Marketers have not always paid as much attention to kids as they do today. For years, it was thought that they simply didnt influence that much spending. How times have changed. Marketers now know that even the tiniest customers are big business. Today children are
considered to be three distinct markets, instead of just one. Heres how it works:

– kids spend their own allowance, birthday and weekend job money
– kids influence how their parents spend their money
– kids will continue to spend in the future, as adults.

Every year, the global ?tween market (children aged from six to thirteen years) spend around US$300 billion of their own money, and are estimated by some to influence another US$1.88 trillion of their parents spending (including adult products like cars, holidays and
financial services). With so much at stake, marketers use a myriad of techniques to win childrens brand loyalty early, influence their brand preferences and, in turn, influence their parents purchasing decisions. These techniques may include:

– employing childhood development theory
– employing neuromarketing research (using medical technologies like MRI to study the brains responses to marketing)
– infusing products with familiar aromas to influence childrens preferences
– secretly recruiting kids to sell to their peers
– snooping around kids bedrooms to find out more about what they like.

Marketers know that even very young kids can become loyal to the brands they like and that winning them over early might just mean gaining a customer for the rest of their lives. So marketers now aim to ?own our kids before their competitors do.

No match for the marketers
Heres the big problem with kids and ads. Adults know that the purpose of ads is to persuade us to do or buy something. So in theory, at least, we are ?on guard when the pitch begins. This is not the case with young kids. Its not until they are about seven or eight years old that children gain a basic understanding that the advertisers intention is to persuade them, and that ads are not just there to give them useful, truthful information. Until that understanding develops, kids are simply not sceptical about ads. They think they are exciting and interesting, and are in no way ?on guard. Quite simply, they trust them.

Advertisers also know how to make ads that will appeal to kids. They use fantasy, catchy jingles and characters that children know and love. Advertisers use humour in more than half of all childrens ads because they know kids like it – they know its not just adults who find it hard to be critical and amused at the same time.

By the time our children are ten, they can tell traditional TV ads and programs apart. Most also understand that advertisers are actually trying to get their money. However, while the magic has worn off a little by this age, theres another problem: few kids under twelve will
remember to be sceptical while they are actually watching an ad unless we remind them to be. It is still hard for them to grasp that advertisers only spruik the good stuff about their products, leaving us to figure out the rest. And theres one more catch: ads work on our emotions. So even understanding how they work doesnt necessarily mean kids wont be
swayed by them!

We have to get started early
Kids are marketed to from a very early age. By age three, many children recognise and prefer particular brands. By nine, they have already acquired much of their consumer behaviour: most have firm brand preferences, their own spending money and do at least some of their own shopping. Once they go to school, their peers (who are themselves
swayed by ads) begin to influence how our children spend their money. So we can see that kids are choosing what they want to buy and developing lifelong brand loyalties long before they fully understand the ads that are influencing their decisions.

We shouldnt have to make kids grow up faster so they can defend themselves against ads. And even if we wanted to, we couldnt. But if, as weve seen, marketers are starting early with their ?cradle-to-grave strategies, then we need to get started early too. As parents, we can influence how our kids view advertising by:

– making age-appropriate conversations about ads a normal part of our daily lives
– limiting our kids exposure to ads
– telling them what the advertisers dont
– helping them to ask questions.

Employing these strategies can create a buffer zone between ads and our kids, and start taking the wind out of the advertisers sails.

This is an extract from Adproofing Your Kids by Tania Andrusiak and Daniel Donahoo, now available from bookshops nationally and