A “Harry” Situation
By Maria Pilar Clark
Developing kid-focused products is more complicated in today’s retail space, with issues such as governmental restrictions, safety concerns and market saturation, but retailers committed to private label may have a few tricks up their sleeves.
Ongoing battles for shelf space, product staying power and media-campaign control all are elements of marketing that sound more suited to the high-energy wizarding world of a Harry Potter novel than the calming, soothing realm of children’s products.
Further, the ever-present forces of parental and governmental concerns surrounding childhood consumption habits linked to obesity; Internet safety and policing; and the suitability of promotions, marketing and advertising campaigns that specifically target children continue to have a significant impact on the children’s market in the United States, and can create a hairy situation for private label marketers and manufacturers.
Sleight of Hand
In addition to meeting, tackling and overcoming today’s recurring hot-button issues, companies that are active in the children’s market must perform a veritable magic act to overcome other hurdles such as aggressive pricing, competition with branded and licensed products, and of course, consistent quality assurance.
“Consumers are shopping for kids products mostly on impulse,” says David Molayem, president of American Consumer Products, Los Angeles. “Therefore, the first thing that catches their eyes is an attractive package or item, then safety, application and cost.”
“The cartoon characters, attractive colors and shapes, and their perception as toys are attractive attributes of these products,” he adds. “All kids need to have clean hands and any product that encourages this habit is well needed.”
Encouraging frequent hand washing is only a piece of the challenge to create healthy hygiene habits in kids. Parents and care givers need to teach children to brush their teeth regularly — another not-so-glamorous chore for a kid.
“Compliance issues are not new to oral care, although some of the innovative ways manufacturers are promoting compliance certainly are, especially with today’s youngest consumers,” says Daniel Enriquez, vice president of sales at Dr. Fresh Inc., Buena Park, Calif. “Until recently, most manufacturers licensed popular kids’ characters, like Looney Tunes, to appeal to America’s 40 million kids under the age of 9. This tactic may have won at the shelf, but in reality did little to increase compliance or stimulate retail sales.”
Positioned to provide children with a “tooth brushing adventure and the perfect antidote to the tooth-brushing blahs,” Dr. Fresh utilizes the platform that dental hygiene is fun, and also focuses on various programs to drive sales. School functions and contests are typical vehicles according to Enriquez, in addition to commercials, print ads, point-of-sale promotions and more.
“Fortunately over the last several years, manufacturers have really put their money where their mouths are, so to speak, bringing to market new oral care items for kids that make sticking to a healthy regimen easy, fun and effective while driving category sales,” he adds.
The company’s new Float N’Fire Fly children’s toothbrush is an original company creation, is battery-operated, and by just touching the base, children activate a colorful light inside the handle that begins to flash, illuminating a tiny cartoon-themed character, sparkly beads, confetti and glitter floating inside. It stops only after the child has brushed for approximately 60 seconds — which, according to Enriquez, is the amount of time dentists recommend for thorough cleansing.
Manufacturers and retailers teaming up on kids products have seen success in combining the use of cartoons with general hygiene and oral care, by providing children with a strong “fun factor” in their daily grooming regimens, which in turn, acts as an on-going motivator for children and encourages their happy parents to become repeat customers.
“Consumers for children’s oral care are driven by what’s hot in the market,” Enriquez affirms. “Cartoons are a big factor with movie releases also being a strong motivator.”
A strong motivator indeed.
Little tykes have their own purchasing power, and from an early age are able to influence parental buying decisions through their magically malicious “pestering prowess” (read: persistent and insistent nagging, whining, etc. during any given shopping excursion). This, in turn, leads to 71 percent of mothers buying whatever it is their children are pestering them about.
According to the Ottawa, Ontario-based, Media Awareness Network, advertising spending for the children’s products category has increased significantly in the past decade, jolting from a seemingly paltry $100 million in 1990 to more than $2 billion in 2000.
Factors such as smaller families, dual household incomes and children born to older parents all result in families reserving a larger amount of disposable income for impulse buys. In addition, today’s time-crunched parents may make buying decisions based solely on feelings of guilt due to less time spent with their children and more time spent in the office. This, in turn, is encouraging many marketers to nix targeting parents altogether, focusing instead on the real target — kids.
To effectively market to children, and to get said children to convince their parents to magically open their pocketbooks, advertisers, marketers and manufacturers have to figure out what makes those teeny tots tick. With today’s capable research firms, clinical psychologists and an array of other “child experts” perpetually at their disposal, providing report after report filled to teeming with in-depth knowledge regarding children’s developmental, emotional, social and economic needs at various ages and stages, marketing teams have access to materials and information that easily lead them to develop sophisticated marketing strategies that reach children on a personal level, that speak their language and reflect their tastes.
According to Packaged Facts, a division of MarketResearch.com, of the 41 million people that make up the U.S. population, it’s those between the ages of 5 and 14 that have a direct buying power of more than $40 billion and that influence a whopping $146 billion worth of expenditures every year.
As overwhelmingly large as these numbers are, Packaged Facts adds that they should come as no surprise to savvy marketers who for years have been completely aware that they magic key to a parent’s wallet is their wee one. Findings from Packaged Facts’ latest report, “The U.S. Kids Market,” outline demographic trends within the country’s population of children and reviews successful marketing efforts aimed at kids.
An excerpt from the report further notes that, “Kids control more money than one would ever think. Understanding what draws children in, what their perceptions are, and the complexity of their backgrounds is immensely important to marketers as they try to harness the buying power and influence of this demographic.”
The report also concludes that children even have an influence on family purchases that don’t directly affect them. “The U.S. Kids Market” reveals that “54 percent to 63 percent of parents admitted that their children were active participants in shopping for cars. However, not to be forgotten is the $3,868 per year that families spend on those items that do directly affect their kids such as food, clothing, personal care items, entertainment and reading materials.”
As the family structure and environment continue to evolve, making way for changing racial and ethnic compositions in not only children, but also the entire population, one wonders if marketing directed toward children is even an ethical practice in the fist place.
Should there be advertisement-free zones? Television channels where children can experience programming free from marketing meant to have their parents buying every new super-gadget, trumped-up toy and punched-up pop that comes on the market? Of course there are two sides to every coin, and there are plenty of companies out there who see nothing wrong with little Joe Everykid throwing back his Superman-themed sheets in the morning to reveal his Bob the Builder pajamas, then jumping out of bed to brush his teeth with Elmo and the other Sesame Street characters crowded onto his toothbrush handle. Then, as his father neatly packs his Mickey Mouse-shaped sandwich into his Star Wars-branded backpack and his mother sees him onto the school bus, believe it or not, the advertising doesn’t end.
According to the Media Awareness Network, “School used to be a place where children were protected from the advertising and consumer messages that permeated their world — but not anymore. Budget shortfalls are forcing school boards to allow corporations access to students in exchange for badly needed cash, computers and educational materials.
“Corporations realize the power of the school environment for promoting their name and products. A school setting delivers a captive youth audience and implies the endorsement of teachers and the educational system. Marketers are eagerly exploiting this medium in a number of ways.”
Bag of Tricks
When children aren’t brushing their teeth, washing their hands or harassing their younger siblings, then they’re probably sitting down to a meal, be it at school or at home, which leads to another segment of the children’s product category — food-related paraphernalia.
Seguin, Texas-based Minigrip Consumer Products produces what it calls a “kid-friendly” product in its School Lunch Pouch Bags, which are available through its Pack N Zip brand in addition to private label programs. The School Lunch Pouch Bags concept is a 3-in-1 plastic bag that is made up of three separate compartments, which “is ideal for school lunches and storing craft items,” according to Perry Malik, the company’s new business development manager.
“Consumers have very few choices when making a kid’s school lunch or storing kids’ supplies,” Malik adds. “The attraction for kids to our school lunch pouch is a ‘fun’ printed character on the bag, in addition to a multi-compartment plastic bag to store ‘their stuff.’ It also makes eating a ‘homemade’ lunch more fun for kids.”
Printed with what the company calls “The Lunch Bunch Gang,” which is a cartoon-like design of an apple, sandwich and banana characters, Malik notes that “kids don’t necessarily ‘need’ our product, but they ‘want’ our product, making eating lunch or storing stuff more enjoyable for kids and easier for parents.”
“We are continually asked by retailers for novel ideas for the print characters on the bags,” Malik adds. “We also are surprised by the large number of ideas for things that can be stored in our 3-in-1 compartment bags.
“The kid-focused category has evolved primarily from ‘family-friendly’ retailers who have recognized the buying power of kids with innovative products,” he adds.
Health and wellness also is a large part of the children’s market, and Vancouver, Wash.-based Northwest Natural Products Inc. is in the business of boosting kids’ health with its brand of children’s vitamins — L’il Critters — in what Kate Jones, company vice president, calls “user-friendly forms” such as gummy bears, chewable tablets and liquids. She emphasizes that L’il Critters Gummy Vites use only natural colors and flavors, “which was unheard of in a children’s vitamin,” she says.
Working hard to overcome the challenges that are part-and-parcel when developing a “natural” product in an already over-saturated vitamin market, Jones adds that, “multi-vitamins are always the best selling SKUs with symptom-specific products selling strong.”
A potent mix of magic, morality and marketing have made the tales of Harry Potter the most popular children series to date, turning all sorts of children onto the idea of incorporating magic into their daily lives. Similarly, the children’s products category is reaching into its own bag of tricks in order to enhance its marketing efforts, improve its products, and more importantly, keep kids interested.