Tapping Into Kids' Touchpoints

March 1, 2006
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Tapping Into Kids’ Touchpoints
By Renee M. Covino
When marketing candy to kids today, the industry needs to be mindful of two strong influences which don’t have to be mutually exclusive —moms and technology.
As she crunches away on her morning cereal, 11-year-old Eva instant messages her best friend, Julia, to meet her down the block in five minutes on their habitual half-mile walk to school. Julia responds “k” just as Eva’s new tunes finish downloading onto her Ipod. She grabs the MP3 player, along with her cell phone (which she switches to “mute” before slipping into her backpack), yells “Bye” to mom, pets Gracie the dog, and runs out the door, positioning one earphone in place (so she can hear Julia with the free ear). Six hours later, she’s back in the house, text-messaging homework assignments, uploading phone images, and leaving messages on Myspace.com. Mom calls to remind her to set TIVO for the week’s upcoming winterOlympics events.
The complexity of today’s kids can be mind-boggling to marketers. They wonder how they can successfully reach such a fast-moving and fragmented target. While kids’ instant communication abilities have the potential to promise a marketer overnight success, they can also guarantee a fatal blow, and the line between both is very fine indeed.
“Today’s kids are a world apart from yesterday’s youth,” says Marni Sandler, CEO and co-founder of KUMA Digital, which launches book websites and book-inspired video games for kids. “They’re more sophisticated, fast, fickle and demanding, not to mention that they have more disposable income than ever before. They communicate with each other intensely, sharing messages, blogs, and pictures instantly. Word spreads quickly.”
That’s why when the “word” is a marketing message it is now sometimes referred to as “viral” marketing. “The notion of viral marketing is that if you can get to the ‘leading edge’ kids, they do the marketing for you,” says Iris Sroka, Ph.D., president of Hypothesis Group, a kids’ research group based in New York and Los Angeles.  “It’s a viral process in that the word spreads quickly and gets adopted by kids who are close to the leaders and by kids who want to get close to them.” She adds that whether this is truly purposeful marketing, whereby marketers can specifically target this selective group of kids, is hard to know.  And yet it is definitely a “phenomenon” currently “happening across all categories” where kids have influence — which is just about everything.
The elder part of today’s youth (GenY) adds even more power to the kid mix. GenY is 73 million strong, with 40 million of them under adult age, according to Miki Reilly-Howe, vice president of brand strategy for Deskey, a brand agency based in Cincinnati. “It is the largest group of consumers in the United States. And because they are close to their parents as a whole, they have an enormous impact on household purchases.”
Mighty mommas
But therein lies the first real “touchpoint” to reaching this market effectively — even before the high-speed communication, before the friends, before the text-messages, the instant messages and the blogs — candy marketers looking to touch kids should first reach out and touch the parents, or more accurately, the moms. This sacred group is approximately 83 million strong in this country, and each year, four million new moms are “born,” according to the U.S. Census.
“I have come to passionately believe that the most effective way to market to kids is to get the moms on board,” maintains Stacy DeBroff, best-selling parenting author and “mom-expert” as CEO of Mom Central Inc.
“It is still the moms who do the grocery shopping, decide on treats, pick the Halloween candy, the Easter candy and decide what candy will get stashed in the house,” she says. “While kids — preschool to tweens — buy occasional candy treats, typically one at a time, it is the moms who stock up in bulk.” While it is true that older kids have great influence on what their family buys, younger kids are guided by their mothers — and wise marketers will bring moms into their brand equation.
“Until kids reach the age of 11 or 12, they’re not independently wandering off,” says DeBroff. “These are not the days where kids wandered into town and picked out their own penny candy.”
And these are not the days of “old-fashioned” moms, either. “In general, moms’ roles have evolved with many more choices — career choices, media choices, food choices, brand choices — than they’ve ever had in the past; so very often they are time-pressed and juggling the work/life balance,” explains Kevin Burke, president of Lucid Marketing, an Allentown, N.J.-based marketing and media services company that specializes in “connecting” with moms.
Burke relays that first and foremost, brands and products that connect with moms are high on the quality scale, and they carry a positive customer experience.
In her book, “The Mom Factor,” Nora Lee outlines a mental checklist that moms go through in evaluating a new product/customer experience: Is it clean? Is it safe? Is it a good value? Is it a good investment of my time? Does it tell a good story? Is it fun? Is there an opportunity for learning?
“These are great criteria for marketers to be aware of when targeting moms,” believes Burke.
The idea of the “nag factor” — whereby a child influences a mom’s purchase decision simply by nagging her for it — “has extremely diminished,” says Burke.
“They know when there’s an attempt to manipulate that, most won’t let it happen.”
So what does work? “If you can create a brand, a customer experience, where there’s an emotional connection between the mom and the child, that brand will get the credit in the mom’s eyes,” Burke maintains.
But marketers shouldn’t mistake this to mean that moms are all emotion. “They’ve become extremely effective with their multi-tasking skills,” says Burke. “They have a lot going on, and one of the tools that they’ve found extremely helpful is the Internet. Moms love the Internet and email.” And what a coincidence — so do their kids.  
The tech connect
So savvy marketers will target both moms and kids through cyberspace; and if they can bring them together in that way — what a bonus!
Of course, there is a point where kids’ technological interaction takes leaps over their parents’ — and therein lies the opportunity for marketers to target them directly, particularly kids in the tween years and beyond.
Generally speaking, “kids today connect with brands online and in the digital space,” says Sandler. “Interaction and exploration helps to make brands stick.”
According to research from the Pugh Internet and American Life Project, kids are spending 6.5 hours a day instant messaging, surfing the net, playing video games and/or watching television. This opens up a world of opportunity (albeit fragmented) for marketers, believes Peter Koeppel, founder and president of Koeppel Direct, a direct response advertising agency. He’s identified some top technology touchpoints for kid marketers to consider. They include the following.
Video on demand advertising. Tied in with cable companies such as Comcast, marketers are developing longer-length video ads that are accessed by clicking on a static photo/ad of the product. “I did this on Dish Network with a Jeep Cherokee ad and it took me to dealers in my area,” relays Koeppel.
Social interaction websites. Myspace.com is the most popular currently, but there are others, and some that target specific groups such as college students. About 40 million kids belong to these sites, whereby they can create their own website, put up their pictures and leave messages for their friends. “Their core audience is teenage girls ages 12-17, although they are also catching on with a much younger crowd,” according to Koeppel. The point is, marketers can advertise on these sites — “the ads blend into the content; they’re not real obvious ads,” he says.
Advergames. Skittles already is doing this with its POP IT game. “I saw some research that said 840,000 kids play on the Skittles website,” says Koeppel. “It’s a form of advertising because kids are playing a game with the brand. It’s a way of building brand awareness without overtly advertising it,” says Koeppel. “Moms” do this with brands such as Lipton Soup.
Podcasts. These got their name from Ipods, but they are essentially audio broadcasts that can be downloaded onto an MP3 player. “Certain channels such as Disney have radio-type podcasts, so kids can download shows from Disney Radio, which marketers advertise on, kids download that, and listen to those ads on their Ipod,” Koeppel explains.
Mobile phone advertising. “Kids younger and younger are getting mobile phones today — so this is potentially another way for marketers to reach them,” says Koeppel.
Not all of these “technological advertising” ideas are “right,” according to him, “but marketers still need to keep on top of them because young people are the early adopters of technology,” he points out. “This is a highly fragmented audience that is not swayed by one method of advertising. Kids’ viewing habits have changed so drastically in the last few years — and some of these are logical marketing scenarios for candy people to get involved with.”
The Mom Pleasers
Consider these marketing tactic stats when making moms the focal point of advertising or marketing efforts.
• Her salary is not the issue — mom manages the money.  A mom’s involvement in managing the household finances is not a function of her income. Moms are very active in bill paying, with 76 percent involved in this responsibility.  Forty-six percent are solely responsible for paying household bills, vs. 24 percent of dads.
• Your web site can hurt your brand image in a mom’s eyes. This was one significant finding from a recent Lucid Marketing study on how moms shopped during the holiday season. “We found that 62 percent of moms ‘think less of companies’ with unappealing websites that do not speak to her interests,” said Kevin Burke, president of Lucid Marketing.
• Mom is defining the size of the playing field and who’s allowed to play. Moms are a very discerning group for those companies where they opt-in to receive email messages. Sixty-three percent of moms subscribe to only one to five  newsletters/promotions.
Source: Lucid Marketing Reports

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