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Pester power

Some 400 million kids below the age of 15 are India's most conspicuous consumers, lapping up not just toys, gadgets, phones and clothes but also counselling parents on big ticket purchases.

E. Kumar Sharma | Print Edition: December 12, 2010

A year ago, Hyderabad-based Sesha Bhattar Raghu, 43, a central government employee working in the civil division of the postal department in Nagpur, was looking to buy his first car.

The recently-launched limited edition Maruti Alto Xcite, with a price tag of Rs 335,000, caught his eye. Raghu's 11-yearold son Srikalyan, however, thought different. Rather than an expensive passion red Xcite, which boasted power windows, colour bumpers and a remote boot opener, Srikalyan was adamant his father buy a regular blue Alto without the frills.

Raghu heard him out, and then patiently convinced him that the Xcite would be a better buy.

Getting his son's go-ahead was important - not just because the purchase was being made on his birthday. "He is aware of many things," says the visibly proud father. "Even in things like detergents he has a view and tells me the difference between Rin and Vanish," adds mother Mythraiyee.

Cut to Mysore, some 140 km off Bangalore. Two years ago, Bhargavi and Deshikan Hemmige considered a host of cars before purchasing a Ford Ikon for Rs 6.5 lakh. To make that decision they took plenty of expert advice - from their 10-year-old son Sriram Hemmige. "He does not go by the looks of a car or a bike but by its features," points out his mother. Deshikan, who works in the senior management of a DTH service provider, is now preparing to upgrade to a luxury car because his son has some real convincing arguments for doing so.

Pester power has just got more savvy, more smart - and more informed. Rather than nagging their parents to unleash their rising disposable incomes at random and flashy products and services that catch their eye, more and more of India's close to 400 million kids below the age of 15 are becoming connoisseurs and specialists that their parents lean on.

That's good news for marketers in a consumption-driven economy. And it is not just because this burgeoning brood is demanding more clothes, more shoes, more toys and more games. Rather, these kids, who could be three-year-old tykes, are huge influencers in their parents' big-ticket purchases - from luxury cars to laptops. Experts peg the market for products and services in which kids play the role of an influencer at an astounding $100 billion (Rs 450,000 crore).

About a third of parents with kids between 4 and 6 say they pester for specific brands
About a third of parents with kids between 4 and 6 say they pester for specific brands.
R. Sriram is the founder of bookstore chain Crossword, now a part of retail chain Shoppers Stop. Today, he is one of the founders, along with Rama Bijapurkar and S. Raghunandhan, of Next Practice Retail, which offers business design, incubation and consulting services to consumer and retail businesses. You would expect him to be a keen observer of consumer behaviour. And he is - particularly of the young ones. For instance, Sriram explains that Raghunandhan consults one of his sons, aged 10, when it comes to loading applications on to his iPad and iPhone; older son, all of 16, is the anointed trouble-shooter for dad and his friends' gadgets and gizmos. And Sriram's five-and-a-half-year daughter Kavya Anita prefers to keep her father's mobile phone on silent to shut out the intrusive world while playing games on it. "There is a key difference in the power equation today - children freely question their parents, demonstrate superior knowledge on quite a few fronts, are very clear about their preferences and generally talk to their parents as equals," says Sriram, 46.

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