Monday, January 15, 2007

Automakers Marketing to Kids

I came across an article Sunday (1/15/07) in the Cincinnati Enquirer about automakers directing more ads at kids. The article stated a number of auto companies are placing ads in child-oriented areas such as gyms that cater to kids, and social-networking sites where young people hang out. For example, children at are able to buy a virtual Scion xBs if they have enough "clams," Whyville's monetary unit. In addition, a 5-year old boy won his own tiny Hummer which he calls his "red monster." He got one of the toy Hummers given out in McDonald's Corp. Happy Meals in August - first time a car maker directly offered versions of its vehicles in the meals. Furthermore, auto advertisers continue to extend product placements into nontraditional spaces where kids go to play.

Automakers are increasingly targeting children and their parents due to findings that children influence family buying habits for big ticket items such as cars -- or at least parents take their kids into account when picking a brand. As for cars, 62 percent of parents now say their children "actively participate" in car-buying decisions according to a study by J.D. Power & Associates for the Nickelodeon Network. Another study for Disney ABC Kids Networks by Strottman International found that 28 percent of moms of 6-year olds to 14-year olds say they listen to their children's wishes regarding vehicle purchases.

Overall, I think automakers marketing decisions are no different than other industries. Cereal advertisers have known for years that children influence what type of breakfast foods their parents buy. Automakers abilities to capitalize on key research findings that children influence vehicle purchase decisions demonstrates effective use of market research in driving marketing campaigns. However, I do feel some tactics may not be completely appropriate. At least not on where there is a much younger demographic. For example, one 9-year old bought a Scion xB on, but it was repossessed because she didn't make her loan payments (using "clams"). Most 9-year old's are too young to be worried about making a payment on their virtual car. Additonally, this could upset parents of children who use, ultimately causing them to cut ties with the brand.

There is a constant battle between child advocates and marketers. Some child advocates are worried by the sublety of product placements. In contrast, marketers feel they are providing products that have legitimate play value for kids. For instance, Scion feels its Whyville promotion helps educate kids about how financing works.

I understand that it is difficult to market to a younger demographic. However, a better alternative may be to work with the Deparment of Education, or specific communities to reach children via education. For example, Visa reached out to West Virginia's State Treasurer John D. Perdue and the New England Patriots All-Pro Wide Receiver Troy Brown to help promote its Financial Football game.

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