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Targeting Tots Could Build Lifelong Brand Recognition: Study

Misty Harris
Montreal Gazette
October 23, 2009

Although young children are more interested in Dora than Dior, a new study concludes that marketers of such adult-oriented products as perfume, cosmetics and toiletries should be targeting children before they even turn five, in order to build lifetime brand recognition.

Reporting in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Consumer Psychology, researchers say exposure to brands at a younger age significantly increases familiarity later in life — often, with people more quickly recognizing defunct brands to which they were exposed as kids than existing brands introduced to them as adults.

"It's a message we might not feel entirely comfortable with, but it may well be worth making young children familiar with brand names, even if they won't purchase those products until they're older," says study co-author Andrew Ellis, a professor of psychology at York University in the United Kingdom.

"This can be done through advertising in children's programs or through product placement."

The study, funded by consumer products manufacturer Unilever, involved experiments with participants age 19 to 83 and measured such things as speed of brand-recognition and familiarity with the types of products a brand represents.

Ellis says brands introduced to participants as kids ("certainly before the age of five, and often before 10"), scored higher in recognition and product familiarity than those brands learned later in life. Among participants age 50 to 83, now-defunct brands familiar to them as young people had more resonance than existing brands that weren't around when they were growing up.

"The things we process fluently get more positive emotional responses . . . So all things being equal, you're more likely to be favourably disposed to a brand you've known all your life than one you've encountered more recently," says Ellis, who believes this effect would be strongest in impulse-buying situations.

The study is the latest entry in a growing body of research that, controversially, empowers marketers to court children, and even infants. For example, knowing that young people are 350 per cent more responsive to the five senses than adults, cartoon-emblazoned scented diapers were introduced to boost recall among so-called "crib consumers."

"Children are requesting brands as soon as they can speak," says Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. "I've talked to plenty of parents whose child's first word was Coke or Elmo or Nemo."

The average 10-year-old is thought to be familiar with approximately 400 brands. The average kindergarten student can recognize some 300 logos. And at just six weeks, a baby can form mental images of corporate logos and mascots.

Although directly advertising to young people is widely frowned-upon — in Quebec, it's illegal — Linn says the messages are still getting across, with some organizations working with child psychologists to exploit kids' developmental vulnerabilities.

"Marketers have long talked about the importance of cradle-to-grave brand loyalty: if you get a child by two, you can have them for life," says Linn, a psychologist who advocates a zero-tolerance policy regarding marketing to youths.

Often, brand messages are received on a secondary level, making them more difficult to police. So says Debi Andrus, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Calgary, who notes that studies have shown people tend to purchase the same laundry detergent that as kids they saw their mothers use.

"Tide isn't advertising to children but they know their brand is going to become familiar to children," says Andrus.

"The earlier people are very aware of brands, or see their role models choosing certain brands, the higher the likelihood they'll use them as they go through life.





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