teen-focused brands use a combination of traditional marketing techniques and new communication methods to influence product preferences.

Methods marketers use to reach young kids:

Hooking them young. Getting the product in front of a target audience as much as possible strengthens a company's ability to capture consumers "from the cradle to the grave." Think cartoon characters on diapers.

Dividing and targeting genders. Brands try to establish a preference for gendered toys as early as possible. The sooner your child has a desire for "boy" toys or "girl" toys, the sooner he or she becomes a customer. That opens the door for even more gendered products.  

Developing taste preferences. Junk-food marketing to kids is a $2 billion-per-year industry. Cartoon characters appear on cereal boxes, toys appear inside boxes, and characters shill for brands on TV -- for example, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head advertise potato chips. And it works

Methods marketers use to reach preteens:

The need for stimulation. If you're wondering why commercials for tweens look like they were filmed by a caffeine-addled jackrabbit, it's because tween brains crave -- and respond strongly to -- stimulation. If something is exciting, they take notice.

The desire to engage. Brands bury their sales pitches to this age. Preteens are swayed by experience, not lectures -- hence games, apps, contests, and other interactive gimmicks to attract and hold their attention.

The craving for emotional connection. If you have a tween, you know that kids at this age are not entirely rational. They LOVE a specific dress, they MUST HAVE a particular song, they're OBSESSED with a certain game. Marketers use strategies that stir up emotions so kids identify with a product. 

Methods marketers use to reach teens:

Exploiting insecurities. Brands appealing to teens take advantage of their particular vulnerabilities: the desire to fit in, to be perceived as attractive, and to not be a huge dork. Teens are extremely attuned to their place in the peer hierarchy, and advertising acts as a kind of "super peer" in guiding them toward what's cool and what's acceptable. Both teen boys and girls are highly susceptible to messages around body image, and marketers use this to their advantage. 

Tracking data. Once kids turn 13, companies have little restrictions over marketing to them and collecting their data. The information they collect isn't personally identifiable -- it's far more valuable. Tracking teens' digital trails helps companies precisely determine their tastes, interests, purchase histories, preferences, and even their locations so they can market products to them or sell that data to other companies. Talk to teens about using privacy settings and understanding what information they're unwittingly giving to companies.

Using peer influence on social media. Advertisers actively enlist teen followers on social media to market products. You can find this in online stores such as J. Crew's, where you can share items you like with friends. Many brands encourage teens to broadcast their interactions with brands (such as uploading pics of themselves with a particular purse, drink, or outfit). These techniques reinforce the idea that brands "make" the person, and it's essential to help teens realize that their self-worth is not determined by what they own (or don't own).

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