Of Pleas And Purchases

Are you receptive to fine whines?

You know, the forlorn, beagle eyes accompanied by a plaintive "Oh, pleeese, Mom, can I have ..."

As back-to-school shopping enters its high season, parents and grandparents may want to consider the "Nag Factor."

I don't mean to denigrate honest needs and requests. That's just what Western International Media calls it. This global-marketing firm released a study last week that shows a child's plea is responsible for 20 to 40 percent of certain purchases.

They studied 750 American parents of three- to eight-year-olds and discovered that 1 in every 3 trips to a fast-food restaurant is prompted by a child. Nearly the same ratio applies to clothes selection and video rentals.

Four out of every 10 visits to "place-based entertainment" such as Discovery Zone play areas and Chuck E. Cheese video/pizza parlors, are the result of "nagging."

If you're buying a school backpack (see Page B8) or if you're raising ad-savvy children (Page B5) or even if you're not, this study sheds new light on the parent-child dynamic.

Some parents are more susceptible than others to the Nag Factor, says Cheryl Idell, a mother of two young children and a Western International exec.

For example, the "Bare Necessities" parents (31 percent of the group surveyed) claim to be immune to nagging. Not because they're broke. This group has about $10,000 more income per year than the other parents. But they're careful about spending, they're older, and often have a spouse at home full time.

The "Indulgers" represent the flip side and the biggest group (33 percent). The mother lode for advertisers. Impulsive shoppers. They're single and dual parents who work outside the home. Guilt plays a role. "Because they're working, they tend to indulge their kids," says Ms. Idell.

The "Kid's Pals" (15 percent) are pushovers too. They're the youngest parents and are childlike themselves. They watch cartoons with the kids, enjoy their kid's toys. They'll have Nintendo that their kids aren't old enough to use.

"Conflicted" (20 percent) often give in to nagging but don't feel good about it. Advertising to kids is bad, they say, but it is useful in deciding what to buy. This is the most ethnically diverse group, they're often single or divorced people who also have teenagers.

Do you see yourself here?

Whether you do or not, as a parent herself, Idell says the study has taught her to distinguish between requests. Children issue "Important Nags" and "Persistent Nags," according to Western's research.

The latter is one you should have no trouble rejecting. It's the impulsive, "Hey that looks cool, I think I'll take a shot at pushing Mom to buy it" nag. The Important Nag is a true want or need that reveals something about what's going on in a child's life.

This request has some thought behind it. If children can articulate why they want an item, it might be worth purchasing. When she gets a request, Idell queries her kids as to why that purchase is important. It's an opportunity to see what they're thinking.

As a parent, I'm tempted to see this research as a devious device that allows advertisers to control our kids and our lives. But I agree with Idell: "Whether nagging works or not, depends on the kind of parent you are."

* We're home. Let us know how we're doing. Write to the Homefront Editor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115 or e-mail home@csps.com

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