Branded for life?
By the time they hit first grade, most US children are aware of some 200 logos many dangled by firms out to secure their long-term loyalty.
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But for the most part, the trend has been marketing adult brands to children. Apparel companies such as The Gap, Old Navy, and Polo have extended their customer bases by creating clothing for infants and children. Now, they compete with kid-clothing stalwarts such as OshKosh B'gosh and Carter's. The effort is partly to make children comfortable with the brand.Skip to next paragraph
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"Infants will never recognize [the brand]," says Marianne Szymanski, president of Toy Tips Inc., a toy-industry consulting firm. "But mothers will continue to buy those brands. Once [the kids] are in school, and brand-conscious, they will still want mom to purchase them."
Other firms are adjusting their marketing to establish a bridge between parent and child. Customer devotion to motorcycle-maker Harley-Davidson is legendary. Over the past 10 years, the company has attempted to extend parents' affection for the brand to their offspring. New products include rattles and baby blankets, a toy Harley motorbike for kids (made by Fisher Price), as well as clothing and helmets.
"We're looking to build a positive memory, and imprint the younger generation with the positive aspects of the brand," says Harley-Davidson's vice president of marketing, Joanne Bichman.
Children's loyalty to a particular brand often depends on the product's day-to-day visibility inside the home. The effect is strongest among products that are typically used out in the open, such as boxes of cereal. Compared with Cheerios, instant oatmeal is far less likely to win the affection of a child, according to Richard Lutz, a marketing professor at the University of Florida.
Companies such as Kraft, Mr. Lutz says, even recruit homemakers and watch them prepare lunch to observe the dynamic of product placement.
In a study of mothers and their college-age daughters, Lutz found that future generations often inherit the loyalties of their parents. That's true among some products such as tuna, mayonnaise, and toothpaste more than others.
Competition for consumer loyalty has led many marketers to bypass parents altogether. "Two years ago, the industry was talking about marketing to the youngest children, the zero-to-3 demographic," says Enola Aird, director of the Motherhood Project at The Institute for American Values. "They decided that they would go after this demographic directly, instead of going through mothers and fathers."
Consumer-advocacy and parent groups point to the growing presence of advertising in schools, from textbooks to field trips (see story, below), as evidence that retailers are intensifying their efforts to market directly to children.
"The desire to brand consumers has unleashed tremendous fervor to get these kids early, often, and for life and it's causing serious harm to kids," says Ms. Aird.
Still, Aird cites growing awareness of advertising among parents. One example: CNN recently scuttled plans to include logos of commercial sponsors in its "Student News" broadcast after organized protests by parents.
"There was a lot of discussion back and forth, and we wanted to maintain that trust and credibility that we have with teachers and parents," says CNN Student News spokesperson Mitch Leff.
PEABODY, MASS. Katherine Gasper's students are among the first to experience what could become a staple of public education: field-trip retail.
The kindergartners and first-graders recently spent much of their morning with their fingertips pressed against fish tanks. They squealed at the scuttling feet of lizards and poked the taut bellies of sleeping ferrets.
Unlike previous outings, the children were not within the grounds of a zoo, but adjacent to a strip mall. And the animals their crates and tanks, toys and treats were all for sale.
The more than 50 children from the Saltonstall School in Salem, Mass., were in nearby Peabody, visiting the local Petco, a national pet-product retailer.
As part of the store's educational mission, the children are taught about animal life, pet care, and the natural world. They cycle through the store's stock of animals, looking at colorful fish, lizards, hamsters, ferrets, and squawking birds.
The children's delight is obvious. Clear, too, is the benefit for Petco: The opportunity to recruit a new generation of customers who, according to many experts, are just beginning to forge product loyalties.
"Our ultimate goal is to give them a good taste of the place so they'll want to come back," says the store's merchandise manager, Michelle Broughton.