Navigating the minefield that is marketing to children

Children are an immense, media savvy and complex target group. Since they are able to sway parents’ purchasing decisions and habits instilled in the young follow them into adulthood, they are also critical to a successful marketing strategy in many industries.

Their credulity makes children vulnerable­ to “harmful, potentially deceptive and offensive information,” states the International Chamber of Commerce, one of many bodies that have drawn up codes of practice and guidelines for the marketing industry. Many countries have their own national­ regula­tions so an advertisement acceptable in one territory may be prohibited in another.

Childhood obesity challenges food industry advertisers

In the face of what has been called the global epidemic of obesity, the food industry is attracting statutory­ regulation that seems likely to be extended if the industry does not police itself. The dairy sector is not immune to the threat given the number of sugary, high fat items available.

Arguably there is also a moral imperative to act responsibly. One group of companies has implemented a voluntary ban on marketing products that do not meet specific nutritional criteria to children under the age of 12. Even quality products offering genuine consumer benefits must be marketed with care.

Typical marketing measures for children

While a value added dairy product’s target consumer is generally well-defined, marketing messages will often be directed also at peripheral groups likely to influence and buy for the end user. In this case that means mothers, who want a healthy product offering sound nutritional content and may be looking for further beneficial components in the form of pro­biotics, vitamins and minerals. Ethical values and social responsibility may also come into play.

Making it mine

At the same time the child needs to feel they own the product. So child-friendly packaging might feature a licensed cartoon figure, or for instance a cartoon character developed in-house and linked to social media. However healthy and beneficial the product may be, it also has to appeal to kids and give them the taste they want!