The Rise and Fall Of Kids
If you haven't had a chance to check out the latest New York Times Magazine, it's all about The Design Of Childhood. There are so many great pieces of information in this issue that you might actually want to go out and buy it and read it curled up by a fire somewhere. But, since we're here to bring you the news, and you're hear to read it, we'll point out some of our favorite bits.
First. If you're trying to build any sort of kid-driven brand, you need to read the cover story about Geppetto group, and the process they went through to develop the identity of Kid-food-boutique Ozon. Their idea of using the mom as a "Gatekeeper" who will bring kids to the store is a pretty sound one. It's also interesting, though, to look at how successfully Ozon navigates the fine line between providing something valuable for kids, and taking advantage of a user group. For example, we love the effort in making low-fat, normal portion, but still cool kid and adult food, and we recognize that in order to be a competitive business food these days, you've basically got to sell soft drinks of one kind or another (maybe you could work some soy milk shake action into those Splix drinks?). But the whole frequent shopper points redeemed for toys thing seems a little too much like a crappy carnival game or a Discover card cash rewards program. For more on Ozon, check out this Springwise report. Whatever you think about Ozon's choices, the article has some great examples of how to go about appealing to kids and their parents. Persona building is also discussed pretty well.
Another interesting editorial looks into the massive push toward advertising to this generation of tweens -- 8-12 year olds who are just discovering cliques, malls, fashion, and the idea that they can get money from their parents for what they want. Never has a group so young had such a mass of marketing effort focused on them. Part of the change is the market's constant quest for bottom line growth, which means signing up more customers. Well, grownups are buying pretty much as fast as anyone could expect them to, so there's little growth potential there.
But kids hardly bought anything until the early 90's - remember the 90210 generation was some of the first big-time high school consumers, and it took a few years to trickle down to the youngsters. This is a great untapped market for the balance sheets. So it has been tapped: Clothing, toys, food, furniture, accessories, and even cell phone plans are tailored for this tiny teen set. Also, as the author points out, kids have unprecedented access to kid-driven programming on TV, and therefore kid-driven commercials. And something like 60% of 8-18 year olds in the U.S. have TV sets in their rooms.
But these kids aren't simply teenagers in tiny bodies. In the article, an IDEO researcher points out:
"...kids are learning to navigate the clamorous world of commerce, all the while yearning for emotional closeness and a sense of empowerment. In short, they're uneasy conformists seeking security through consumption. That puts them right in step with parents who feel buffeted between the urge to purchase and to protect, ever anxious not to be too out of the loop. "
We must come off as real nay-sayers always getting down on new ideas as being dangerous, or unsustainable. But in this case, we've got to say "Geez. When are we going a little too far?". Yes, it's necessary to sell products to make a living. And it's important to understand your user in order to compete in the marketplace. But at some point, the younger and younger you go, you alter more and more the type of grown up person that child is going to be. We haven't even had a chance to see how our own 90210 generation is going to turn out. Do we really want to be pushing grownup ideals on kids this hard?
The ideas that these articles bring up are not easy ones to deal with. Some of us work in kids products, and we think about these exact things daily -- how do we create a buzz with 6 year olds. What should the TV add look like. How will the product look great in the box so the kid will whine to their mom to buy it in the store. Where do you cross the line? How far inside the kid's head and life can you intrude before you start to inhibit instead of empowering?
It's something you've got to decide for yourself, but it's definitely something that you've got to decide.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team