Marketing is an important tool in product branding, packaging, distribution and primarily production of the actual product. It gives insight into what the consumers want and how they want it. This paper therefore looks into strategies employed in researching the children as a key consumer group and the issues that arise as a result of this. It further explores how such marketers can overcome these challenges.
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First, what is marketing research and what does it involve? Marketing research entails market research (gathering information about the size of the market and consumers’ dynamic trends in shaping this market) and focusing on other marketing problems like which employ during an advertising campaign. It involves making a comprehensive and rigorous research plan (QuickMba 2007).
Market research is therefore relevant to marketers in these ways:
- It provides information on the competition through secondary research results. The company can therefore set benchmarks.
- It provides for market segmentation in view of demographic (here, children), preferences and rate of usage.
- Provides insight into the effectiveness of the tools being employed like service quality and communication channels e.g. should the company employ cartoon characters as mascots or use conventional traditional methods like pleasant human characters.
- Information obtained can be used to make a comprehensive and viable business plan (More Business 2009).
Kids are an important consumer base as they possess the nag factor, their own bargaining power and the anticipated purchases when they grow up.
In Australia, youngsters below the age of 18 years have carte blanche to spend about $31.60 weekly and have great influence on their parents’ food and clothing purchases. Advertisers attending a conference on Marketing to Kids and Youth were told that pre-teens and teens between the ages of 10 and 17 spent $3.3 billion annually on purchase of items of a varied kind (Powell & Zuel 1993).
According to the CEO of Prism Communications, children (in his view) are what he likes to call ‘evolving consumers’ as their tastes and preferences are developed in these early years form the basis of brand loyalty (Beder 1998).
This brings me to the crux of the issue which is the ethical concerns brought about by the methods used to gather information and sell products to children.
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Marketers use incentives like free games and t-shirts to get information on the preferences, personal information, and consumer behaviour that is designed to target a particular child. This is because the internet is fast becoming the most effective form of communication. It is boundless and rarely has any restrictions. Follow up emails and cookies are even sometimes sent to the kids to further prod for information.
As mentioned above beloved cartoon characters and celebrities e.g. Hannah Montana are used to build brand loyalty. The trust and adoration built makes the child do everything the character says due to their naiveté and lack of understanding.
The blending of ads and programming is also a sticking point. Kids cannot easily discern the difference and end up desiring what they see because they saw it on their favourite TV program.
There is also an ad campaign and use of product endorsements in school and kids clubs aimed at building a personal relationship with the children and obtaining personal information in databases and mailing lists.
It has been argued that these tactics are immoral as kids can be easily manipulated and cannot evaluate the facts presented in the ad. It is exacerbated by the fact that kids follow legitimated authority therefore ads in school halls are seen to be true.
Badly needed funds have forced the corporations into the school environment where in exchange for technology companies demand visibility, sponsorship of school events and holding of school contests.
Some marketers air their strategies or ads with adult content at times when young viewers are watching television (Gould 2004; Media Awareness Network 2010).
On the flipside marketing research can be done in a positive way to overcome these obstacles. e.g. Esther Rantzen Childline to report abuses or corporate backing of sports activities.
The use of psychologists is another way of overcoming market research obstacles but this is a two sided argument where the psychologist can act as a buffer for unscrupulous marketing research methods, and on the other hand, it is the psychologists who give insight into the young minds and what gears market researchers need to push (McGee & Heubusch 1998).
Banning of some ads, ensuring there is no blending of programming with commercials, as well as making sure there is parental control on internet and cable is an important step to regulating marketing to children ( Ethical Corporation 2009).
Responsible marketing where the children are seen as informed consumers is also a method of eliminating these challenges.
Therefore, the most viable form of marketing can be viewing children as informed consumers. Marketers need to form campaigns that stand the test of time. By informing children about marketing ideas this will be easily achievable such that the marketing plan follows through smoothly. Information is the key to giving kids the repository of practicing and exercising choice (Smith 2010).
For example, Center for Media Education (CME) and other organizations like Children Advertising Review Unit (CARI), have come up with these strict guidelines and regulations to protect children from unfair marketing research and marketing strategies:
Children’s network television programming, for example, must clearly announce commercial breaks. And advertisers are prohibited from licensing characters to sell a product or service during the airing of a cartoon that features the same character; it is confusing to youngsters, and can’t tell where the show has ended and a commercial has begun. Celebrities and real-life product endorsers can be used in kid’s marketing, but they will not be identified with the product through their profession. In other words, it is appropriate for Michael Jordan to sell Big Macs (of the MacDonald food chain) to kids, but not Nike shoes with which he is synonymous (Virtual Advisor [VA] 2000).
Network television also has strict guidelines in regard to showing kids in safe situations and living life in moderation. For example, gobbling up junk food on network TV, and it’s unfair, not to mention insane, to suggest a sugared cereal will meet a kid’s nutritional requirements. Cereal can only be shown “as part of a complete breakfast” (VA 2000).
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Finally, unreasonable expectations of products and their performance cannot be depicted in ads. For example, you can’t show a toy plane flying if it really doesn’t fly. And you can’t use animation and fantasy to the extent that it dupes kids into unreasonable expectations or present human beings as indestructible and invincible (VA 2000).
In conclusion, this paper has highlighted what marketing research is and how it differs in meaning to market research. It has looked at the ethical issues arising in marketing research that is targeted at kids because of their naiveté, how easily they can be manipulated and their lack of clear understanding of what is what exactly the marketers are doing so as to gather the information. Also, it defines how these ethical challenges can be overcome especially on the part of the media who are the main medium through which some of these unethical practices are perpetuated. Some of which are outlined as setting regulations, banning of certain types of approaches to the research process e.g. using characters to sell products or brand loyalty, utilizing the services of psychologists to protect the child’s interest and responsible marketing.
It therefore becomes clear that marketing research with children as the market group has to be strictly monitored.
In addition, whether psychologists should be involved in the research process remains a grey area which is being debated by the A American Psychologists Association.
Beder, S.,1998. Marketing to children [internet]. Web.
Ethical Corporation, 2009. Marketing to children- an ethical predicament. Web.
Gould, S.J., 2004. Sexuality and ethics in advertising: A research agenda and policy guideline perspective. Journal of Advertising.
McGee, T., & Heubusch, S.,1998. ‘Getting Inside Kids’ Heads’, American Demographics, Vol. 19, No. 1 (1997).
Media Awareness Network, 2010. How Marketers Target Kids. [Online].Web.
More business web pages, 2009. Why is Market Research Useful? The Importance of Market Research.[Online]
Powell, S., & Zuel,P.,1993. Marketers’ influence over young challenged. Sydney Morning Herald.
QuickMba web pages, 2007. Marketing Research. [Online]. Web.
Smith, C., 2010. Ethical Issues When Marketing to Children. Articles Base,[ Online].Web.
Virtual Advisor web pages, 2000. Marketing to the Rugrats Generation. [Online]. Web.