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The consumer is not a moron, she is your kid

Advertisers attempt to woo children with their own versions of reality.

Print Edition: December 12, 2010

Decades after advertising legend the late David Ogilvy preached that "the customer is not a moron, she is your wife", BT has taken the liberty of rephrasing that gem in the headline of this piece. With good reason. Kids today are not just influencers but consultants to their parents in big-ticket buying decisions, as a Disney's KidSense survey suggests. So if kids are the ones brands want to shimmy up to, it follows that advertisers will feature toddlers to tweens in their commercials.

The second of the Disney's KidSense joint surveys - done by Disney India, IMRB International and GroupM India of the WPP Group in the 4-14 age group from SEC A and B categories - reveals that 76 per cent are involved in decisions to purchase mobile phones and electronic gadgets; and 43 per cent are involved in car buying decisions. So, it is no surprise then that Volkswagen India had a child in its campaign for the Passat model. Says Lutz Kothe, Head of Marketing & PR at Volkswagen Group Sales India: "The entire Volkswagen range is encompassed in the ad along with the child's aspiration through the years, signifying that the brand has a car in every segment, in every phase of his life."

"Several of our clients use kids in their advertising; for instance Whirlpool has for years used kids as a key element in their advertising," says M.G. Parameswaran, Executive Director and CEO of Draftfcb Ulka, an advertising agency. One of the reasons for that increase is the growth in the number of kids channels and in their viewership. There are at least six kids channels on television today, and the share of viewership has increased from three per cent of all channels in 2004 to 16.3 per cent in January to October 2010. With children graduating into consumers much earlier than before, even those brands that are traditionally considered to be in adult categories are attempting to widen their reach to include kids.

Consider, for instance, what cosmetics major L'Oreal has done by extending its Garnier brands into a new line called Garnier Kids. So Garnier Fructis kids shampoo becomes the first contact with the brand for the child; as she grows, she can go on to use hair colours, skin care lotions and creams, and deodorants, all under the same umbrella brand. The paints industry for its part has found a great way to get into kids' bedrooms - by tying up with channels like Nick and Disney to use their characters to decorate their rooms.

If kids in ads work, it is also because a number of marketers, mostly in the foods category, are keen to promote healthy dietary habits and lifestyle amongst children. Of late, companies such as Hindustan Unilever, Kellogg's India, General Mills India, Nestle India, PepsiCo India, Coca-Cola India and Mars International have pledged to change food and beverage advertising on television, radio, the Internet and in print targeted at children under 12. American studies have indicated that television advertising of fast food has led to an increase in obesity in kids.

Advertising to kids - by using them in the ads - may appear a win-win situation, but marketers also have to ensure they are not preying on innocent minds. There is, indeed, a fine line between promoting and exploiting. Ogilvy also said: "You wouldn't lie to your wife." You would not to your kid, either.

-Anusha Subramanian

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