Child’s play

A ban on children’s ads will have a huge impact on point-of-purchase material, as it tries to promote brands in an interactive way and faces increased competition from other media.

If you had to launch Pokémon toys or a children’s chocolate bar without any TV advertising, how would you do it? A question like this might seem ridiculous, but all too soon TV advertising aimed at children may no longer be an option.

When the Swedes take over presidency of the European Union in 2001 they may make the rest of Europe comply with their rules which will ban all TV advertising targeted at children under the age of 12. Norway already has a similar ban, while Greece has banned toy advertising on TV. Ireland allows no advertising during children’s programmes, and Denmark and Poland are considering following suit.

Establishing brand awareness for new products and keeping abreast of competition is likely to be a different ball game if the ban goes ahead. Marketers predict that in this country, any potential ban would have a huge impact on other types of marketing activity, such as press advertising, Internet promotion, and point-of-purchase.

Where POP is concerned, it appears that changes to the rules could accelerate trends already in place, bringing to the fore activity that introduces and promotes brands in an interactive way. Those who keep up with these trends could be best placed to cope with any TV ban, if it happens.

Marketers like Paul Adrian, managing director at Revolver Consultants, believe an explosion of store and shopping centre activity is likely to result from a ban. He says: “It will be quite revolutionary. I imagine there will be a large expansion in things such as interactive point-of-sale marketing, which is happening in a lot of supermarkets.”

He predicts that POP will be the arena in which brands such as Coke and Pepsi will slug it out – perhaps using road shows as well as in-store activity in supermarkets, shopping centres and theme parks. And more consumers will be able to try before they buy.

Adrian says: “Activity will be more visible, more interactive, more colourful and noisier as brands try to encourage pester power. POP will have to be more interesting because it will have to sell harder against more competition.”

Coutts Retail Communications client services director Harriet Young agrees: “POP will have to be more positive in the wake of a ban and will have to make up for lost pre-awareness activity.” She says shopping centres and supermarkets are thinking along these lines, with a lot more in-store space now provided for promotional activities.

Ian Bellhouse, senior consultant at Fitch, says: “It’s a question of advertisers being more devious about the way in which brands continue to advertise.” Launching and maintaining brands will be more complex, but will not be an impossible task now that retailers are waking up to the possibilities of POP.

Research conducted by Fitch to back up the repackaging of Fruit-tella has confirmed that many purchase decisions are still made on impulse at the point of sale. In the local newsagent (CTN) environment, children are in control of purchasing decisions, drawing only on their own preferences and those of their peer group – so POP promotion can be very effective.

However, the drawback of CTNs is that advertisers have little control over what happens to their carefully-laid marketing plans.

Display Hazards

Bellhouse explains: “Large supermarkets are 100 times more sophisticated than CTNs, which are the most haphazard marketing situation because of independent ownership. Single owners tend not to have any specialised merchandising units and display things haphazardly.

“In our experience of trying to design point of sale merchandising for this environment, you end up making something so feeble it ends up being indistinctive.”

He says multiple CTNs and supermarkets are much better at listening to manufacturers’ needs and are “improving at an incredible rate,” allowing manufacturers to use premium spaces for promotions. For example, Fitch has worked with Coca-Cola and Safeway on a joint project designing soft drinks display areas.

He adds: “Retailers are not prepared to invest in point of sale themselves, but are probably more open now than I’ve ever known for the manufacturers to invest in-store, and that’s a big opportunity. It gives the manufacturers prime sites and opportunities to control merchandising techniques.”

Perceived Benefits

Although supermarkets are becoming more receptive to POP ideas, brands will have to work harder to appeal to both adults and children. Bellhouse says this is where the loss of TV ads will really be felt – adults are in control of supermarket purchasing decisions, and while they are not immune to pester power, they are concerned about the perceived health benefits of brands.

“You then have to avoid being seen as a stuffy, boring brand. It is a challenge, and a lot of these images are projected by mass-media activity at the moment. It is possible to reach different audiences independently, but that probably takes more complex media planning,” says Bellhouse.

Young at Coutts Retail says that in-store promotional play areas, which allow children to test out products and parents to test out their children’s reaction to them, are already becoming popular.

She says: “It is happening in the retail sector, naturally. We are trying to create an environment that captures the imagination in-store, with children aged five to eight enjoying some play activity, and if there’s a product to buy as a result then that’s perfect.

For example, Hamley’s has an ‘edutainment’ area, where children play with the products and get an emotional attachment to them, and then the adult has the final decision on purchase.”

Young believes more “touchy-feely” activity benefits parents as much as children. “Letting children try out the products allows for gatekeeper scrutiny – parents can see if the child enjoys the toy before purchasing it – and avoids the disappointment that can happen when you open the packaging and find that the toy’s smaller than you thought, or different to what you expected.”

Play environments within supermarkets can serve both as a crèche facility and a promotional hotspot with interactive TV, other displays and perhaps traditional promotional sample counters.

Young says: “Retailers we are working with are looking at these types of devices for children’s products that are toy-related.”

She cites the example of Coutts Retail Communication’s work with Beanie Babies, the soft toys which launched Christmas 1997. “It included a display in Tesco that was specific to the launch. It looked like a tree-house with all the Beanie Babies animals looking like they were in the right environment, accessible to children and at the right height, on an island unit so you could walk around it. It was tested in six stores and then rolled out to more than 100.”

She says this launch activity could point the way towards the future of toy-related POP.

Product demonstration

Adrian agrees that more product demonstration will be necessary – particularly for computer games manufacturers who depend on TV at the moment. He says: “You will have game consoles in McDonald’s, in shopping centres, in car dealerships, and theme parks – anywhere with high traffic flow.”

So how far will the ban go when and if it takes place? Marketers feel that in the UK, there will be significant consumer resistance to any ban going much further than TV. Young believes TV is a particular worry to parents because of young children’s confusion between programme content and advertising.

She says: “What people are concerned about is the subliminal element of TV advertising that interrupts programme or film viewing. With some ages it is quite difficult to decipher whether the children understand that this is an advertisement. However, in the retail environment, everybody knows they are there to make purchase decisions.”

But what happens if the ban is taken to its logical conclusion? Would this mean that a tie-up between McDonald’s and a new Disney film could be banned because it is seen as an incentive to get kids to pester parents for a trip to the cinema? This could be a short step to making Teletubbies fromage frais illegal and getting rid of Tony the Tiger from Frosties packets.

Resistance in the UK to any TV advertising targeted at children will be high. Many feel that keeping children away from any exposure to advertising might backfire with the possibility of ending up with an entire generation who are na’ve about advertising and who believe everything they’re told.

One marketer says: “Children should have some education about making choices. In fact, they are one of the most cynical audiences marketers come across at the moment.”

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