A well-informed employee is the best salesperson a company can have. E. J. Thomas

The Vulnerability of Youth

As branding has become more challenging in today’s crowded marketplace, marketers have turned their attention to kids as future consumers. Their messages are getting through to these young and malleable minds. Studies have shown that the average American two-year-old can recognize the McDonald’s logo. As a father of two toddlers, I am constantly amazed at how my children connect with trademarked characters and products. My son Charlie walks around the house every evening yelling, “Pooh, Pooh, Pooh.” Although my boys are not in the position to buy anything, heavily branded video programs, clothing, food, and books are sure to make a lasting impression.

Companies such as General Motors know this and have begun to advertise to “backseat consumers” (the 13-to 17-year-old demographic). They currently run ads in Sports Illustrated for Kids to advertise their minivans, hoping to influence these kids, who in turn will influence their parents.

While companies understand that they can help form future buying habits by cultivating relationships with kids, the downside is that with so much exposure, kids become numb to many of the messages. The group of kids marketers call Millennials (aged 13 to 21) deeply understands how companies advertise and try to influence their purchasing habits. They have become so immersed in the language of branding that, in many cases, they can flip the paradigm and parody the companies trying to sell to them. This deeper understanding and distrust of branding messages means that the marketer’s job is that much more difficult, and the messages need to change.

In effect, a branding arms race is taking place. Companies that choose to reach out to a younger market need the knowledge and the tools to do so effectively. Conventional branding has lost much of its effectiveness—talking down to this market won’t work; neither will aggressive or absurd messages. Kids are savvy and demand authenticity. They won’t be fooled or impressed by anything less.