Children’s power put under the microscope

If you are Coca Cola, Nike, Walkers, McDonald’s, Cadbury’s and cable channel Nickelodeon the future looks good.

Children aged 5 to 17 love you. But if you are one of their closest, or even more distant, rivals the views of these key consumers makes less happy reading.

According to fresh research from SMRC Childwise (MW February 19) now in its fourth year, those brands dominate the thinking of the nation’s children.

The first three polled the highest spontaneous advertising awareness in their respective sectors, with 57 per cent of all children naming Walkers, 27 per cent naming Coca-Cola and 36 per cent for Nike. McDonald’s is the first choice fast- food outlet for an astonishing 63 per cent of children – Pizzaland is second with just 15 per cent. In terms of confectionery, 21 per cent of children plump for Cadbury’s and 26 per cent choose Nickelodeon as the top cable or satellite channel.

The SMRC ChildWise Monitor research surveyed 1,153 children aged five to 17, at 45 schools nationally, in face-to-face interviews last November. It found a sample which was: ad literate, 67 per cent held band accounts, more than 50 per cent had access to cable and satellite channels, almost one quarter of those with access to a PC at home aged 11 and over had used the Internet, more than half have their own TV and 22 per cent their own video recorder.

Those last figures make a mockery of attempts to limit children’s TV viewing. Indeed the survey shows that more than half of the children claim to watch TV after 9 pm on a weekday and closer to 80 per cent claim to watch after the threshold at the weekend.

In terms of their favourite programmes, Teletubbies was top with more than 15 per cent of the five to six-year olds, despite the fact it is aimed at a pre-school audience. But only EastEnders, closely followed by Friends, scored a total of more than five per cent among the whole group – reflecting the fact that the wide-ranging tastes among the different age groups works against a single programme dominating.

But the Watford saga is especially popular among 13 to 14-year olds. More worryingly, the report says: “children like EastEnders because of the characters and its approximation to their idea of real life.”

Four magazine titles emerge as favourites within the distinct age groups. Among those aged five to fifteen, the Beano is favourite. For older boys aged 11 to 14, it is Match; younger girls favour Smash Hits and the older girls Sugar. Smash Hits is the only new entrant on the magazine favourite list from last year.

Children also show they are early adopters, with more than 20 per cent watching Channel 5 in the week before the research was conducted. The 13-to14, and 15-to16, age groups were especially attracted by C% with 28 per cent and 27 per cent, respectively, watching.

And while C% still lags behind the established channels, it is ITV which has suffered the greatest fall in child viewers. In 1994, when the research was first conducted, ITV was watched by 85 per cent of children but its rating now stands at 77 per cent.

Children prove an elusive market for advertisers and marketers. Their likes and dislikes change faster than any other consumer group. The advertisers split into two broad groups: those seeking children as customers and those companies – such as Tesco, Dixons, Sainsbury’s – seeking the parents’ custom through marketing in education schemes or but “pester power”.

Ad agencies are positioning themselves to offer specialist advice. Saatchi & Saatchi has recently launched a children’s unit and Leo Burnett has a research tool, Kidscape, to find out the likes and dislikes of today’s children. There are also a host of specialist agencies offering to create marketing in education schemes for the numerous companies pumping an estimated annual 300m into educational programmes.

It is easy to see why children are such an attractive target: they have an estimated 1.5bn annual spending power in the UK. The ChildWise research shows that secondary age children are each spending an average of just under 30 per month on just six categories of consumer goods: sweets and chocolate; crisps and snacks; magazines and comics; toiletries; computer games and software; and CDs and music.

For fmcg manufacturers, that makes them a crucial audience.

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