The Secret Behind Marketing to Children During the Holidays

“I want it! Mommy, I want that! All my friends have one. I’ll die if I don’t get one. Pretty please? Don’t you want me to be happy?”

This is what parents with young kids constantly hear at this time of year. It’s the holiday season and all the cool new products bust out their most powerful ad campaigns prompting children to beg their parents to buy it. I used to do that when I was little. When I saw a commercial for a toy I wanted, I would write the 800 number down, give it to mom, and tell her all about the product verbatim so she would buy it. It hardly ever worked, but this probably explains why I went into marketing. Little did I know as a child that nagging my parents is exactly what the marketers wanted me to do. The advertisements made me think that I would be a loser if I didn’t have that product. Even today, marketing to children encourages nagging year-round and shift into overdrive during the holiday shopping season.

Kids are the ultimate salespeople to parents. Products like toys and games target children but, obviously, parents are the ones who pay for them. Moms and dads are too smart to fall for the gimmick, so companies appeal directly to the lovable kids who ask for it. There’s a name for this, pester power, or sometimes called the nag factor. It’s split into two types. Persistence nagging is when youngsters beg for it over and over and over again. The brands, however, hope they instead practice the other type, importance nagging, meaning they use guilt to appeal to their parents’ desire to provide the best for them. Children sometimes negotiate a deal with mom and dad like getting better grades, doing more chores, or paying for part of it. Those kids must be too cute to resist because over half of parents give in.

Television, internet, and print are the media getting the kids’ attention. Brands plant a seed into their brains hoping it will grow into a lifelong relationship. Children ages 6-11 watch at least 28 hours of TV per week and 90 percent of children ages 5-16 have access to a computer with Wi-Fi at home. Kids this young usually can’t tell the difference between commercials and programming and are very prone to listen to ads like they’re gospel. Catchy jingles really make it stick, too. While young children watch TV, tweens (ages 10-12) like to browse magazines. They look at the visuals more often than actually reading it. If they see a print ad with a celebrity, athlete, or hip new product they like, then they might save it and even hang it on the bedroom wall. I know I did, I used to have Britney Spears’ “Got Milk?” photo on my wall.

You can blame pestering on Mr. Potato Head. In 1952, he became the first toy advertised on television. It was aimed directly at children and behold pester power as we know it was born. Previously, toy ads were printed and targeted to parents because they paid for them. Then one day, the marketers decided to switch gears towards kids and it worked well, but not without controversy. Parents complained that advertising was harmful to their kids, and constantly refusing their requests damaged the parent-child relationship. Parenting expert Rebecca Chicott suggests that if moms and dads don’t want their kids to nag about Christmas presents, then they should teach them there’s more to the holidays than gifts.

Kids, if mom and dad won’t get it for you then maybe Santa will. All it takes is good behavior.