“Want that one!”

In Advertising, Communicate, Dubai, Marketing, Published journalism on November 22, 2010 at 10:51 pm

When marketing to kids takes off in the Middle East, parents won’t hear the end of it

First published in Communicate, June 2007

Real kids are never as sweet as the ones in adverts. When they want something they can be nagging, pestering, whining brats until they get it. And savvy marketers know how to tap into this pester power to sell products to pre-teens. The more spoiled the kid, the better for the advertiser.

Gaurav Sinha, who owns Think, a UAE magazine marketed to teenagers, says that, as consumers, children are unique. “Which adult do you know,” he asks, “who would pester another person to make a purchase on their behalf the way kids do?”

Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson, list seven types of pester in their 2006 book Chew on This: From the pleading pester, when kids repeat words like “please” and “Mom,” through the tantrums of the demonstrative pester, to the pity pester, where the child emphasizes how heartbroken and humiliated he will be without the purchase. Advertisers who know their audience know how to make kids nag until their parents crack.

Supermarkets, for example, have long cashed in on the manipulative efforts of children. The displays at checkouts usually have sweets and treats at children’s eye level, and within reach of tiny, grasping hands.

In a tacit acknowledgement of this, Spinneys supermarket recently introduced special check-out lines at some of its stores. “We’ve kept one aisle which is specifically for those parents who want to ensure their kids don’t end up picking up something inappropriate,” says a Spinneys spokesperson. “At point of sale it is mainly low value, impulse lines that are displayed. At this particular checkout there is more of the health range. There are some cereal bars, and mostly stuff that is not bad in a health-related way.”

In the Middle East overall, though, children are yet to be exploited with the ruthless efficiency shown in the West, claims Moneer Barakat, creative director at Memac Ogilvy. “Funnily enough, marketers here don’t play on pester power. Marketing to kids here is very limited. The use of pester power is still a bit naïve. And it’s not being used widely enough. If we are not using it enough, it will not be sophisticated.”

But the market is ripe for the picking, says Barakat. “Kids in this region, they grow up very spoiled,” he says. “Every whim and every wish is catered for. So the power they have over parents is amazing. It’s much more than when you compare it to the West, where there is a sense of discipline. There’s pester power too, of course, but there is a certain discipline. Here, the kid has a lot of power. The kid can command.”

And pester power does not just apply to products specifically for children. Take buying a television, says Sinha: “They will influence you from going with the cheapest one to maybe something which meets their values, that’s maybe the same as the one the guy next door has. It helps to maintain the whole ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ philosophy. They play an important role.”

Marketing to pre-teens is often frowned upon, though. In the UK, the Committee for Advertising Practice, the industry’s self-regulatory body, issued guidelines that ban the advertising of any food or drink to under-16s except fresh fruit and vegetables. This currently applies only to television, but will be extended to the Internet, newspapers, billboards and cinema on July 1.

The UAE, however, has no such restrictions. A statement from the GCC Advertisers Association says: “Currently, the GCCAA has not worked on enforcing global advertising standards with regards to advertising to children. Most of the big multinationals follow internal standards in line with industry guidelines. However, there is no collective effort at a regional level.”

Questions about marketing to children tend to raise an icy and defensive response, like the eventual reply from Kellogg’s to questions about their youth marketing strategies: “As a responsible company, Kellogg’s ensures that our messages to children will accurately portray our products in a way that is in keeping with their ability to understand our intent and using language that is appropriate for this audience.”

The reason for the mind-numbingly corporate response, says Moneer Barakat, is that when you use pester power, “somehow the tune of the campaign becomes a bit politically incorrect, because you’re using the kid to manipulate the situation.”

But there is a place for these strategies in the Gulf, he maintains. “The market is experimenting with new ways of putting across a message,” says Barakat. “Brands are becoming very brave, very lateral, very fresh in their thinking. So when an agency handling a brand focuses a full campaign on pester power, gets the kid to initiate the request for the brand, once everyone sees it works, everyone will follow.”

Until then, kids in ads will remain sickly sweet. And the real ones will continue to pester, whether they’ve been told to or not.


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