As far as brands are concerned, children are of major importance because they have significant influence over their parents’ purchasing decisions and they themselves are the consumer of the future.
If we have a look at figures, while the impact of children on parents’ purchasing habits was about 50 billion US dollars in 1985, it surpassed 290 billion US dollars after the year 2000. A recent Facebook survey revealed that children influenced 71% of their parents’ spending decisions. In short, the impact of children on family spending is too great to be ignored. As a result, brands have to take into consideration this important segment when establishing their marketing strategies.
In fact, the sooner the brands that aspire to target children act, the better dividends they reap. As Martin Lindstrom, the author of Buyology, stated in his book Brandwashed, published in 2011, an 18-month-old baby is able to recognise the colours of McDonald’s. The same child, at the age of 3 years, is able to distinguish about 100 brand logos. These data demonstrate that brands start establishing their positions in children’s minds at a very early age. A SIS International Research survey, also referred by Lindstrom, reports that 53% of adults and 56% of young people prefer brands that they remember from their childhood. In other words, brands almost guarantee having consumers in the future by investing in children.
So, what do brands do to appeal to this valued group? Colourful and shiny packaging, packaging with toys inside and products that are endorsed by celebrities are often used as marketing tools. One of the most commonly known examples in this approach is “Happy Meal” introduced in 1979 by McDonald’s, which contained a small toy in its packaging. Over 250 “Happy Meals” were sold every three seconds in 2016 as reported by Sense360 research company.
Another approach used by brands to attract children is licensed products. Bed sheets, school notebooks and food packaging with super hero and princess pictures are only a few examples of this genre. Love and admiration that children have for cartoon characters augment the success of licenced products and services. The same snack was presented to 4-6-year-old participants in two different packages in a study published by Journal of Pediatrics. One of the packaging was plain and the other had a popular children’s cartoon character. Of the children, 55% stated that the snack with the cartoon character packaging tasted better, while 85% selected the product with the cartoon character packaging.
In addition to licenced products, employing novel technologies to appeal to children is an approach that is used successfully. “Unboxing” videos on YouTube is a prime example. Millions of children watch in fascination other children who uploaded a video of themselves opening packages of toys and playing with them. Some of the most popular videos are those with Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs. Noticing how these videos reached large number of viewers, global giants such as Walt Disney and Target started sending their products to owners of such channels and sponsoring them as a part of their new marketing effort. In a similar vein, Walt Disney Company organised a marathon on YouTube a few months before the first screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015 when leading YouTube channel owners from all over the world unboxed Star Wars licenced products on live stream for 18 hours.
Another method used to reach children is providing their ideas and creative powers an outlet. For instance, a child in the UK reported that the drawings on Waitrose’s own-brand sauces were not clear. In response to that comment, the company produced a limited number of sauces with the drawings made by the child who expressed the complaint to show that the children’s opinions counted.
There are similar examples in Turkey as well. Zorlu Children’s Theatre organised a story writing contest for children throughout the country to dramatize and stage the winning story. Similarly, Eti Children’s Theatre tours Turkey to stage plays free of charge and introduces theatre to children all over the country while at the same time establishing a connection between the children and its brand. Likewise, Eti Children’s Ferry project aimed at 7-12-year-old children, taking them on cruises on the Bosphorus during which they participated in workshops on painting, percussion and history so that they could have an opportunity to both learn and have fun.
Furthermore, the 23rd of April offers a chance not to be missed for brands that wish to target children in Turkey. There are various methods used by brands to celebrate the Children’s Day; while some publish messages on their social media accounts, others offer special discounts and campaigns for the period. For example, last year Tim Cook, the Apple CEO, tweeted a celebratory message from his own account to children and Apple shared photographs taken by young talents on their outdoor adverts for a brief period. Bosch, on the other hand, let a small child handle their social media account for a day and reported the results of their campaign. Google prepared a special doodle for the 23rd of April and welcomed all their site visitors on that day with 5 children with Turkish flags and musical instruments in their hands. Similarly, Ülker organized a Children’s Film Festival last year as it had been doing each year since 2008 to give children presents, and also to widen their horizons.
With the 23rd of April approaching, we have conducted a survey on marketing aimed at children in Turkey to understand the current status and to see the main factors in shopping for children. We had 100 participants of 25-40 years of age living in İstanbul with children under the age of 15 years.
The results demonstrated that most participants associated “children’s products” with clothing and toys. Additionally, diapers and baby food were mentioned. When asked to name a brand that is specific to children, LC Waikiki was the brand that was remembered most commonly, followed by Prima and Toyzz Shop.
Of the participants, 69% stated that they were the decision maker while shopping for their children, whereas the remaining 31% reported that their children decided. Most of those who decided themselves said that quality as well as safety in terms of health were important factors to consider. Parents particularly avoid food items that contain carcinogenic ingredients or harmful chemicals, as well as toys that have odours. Some of the participants reported paying attention to the educational value of a product they purchased for their children. Ensuring that a product is made in Turkey is also a factor taken into consideration by certain parents.
The brands of choice reported by participants were LC Waikiki and Civil, followed by Koton. However, some parents did not look for a particular brand when they shopped for their children. On the other hand, children under the age of 15 were reported to be indifferent to brands in general. According to their parents, their choices are heavily influenced by super hero and cartoon character designs on products.
While most girls prefer dolls, boys largely prefer toy cars. Additionally, since electronic products such as tablets are also regarded as toys nowadays, they are often preferred by certain families. Most parents we interviewed said they tried to buy toys that could boost creativity and those that were educational. They try to avoid toys that are made in China, and those that contain harmful chemicals or small parts.
The participants reported that, when given choice, their children requested toy cars, dolls or clothes in general. Products with cartoon character designs are among the most popular items requested by children as presents.
When it comes to birthdays, children have the final word. Most participants reported buying whatever their children requested as a birthday present. While a group said they bought presents to meet a particular need such as clothes, others celebrated the occasion with a birthday cake.
Parents who bought their children products with cartoon character designs constituted 55% of the participants. Batman, Superman, Winx Club and Barbie were the most commonly preferred designs on products.
Of the participants, 17% had bought presents for their children on the 23rd of April. Outfits, kites and toys as well as the Turkish flag or maps that emphasise the national ideals were among the presents purchased for this occasion.
When asked if they could name brands that carried out campaigns for the 23rd of April, only 11% could do so. Defacto, LC Waikiki, Arçelik and Toyzz Shop were the brands that were remembered with their April the 23rd campaigns.
Of the parents, 26% reported remembering “nostalgic” brands from their childhood. LC Waikiki, Ülker and Tipi Tip chewing gum were the leading “nostalgic” brands.
In conclusion, we observed that marketing aimed at children in Turkey has been carried out successfully. However, having children at its target inevitably draws attention to certain critical issues. Since children have not completed their cognitive development, they can be more susceptible to emotional messages placed on product packages or advertisements to attract consumers. Therefore, brands have a major duty at this point.
Communication strategies of products that could adversely influence children’s health should be developed by taking into consideration ethical values. As the results of our survey indicated, Turkish parents do not sacrifice quality and health standards when shopping for their children. Therefore, it will not be wrong to propose as an insight that parents who avoid products that could harm their children will appreciate and reward measures taken to avoid marketing harmful products to children.