The concept of child advertising is as old as other forms of popular advertising themes and techniques. The idea originated when marketers realized the powerful impact child advertising can create in terms of increased sales and customer base. The fact that preferences and desires developed during childhood years can have a long lasting effect, marketers have become keen to develop brand loyalty among kids at a very early age (Schlosser, 43).
The effects of child advertising can be generally divided into two brad categories, i.e. short-term and long-term. The short-term effects are usually increased sales due to increased interest and desire of the advertised products to children. Since children are not the decision makers, they act as a surrogate salesperson to prevail upon their parents to make the purchase decision. This is usually accomplished by children through one of the several nagging techniques, which include pleading, persistent, forceful, sugar coated, threatening, pity, and demonstrative (Schlosser, 43). These are basically different persuasive techniques that children use to coerce their parents into fulfilling their wish. As the parents are already in the effective stage, the children move them into the conative or action stage. Since decision response model of children is different from the traditional model, it was imperative upon marketers to separate the decision maker from the influencer. It is important to note that the consumer and purchase decision makers are different in this scenario. The other impact of child advertising is long-term and is intended to affect the child even after he grows up. Since the experiences of childhood years leave an important mark on the child, marketers try to develop a long-term relationship with him from the outset. This means creating brand loyalty with the customer for a long time, which could affect his or her purchase decisions when he or she becomes a father or a mother. Other benefits include generating positive image and referrals for other parents. This is why the concept of “cradle to grave advertising” is being followed by marketers to develop long-term and positive association with their customers (Schlosser, 44).
Recognizing the need for children advertising, minors’ clubs have also been targeted as affective avenues to reach children. There was an outburst of children clubs during 1980’s to solicit important information on their demographics. This helped the marketers to offer tailor-made solutions to different segments of the children market. Markets have also been using other techniques to learn about the preferences and desires of their potential young customers. They include focus groups, surveys, reading literature on children, and observing children during normal timings at their home or outside to ascertain their behavior. Certain other methods, e.g. “quadrant analysis”, have been used by marketers to develop mascots. All these methods were used to know more and more about children, so that tailor-made products or solutions can be offered to them.
The fast food companies, like Mac Donald’s, have long targeted children in their advertisements to generate additional demand for their products. The ‘Happy Meal’ is one such example where additional hype has been created by offering more than just food. In fact, the toy manufacturing companies have co-branded with fast food companies to generate additional sales of meals as well as toys. The idea is to lure the customer by associating the product offering with the need to have a toy for the child besides having the food. This has attracted not just kids but also adults, who primarily bought happy meal for toys only. Similarly, McDonalds’s venture with Disneyland has successfully attracted attention by offering meals in the theme parks. McDonald lands were yet another idea that successfully captured the child market by fulfilling one of the basic needs of kids, i.e. playing. Today the alliance between fast food and toy manufacturers has expanded to include sports leagues as well as Hollywood studios. Notable, names like KFC and Taco Bell have partnered with leagues like National basketball Association, NCAA and the Olympics. Since children spend a lot of time in watching TV these days, it is pertinent to use this medium for reaching them. Realizing the power and importance of television advertising, fast food companies have collaborated with third parties to produce children series that fulfill their entertainment needs. Children videos and programs now include a mix of fast food ads and entertainment. “The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald” is one such example (Schlosser, 44). The idea underpinning all these initiatives is to motivate children to buying certain products or services. In the whole process, value is being created for a different set if stakeholders in different forms.
However, the child marketing practices have been criticized since their inception. It has been argued that since children are not being able to make responsible decisions for themselves, exposing them to advertising that coerces them to perform a certain action is ethically wrong. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) unsuccessfully tried in 1978 to ban all sorts of advertising aimed at children less than seven years of age. The move received commendation as well as condemnation from different stakeholders (Schlosser, 47). Some of the leading proponents of ban included several consumer rights groups, Child Welfare League and American Academy of Pediatrics, while the obvious opponents included National Association of Broadcasters and Toys Manufacturers of America. Despite the debate on the ethical status of child advertising, the practice continues unabated by the industry. The important thing to realize is that while child advertising basically aims at achieving business goals, it also creates value for other stakeholders in the process. The winners at the end of day are not just business corporations, but the children themselves.