There is not much Atul Bendre, an engineer with Indian Airlines, can do when both his children demand the latest gizmos and fancy foodstuff they get to see on television. “My 15-year-old daughter demanded a cell phone when she passed out of school. I had to buy one for my 12-year-old son too, otherwise he would have got a complex,” he says. “It’s difficult for me to manage a household, but today parents are helpless. Our children are constantly comparing us with neighbours.”
That sums up the dilemma of parents — and the new-age marketing mantra. Pester Power is the new buzzword in marketing circles and the country’s business houses have realised that the child is the key to loosen his parents’ purse-strings. No wonder then that a number of children’s channels are waiting to take off in the next few months — they’re sure to find brands eager to advertise on them, which means good money.
Apart from the already popular Cartoon Network, Pogo and Nickelodeon there is news of Disney and Star keen on making an entry. In July-September this year, UTV will launch the country’s first full desi channel with localised content in Hindi.
Sceptical adults may wonder who’s going to watch all these kid channels, but those in the business have done their homework. Says Purnendu Bose, COO, New Ventures, UTV, “Children in India constitute 18.7 per cent of the world kids population and one-third of our country’s population is under the age of 15 years. While the UK has over 15 kids channels for less than a tenth of the Indian audience, India has only three foreign kids channels. The UTV kids channel will target 50 million Indian children spread across 44 million cable and satellite homes.”
A survey by AC Nielsen, UTV’s research partner, showed that an average child watches TV for about three hours on weekdays and 3.7 hours on weekends, the time spent in front of television goes up with age, and the preferred language of viewing is Hindi across all age groups. Apart from the programmes, the children also view a lot of the advertisements.
“Kids are better consumers of advertising”, says Samit Sinha of Alchemist Brand Consultancy. “Their minds are not as cluttered as adult minds and so they can assimilate the message faster”. That receptiveness translates into pester power.
Last year, a study conducted by Millward Brown and IMRB showed that kids influence decision making on categories beyond those just meant for kids. Data from the study, culled over five years after interviewing 100,000 kids every year across 35 markets in Asia Pacific, including Hong Kong, Manila and Mumbai, showed that recognition of corporate logos happens at the age of six months, brand name requests begin by the age of three years, differentiating between brand values happens by age 10 and brand loyalty begins by the age of 11.
“Marketers realise that if they can get tweens positively inclined to their brand, they could literally have consumers for life”, says Sreekant Khandekar, director of agencyfaqs, a firm that monitors advertising, media and marketing.
By 2030, in the markets studied, there would be 800 million tweens (that’s the pre-teen age group between 9-14 years). The research also showed that six out of 10 children pester an average of nine times even after their parents say ‘no’ to a particular request, and that 80 per cent of all brand purchases by parents with tweens are controlled by their children. The study was published as a book called ‘BRANDchild’.
Says Bose, “Pester Power research indicates that 30 per cent of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) purchase decisions are influenced by kids, they also influence selection of brand for non-kids category like refrigerator, music system, car etc.” In some ways, kids always provide expert opinion especially since they know a lot about modern technology, and advertisers do understand the impact of pester power, he says. “Probably that is why you see children associated with seven out of ten commercials.”
“Kids in India have always had the pressure vote: by sheer dint of either child-like nagging or persuasion they can get doting parents to get them what they want”, says adman Suhel Seth. “The situation today is even more delicate because today they can effect purchase with increased pocket money. Preteens are thus definitely having a greater say in the whole buying decision-making — and they should since the borders of consumption are no longer age-restricted”, he says.
In India, the ad spend per year on products meant for kids but purchased by parents, like health drinks, is 12 to 15 per cent of the total Rs 38,000 million. Ad spend per year on products meant for children and also bought by them, like chocolates, is seven to eight per cent.
So, innovative marketing strategies are increasingly targeting kids, directly or indirectly. A growing slew of ads feature kids - think of the Maruti ad with the little Sikh boy, the Hutch ad with the boy and the dog, the LG TV ad with the bespectacled boy, and several Pepsodent ads.
“Kids are responsible for making an ad a hit or flop”, says Prasoon Joshi of McCann Erikson, the man behind the “Thanda matlab Coca-Cola” campaign. “If a kid likes an ad, he remembers it and keeps repeating it. Soon enough the parents are humming the tune as well”.
The issue of whether it’s fair to target children as consumers is only beginning to be debated here. Adman Prahlad Kakkar says commercials are getting more and more sophisticated and children don’t have the power to rationalise. “Today’s advertisements interfere with the traditional value system of our children. In our country, there are no standards as yet as far as advertising for children is concerned”, he says.
“Consumerism is my bread and butter”, says Kakkar, “And yet, should we start converting the kids to consumerism at the age of three or five?”