I wish there was a vaccine for parents, administered around the time their children start talking, that provided immunity to kidfluence.
You know, kidfluence. The “Mom, I love Elmo on Sesame Street and I really, really, really want that Tickle Me Elmo Extreme TMX.”
“Isn’t he cute, Mom? Huh, huh? Isn’t he cute?”
“Can I have him? Can I? Can I? He’s only $40.”
OK, so maybe the targeted age for Elmo Extreme isn’t speaking in complete sentences yet, but you get the picture: Child sees and or hears message that XYZ product is cool and super duper and just what he needs and that’s all the parent hears for the next three months, or until he sees the next product that is cool and super duper and just what he needs.
There’s another phrase that describes it better: pester power.
It’s defined as “the ability children have to nag their parents into purchasing items they would otherwise not buy or performing actions they would otherwise not do.”
It’s a powerful force and we’ve all heard it – that incessant whine or clamor for some thing or to do some thing. Most parents develop a suit of armor to ward off the demands, but some parents cave in.
Marketers aren’t stupid, so they tap into that power. One marketer even advocates getting kids to whine and Texas A&M marketing professor James McNeal calls children “economic resources to be mined.”
The book Kidfluence, published in 2001, divided pestering into two categories: persistence and importance.
“Persistence nagging” (the plea is repeated over and over again) is not as effective as the “importance nagging,” the authors say. The importance nagging is more sophisticated, triggering adult guilt for not buying the child the latest video game or not spending time with the children.
Earlier this fall, the Wall Street Journal had an article about children pressuring (importance nagging) their parents to make more environmentally friendly purchases – with success. An 8-year-old in New Jersey lobbied his mother to buy the Prius hybrid car. So she did.
Another 8-year-old in California used his pester power when his parents were replacing the roof on their home to get them to install solar panels, too. A $15,000 decision.
Using children to reach parents is nothing new. The early recycling movement in the 1970s got its major push in schools. And there’s nothing wrong with teaching children to recycle or to be aware of other issues. I’m sure many parents started buckling their seat belts only because their children in the back seat pestered them about it.
But marketers are getting more savvy at how they reach children in the first place, using cartoon figures, popular movies, educational TV in the classroom and even children’s books, so the message becomes one-sided unless parents are paying attention.
There’s just something wrong with children, who can’t even reach the brake pedal, dictating what vehicle a parent should buy.
Children can grasp the main concept (conserving energy), but often can’t understand the issue’s complexity (it costs a lot of money to switch all those light bulbs to compact fluorescents). Somewhere along the way, an adult needs to be adult: Nurture the compassion and passion, but realize you don’t have to buy recycled-fiber toilet paper.
(Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)