Children are already exposed to plenty of advertising, but now companies are going after kids who aren't even old enough to say, "Mommy, I want that." Despite the fact that many of them are mainly interested in eating, pooping, and figuring out how to use their appendages, many brands are targeting the infant to 3-year-old demographic.
Earlier, we learned that Disney reps are now visiting moms hours after delivery and offering a free onsie in exchange for an e-mail address and a lifetime of product loyalty. But Disney isn't the only company attempting to hook kids when they're absurdly young. AdWeek reports that high end brands including Versace, Fendi, and Marc Jacobs have recently introduced clothing lines for toddlers, and they aren't just hoping to attract wealthy parents who can afford to laugh it off when their child dribbles pureed carrots down the front of a $900 sweater. They're also trying to create a relationship with the infant, in the hope that 30 years down the line they'll buy their own kid a new designer ensemble every three months.
Dan Acuff, a former marketing consultant for companies like Hasbro, Mattel, and Nestlé explains:
[Brands] are going younger and younger all the time. Babies don't distinguish between reality and fantasy, so they think, ‘Let's get them while they're susceptible.'"
Babies also can't distinguish between a stained Target tote bag and a Fendi purse, yet there is disturbing evidence that brands do make an impression on them. According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, by six months babies start forming mental images of logos and mascots. Research shows that by the time American kids are three, they can recognize 100 brand logos on average.
The strategy also makes sense because very young children are consuming more and more media. Kids have been parked in front of shows like Sesame Street for decades (and people have been lamenting the use of TV as a babysitter for just as long). Now just like adults, young children can be "plugged in" practically anywhere, and parents are happy to have kids mesmerized by an electronic device while driving or waiting in a doctor's office. Thus, there's a whole new crop of websites and apps for smartphones and tablets that provide entertainment (and ostensibly, education) for pre-schoolers. A recent study found that 80% of children under the age of five are using the internet every week.
While some worry about how advertising is affecting kids' brains, others aren't that concerned since toddlers can't do anything about their desire for Versace. Julie Robichaux, who runs the blog A Little Pregnant, says, "Until someone sends my 3-year-old a credit card and takes him shopping without me. I don't much care one way or the other." It's true that parents have some control over the ads very young children see (if the kids don't use the internet, watch TV, or look at billboards), but brands aren't actually interested in 3-year-olds right now. They're after the class of 2030 college grad who just got her first credit card.
The Next Great American Consumer [AdWeek]
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