Saturday, August 09, 2008

Kid Consumers

There was an interesting article in USA Weekend today about how companies are marketing to tweens because they believe that the pre-teen crowd has a lot of influence on where their parents' money is spent.

Everything from iPods to cars are marketed with kids in mind.

Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers and High School Musical are shaping the culture and the kids.

I guess it's all true.

For some kids.

See I have a tween. Pippi is eleven years old and going into middle school. But I guess she's a little counter-cultural. She has never watched Hannah Montana, nor does she care that she hasn't. She hasn't seen any of the High School Musical movies - even though I offered to rent them from the library - or even buy them if she was interested. She wasn't. She is not drooling over the Jonas Brothers - though she certainly knows people who are. So maybe I can't really relate to all of this.

But we don't let the kids rule the house here. Now it's true that there are meals I won't bother to make because I know the kids don't like it. For example I save scallops for special adult only meals. But I don't cook special "kids only" meals every night - they have what we eat.

They like to use the computer - and the computer designated as the "kids computer" crashed this summer. We haven't replaced it yet - which means the kids can only use the computer when a parent isn't on the other one. We don't give into them just because they clamor or complain. Parents get first dibs on the computer. Case closed.

As far as TV. They don't watch a lot - and neither do we. The sun room TV is for their use. If they want to use the downstairs TV they can - if a parent isn't already using it. Parents get first dibs there too

Neither of my kids are much into phone calls. But Pippi is starting to have longer phone conversations (I know this is a harbinger of things to come). Once again - parents trump kids when it comes to phone use.

Gee - in all matters it seems that parents trump kids. We take the kids needs and wants and desires into account, naturally. We're a family and we want everyone to be happy. But we don't simply give them everything they ask for when they ask for it.

And honestly, I don't think we're the only ones.

Though the article does make it sound like children are determining everything that goes on in a household.

Are parents really letting their pre-teen determine which car they will buy? Or after the major factors are accounted for - ie the practical, the financial - do they let the kids decide what color it will be? Do the parents narrow the choice down to two or three and see which ones the kids like? That is not being unreasonable. That's allowing the children a say in what happens in the family - and it's not the same as letting the children make the car buying decisions.

Now if kids are saying to Mom and Dad - "I'm really tired of the Honda we've been driving around in - go get this car instead - I saw a commercial for it on the Disney channel" - and the parent says "okay, let's go" - then, well, that's just pretty sad. I don't think that's happening.

Are kids schedules catered to in a lot of households. Yes, sure they are. There are a lot of great activities for kids to be involved in these days - and they are usually not in easy walking distance. And kids don't drive (even though apparently car makers are marketing to them) so parents chauffer them around. But just because families take into consideration the soccer schedule or what have you when planning their week is not the same as the kids ruling the roost.

Do kids really have the power the marketers think they do? I don't know. But if they do, it's because their parents have ceded their own power, which is not the best way to raise a kid.


PJ Hoover said...

Maybe the kids say, "Please don't get the station wagon with the wood sideboard trim. I will absolutely die if you drop me off at school in that. And I swear I'll never drive it when I turn 16."
But yeah, they will drive it if it's the only thing available.

Christine M said...

And I'm not saying parents shouldn't take kids opinions into consideration. But the idea that car companies are marketing to kids because they influence their parents buying habits is disturbing.

And yeah - when you get your license - you drive what there is.

beth said...

I think it's more the mentality that "we should give the kids the things they want to make them happy"...sometimes without even referring to the kids. My friend is a fairly new mother--has a 5 yr old and a 1 yr old. They are really in debt with some medical bills for the baby, and in a position where more bills will probably show up.

She just bought a $12,000 boat.

Because "she wants the kids to have fun now, while they're kids...who cares about debt--you can't go back in time and make a happy childhood."

She fails to understand that a five year old can be amused with string and the baby can't even swim.

Happy childhoods are NOT made because of material things!!

kkolshorn said...

This isn't a new concept. As a comm major who did study on this, it has been done for years. Just a lot of parents didn't realize what was going. The food industry was the leader in this for years. As far as cars go, I think part of it is marketing cars that fit your kids lifestyle meaning they put commercials of the fancier minivans and such on there so that when parens are shopping tweens can say that the can use this feature and such. Unfortunately, many households are run by children. I also know many households that it isn't the material things that kids are doing to run the household, but it is definitely done on many levels.

Christine M said...

Material things does not equal happy childhood - you're right. In fact last year when my fourth grade CCD class was asked what their favorite holiday was - four out of six said Thanksgiving because they got to see relatives. One mentioned Christmas because he got things. I think the other mentioned birthday.

The point is that even kids realize that the best times are often had with people - not things. Though of course all kids do like toys.

And going into debt to buy a boat doesn't really do the kids any favors in the long run.

And Kris - I know this has been going on for years. Of course it has. And there's a fine line between letting the children run the house and making decisions and doing things that take the child interests and opinions into account.

Letting the child be an active part of the household - and allowed to voice an opinion (and have it heard if not always catered to) about things is good. Letting what the child says be the rule of the house is bad. For obvious reasons.

And basically I think we're spared a lot of it because the kids really don't watch commercial TV.

kkolshorn said...

Going into debt is a little ridiculous. I do think that there is an equation to buying material things to equate love. I also think some parents do it because they can't make the time to do other things with the kids. There are many parents are forced to work and think that the little extra that they give the kid a little of what they want. To be honest, in some ways I don't have a problem with that. What I see more often is kids who have learned that if they whine enough they can get away with things including punishment. I was a party a little while back where this bratty kid finally got into trouble for doing thing. The kid was given a punishment that lasted all of three minutes because said child was such a pain while sitting there the mother finally said go play but don't do anything bad again while you are here. That in my opinion is much worse. That kid didn't learn a thing. The only lesson she learned was that you can be as bad as you want with no consequences. Needless to say, we didn't stay at party much longer.

Vivian said...

In some ways, it might stem from the parents' self-esteem from when they were a teen. Do they want their teens to have what they weren't able to have? Also, if image is important to the family, than the kids will know how to manipulate their parents.

However, I read an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal today on how the retail sales of trendy teen stores slumped this summer, because teens or their parents weren't willing to shell out the cash because of the economy. Teens may be more creative about their clothing this school year.

Liz B said...

You know, for all these articles, I have yet to actually meet such children and families. And seriously, what's so wrong with a kid liking Hannah Montana and wanting a T shirt? Or wanting a Jonas Brothers CD?

PG as the cool rating? Thank goodness there are also still plenty of grown up movies and TV shows; tho I can imagine that film makers, on hearing tales of toddlers and young kids taken to see the latest Batman movie, believing there is a market for movies for younger audiences. When its really parents who don't want to shell out for a babysitter in addition to paying for movie tickets.

The article ignores the Leif Garret affect, which does impact some of the teen/tween stars and what they sell; as well as the Jamie Lynn Spears risk, of the star not being Perfct.

If you decide to sell teens to teens, once the seller and buyer age out, they are prematurely overly the hill and yesterday's news. And once the teen/tween shows a personality that may not be Perfect, they and their product are again at risk. So far, the Olsen twins have done a fabulous job of avoiding this ... other kiddie stars should hire the twins managers and business folks.

Given the spate of articles about the buying power of tweens/teens, it's going to be interesting to see what happens as job losses and salary cutbacks impact family budgets.

And the stuff about customization? Hardly teen or tween centric.

A very odd article, all around.

Christine M said...

It's good to know you haven't met any families like the ones in the article. I thought maybe we were just really out of touch.

And there's nothing wrong with liking something because it's hip and in. That's part of what makes things hip and 'in'.

There's also nothing wrong with a parent agreeing to buy something that a child/teen/tween would like. If they are already going to be buying something anyway and the choice is one of the acceptable options.

As far as movies - I go to more with my kids than I do as an adult consumer. And that may be true for a lot of people. When a tween (especially the pre-teen variety) goes to the movies - a parent is probably present. Extra tickets.

Honestly I think some of that article was sour grapes that the baby boomer generation isn't the vanguard of all things cultural anymore.

But teens have driven the culture for a long time - (read since the baby boomer generation were teens) there's nothing really new there.

The things that really bugged me were the cars marketed to kids and the 8-year-old controlling what gets watched on TV.

But I agree. Odd article.

kkolshorn said...

I contacted my college roommate who works as a consultant for a marketing firm. Turns out she was involved in the study, and is aware of this article, but it misrepresented the study. What the study really found was that marketing to kids for cars, ipods, and other electronic items was the way to go as they have lived in the tech lifestyle their whole lives and by marketing to them they can explain to their parents how the gadgets work. Thus, they can get their parents to buy things with features that a less computer savvy
parent may apt to buy. This is the whole point of the new verizon commercial with the kids showing their parents how the cell phones work. What the study has shown that parents are more likely to ask their kids about things such as that than people who work for the companies. Kids aren't driving the demand, but they are influential in what their parents buy in the terms above.

Christine M said...

Thanks Kris, That does make more sense. The article didn't really portray it that way.

Janette said...

I teach 10-12 year olds. They are small city kids. I would say there is a good majority who rule their household.
I have students who do not have enough to eat- but own a ipod and cell phone. I know other kids, on the other end of the spectrum of money, who LIVE on traveling sports teams and eat what ever they wish. If they do not get a good grade in something - it is the teacher's fault. those parents advocate for less homework and no reading after school- it interfers with sports.
If you do not know these children, be wary, they are out there....and I only work with the public school kids. My assessment of the big city private school kids is MUCH worse. The stories my friends tell me about Coach purses and I phones are out of my league.
I live quite comfortably. My kids never watched the Simpsons (big in their day) or much TV at all. They seemed to have grown up all right.