Ten Commandments for Marketing to Youth

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

Greg Livingston, Tim Coffey, and Dave Siegel are the authors of “Marketing to the New Super Consumer: Mom & Kid.” Here are some observations from the authors’ countless hours of work on and review of kid commercials. They call it the “Ten Commandments for Effective Ads for Kids.”

  1. Be mindful of the cognitive development of your ad’s target age group. Kids of different ages think and process information differently. Younger kids operate on a much simpler level than their older counterparts. Your target age group must understand the ad before it can act on it.
  2. Grab your audience’s attention early, and hold it. Many kids, especially younger ones, cannot refocus their attention once they’ve moved it to something else. So if something confuses or bores them in your ad, they “leave” it and cannot mentally come back.
  3. Link your brand to the story. Kids, especially younger ones, tend to remember things in story form, including ads. Having a brand that is strongly linked to the story told in your ad increases the chances that kids will remember it when cruising the aisles.
  4. Make the brand memorable. Further build on the theme of brand recall, using mnemonic devices such as jingles and characters (for instance, Kid Cuisine’s KC the Penguin and Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger) to help kids remember your brand.
  5. Be literal. As most people with children already know, kids are very literal. What they see and hear is what they get. Therefore, don’t make your messages or claims too vague or abstract. Kids will either misinterpret or not even comprehend the point you’re trying to get across. For example, if your product comes in certain flavors, tell the child exactly what those flavors are.
  6. Watch out for distractions. Kids pay attention to the darnest things, sometimes the wrong things. Younger kids suffer from “centration” and will center their thoughts and attention on just one part of your ad or product that stands out to them. It might be the little kitten in the ad; it might be the cute baby; but it might not be the product or the message.
  7. Humor, music, and anticipation increase kid involvement. Kids are all about fun, and nothing says fun more than jokes, tunes, and the element of surprise. Any combination of these can serve as a hook for your ad. But make sure the child understands the joke. If not, he or she will think that you are stupid.
  8. Do not pick on living things. Here is one out of left field. So far we’ve been talking about dos, but we felt it necessary to include one don’t. Make sure your ad does not show kids picking on other kids or animals. Kids’ picking on adults is okay, and cartoon animals picking on each other might be okay, but our research with many commercials found that in general it’s better to show the nicer side of kids.
  9. Boys will be boys; girls will be either—but it’s best to show both. Girls respond to either boys or girls in ads, but boys will usually not respond favorably to ads with girls as the only talent. There are a few exceptions to this—for instance, if the girl is an athlete.
  10. Test before committing. Before committing the big bucks on media, make certain that your audience likes the ad. Likeability is still the strongest, most important part of any commercial to a child.

© 2005 Tim Coffey, Greg Livingston, Dave Siegel. Excerpted from “Marketing to the New Super Consumer: Mom & Kid” by Greg Livingston, Tim Coffey, and Dave Siegel (Paramount Market Publishing, January 2006)

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