Monday, July 28, 2008

Mixing it up when marketing to children

Today there’s two interesting bits of news related to kids and marketing, not all of it bad:

First, Packaged Facts presents data that suggests kids may be a driving force behind a family’s decision to "go green" in their purchases. Here’s the scoop:

Quoting data from the Simmons Kids National Consumer Survey, the study says a significant majority of kids express concern for environmental issues, and that nearly three-quarters of them believe in buying recycled paper products.

Furthermore, more than half of 6- to-8-year-olds encourage their parents to buy green products--with Hispanic children leading other demographics by a wide margin. The Hispanic kids' environmentalism, in turn, may be the reason why the Pacific region--with its large Hispanic population--leads all other areas in numbers of kids pushing their parent to go green. Also, Hispanic families were found more likely than other American families to seek out organic and fresh foods when they shop. These attitudes toward food may spill over into other environmental issues, according to Packaged Facts.
What’s also interesting is that they found kids as young as 3 were aware of environmental issues. This strikes home for two reasons: one is the niche market angle. If Latino and African American adults use media and shop in different ways than other racial groups, it’s not only important to market goods for their needs, it’s important to consider their kids, too. Latinos are a particularly diverse group with a variety of cultural and economic backgrounds, so it’s interesting to see cohesion around environmentalism. Marketers tend to think of upper middle class whites as the classic organic food consumer, mostly because they are looking at consumption in regular and organic supermarkets, which is not necessarily where Latinos are getting their pesticide-free produce.

The second is that shaping the consumer mind starts early. I’m not sure that’s good news for parents, but in this case, it’s good to note that consumption is tied with a positive social and moral message rather than whether or not Bugs Bunny is dancing on the box of your healthy kid meal.

Second, here’s a marketing issue that may be taking things a bit too far (although I’m not sure in which direction…). The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a decent watchdog group, has recently denounced the Girl Scouts for lending the name of their most famous cookies – Thin Mints – to a Dairy Queen drink that contains more than 1,000 calories. So, you ask, why is this different from any other tie-in? Ben and Jerry’s names its ice creams after all sorts of celebrities and cultural icons and we’re not reading the nutrition panel in dismay, are we? Here’s the rub, according to CSPI:
The large, which weighs more than a pound, has more than 1,000 calories, 31 teaspoons of sugars, and provides more than a day’s saturated fat. It’s like drinking two Big Macs, according to CSPI. Selling cookies door to door is one thing,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “But renting out its nonprofit brand name to a junk-food chain is a major badge of shame for the Girl Scouts. It runs counter to the Girl Scouts’ mission, and this product and its marketing campaign deliver a very unhealthful message to young girls and others. If you were designing a product with the intent of promoting obesity and type-2 diabetes in girls, it would look exactly like the Thin Mint Blizzard.”
While weight issues among young adults are not trivial (note the recent news about young adults and prescription medication for weight-related health issues), should we really be up in arms about the Girl Scouts promoting fatness and ill health? And are they even promoting those things? After all, a major part of the teachings promoted by the Girl Scouts (and Boy Scouts) is self discipline and personal responsibility -- so it's okay to get a Thin Mint Blizzard once in a rare while, just not all the time. Saying otherwise would lets both the food industry (who developed the product in the first place) and the consumers (who are really over-consumers a lot of the time) completely off the hook. Aside from my personal skepticism about how to address the so-called obesity epidemic, I’m pretty sure that if the food industry, government policies, the school system, and parents aren’t already under the gun, it’s not going to help much to blame an organization for 7 to 12 year olds. My recollection is that you have to earn merit badges in physical activity as well as cooking and cookie selling.

Isn't it also a misunderstanding as to to whom the Thin Mint Blizzard is being marketed? After all, it’s not Girl Scouts who are buying all the cookies. Ask any Scout parent who takes to the street with their budding entrepreneur: it’s adults who shell out like crazy for Samoas, Trefoils, or Tagalongs. Will buying a Thin Mint Blizzard make you feel more like a Girl Scout? Or can you make it six more months until the doorbell rings and it’s time to order Lemon Chalets?

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