Childish endeavours

The internet is crucial to today’s youth, yet online banner ads are not getting through to them. Peer influence is what counts and treating them as individuals could help to get your message across

The new Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP) restrictions on advertising food and drink to under-16s sees marketers review which ways of communicating with children work best and why. Questions remain, however. How do young people feel about this initiative? Does it mirror their own concerns about advertising? What communication methods work best for them?

Dubit conducts extensive research with children and young people weekly, offering insight into their values and motivations and feeding back into corporate and public organisations. Here we offer an insight into what under-16s in the UK think about advertising and which issues matter most to them.

Our reports show that under-16s worry about the same things as adults, such as whether they will have a good job and if they see enough of their friends. In particular, a recent survey of 2,200 under-16s looked into what they saw as important for their future, and, in keeping with the current CAP guidelines, it is good health that tops their wish list, with an impressive mean rating of 8.9 out of 10. Close behind are having a job they love, friendship, achieving good qualifications and freedom.

Good health is a primary concern and young people are likely to be more open to ads that take this into account. It could even mean that the effect of the CAP regulations could actually improve communications with young people rather than restrict it, as young consumers may well have greater faith in the ads they encounter.

Children say they want messages they can relate to – ones that reflect their passions in life and real-life experiences. Not surprisingly, young people prefer ads that make them laugh (91%), but this needs to be linked to activities they are interested in (89%), but the majority (83%) say it is important that the contexts are not fake or false. They want to be talked to like adults, as children are discerning consumers, quick to spot condescension. While humour is a winner, ads with celebrities or with “stupid things happening” are the least popular.

For marketers choosing where to contact children and youth, young people still use a diversity of media – but we all acknowledge that the internet is hugely important to them. Internet access is ubiquitous, with 93% of children aged 12 to 17 having broadband access at home, while 47% have Sky digital TV and a further 31% have cable TV. One quarter have HDready TV sets.

The internet is seen by 83% of children as being one of the ten things that play a big part in their lives, compared with just 59% including TV and 23% radio in their top ten. The importance of being online – at a mean of 7.1 – is right up there with spending time with friends (8.8) and family (7.7), mainly because that is where peer-to-peer interaction is taking place – an integral part of forming a young person’s identity.

However, data shows that online advertising is not having much of an impact on this age group. More traditional methods remain far more effective in their eyes. More important in this sphere – including online – is word of mouth: a more universal channel and a very effective means of communicating brand messages to young people, reinforcing the grassroots impression that is so effective among this audience.

Looking at our word-of-mouth (WOM) index or “womometer”, children tell us the top brands they would recommend to their friends, with Sony (62%), BBC (61%), MTV (60%) and Kellogg (58%) emerging as the most popular. Children trust their friends’ views on what messages and products they are genuinely really “into”, and this is where online marketing, through: “e-teams”, can make a difference and cut past the banner-ad-blindness and into social networking sites (if done correctly).

Peer influence can also be used as an offline marketing method and avoid top-down, above-the-line restrictions. Young people are very comfortable and respond well to WOM: street teams allowing for personal recommendations at ground level have been very effective in achieving cut-through for brands, working with existing passions and allowing young people to spread their opinions about brands and products.

And grassroots marketing is also more effective. Research has shown that children and young people are not a homogeneous mass of similar individuals. You can’t market to them as one group. Tapping into their underlying attitudes and motivations are providing especially useful routes for reaching children, and allows for more direct, bottom-up activity that encourages recommendation among peer groups, not the elusive “water-cooler” moments that are looking to unite an audience in a common experience.

In short, children would like to improve the impact and relevance of advertising aimed at them, and perhaps changes to the CAP guidelines will encourage this. It has been said that creativity occurs when boundaries are set, and although the CAP restrictions may appear to reduce creativity and cut-through, perhaps they will redirect attention to the media channels children appreciate and allow them to understand more about the brands they enjoy. 

Laura McLarty, head of research, at Dubit, contributed to this week’s Trends Insight

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