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Branding to Babies

As a marketing consultant I live and breathe advertising while at work. When outside of work I find it fascinating, and good research, to watch the reactions – or lack thereof – that people have to the marketing efforts that they are seeing, hearing, and even partaking in. Whether it is studying the difference between the male and female response to the television ads running during our weekly football game gatherings (Go Pats!), hearing my grandmother’s reaction to a racy radio ad, or watching as strangers swarm tables at my neighborhood supermarket for free samples of the day’s special product the consumer reaction is always different and interesting. It is an intriguing study that I am constantly conducting.

As a mom to a toddler and a preschooler I find it particularly remarkable to watch my daughters react to advertisements that are targeted to their demographic. As most moms of young children experience, my girls need and want whatever is advertised on television during their cartoons. It doesn’t matter what the advertised toy does or what it looks like, or what the food in the commercial may taste like – once my girls see children playing with a toy or eating a snack on TV they have to have it. They immediately call me over to the TV to see the item that they want and ask me to buy it for them. You may think that this is a marketer’s dream and a parent’s nightmare. The reality is that once a new commercial comes on children have completely forgotten about the previous item that they needed. Their focus is now on the new need-to-have-it-for-60-seconds item. This cycle continues until the end of the cartoon. Once I turn the television off all memories of the advertised snacks and toys disperse: out of sight out of mind.

My 4 year old daughter, who is the biggest offender in the need-to-have-it-for-60-seconds commercial cycle, attends preschool 3 days a week. While at preschool she does the normal things that preschoolers do: she plays; she learns; she has a snack – all while in a social environment with her friends. Shortly after she started attending school I started noticing that when we made our weekly trip to the supermarket she would ask for and ultimately point out specific items that we had never purchased before: Dora the Explorer Fruit Popsicles, Horizon organic chocolate milk, Sunmaid yogurt-covered raisons, etcetera. It turns out that whatever snack she had eaten at school that week was the snack that she wanted to purchase at the store. Long after snack time and school hours were over she had not only remembered the product type, but also the brand name. As a mom of a preschooler it is often a battle to get them to try something new (especially if it is healthy) so I, of course, purchased the requested snack items. To my surprise and delight she did eat the products she selected, which caused her younger sister to also eat them (classic monkey see, monkey do). Also, she now continues to ask for and enjoy these snack items on a weekly basis. As a busy mom this branded snack selecting also helps me out – finding healthy snacks that my girls will actually eat was once a challenge. Out of curiosity I started to ask the parents of my daughter’s peers if they have also experienced the same requests for the snacks that their children ate at school. Approximately 90% of the parents say ‘yes’ and they have also purchased the snack items that our children enjoyed together at preschool.

As I mentioned, I am very interested in the effects of advertising on consumers in their daily lives. This awareness caused me to realize that my daughter was successfully being branded to the foods that she experienced and enjoyed with her friends at school – and so were the other children. A non-sponsored marketing campaign was happening on a weekly basis in her preschool class. As a parent I was also becoming branded to these products, which I now purchase again and again because my daughters will eat them and they are healthy. This experience has led me to discovery a marketing opportunity that food companies specializing in children’s snacks are missing out on – one that is inexpensive and offers a high conversion rate: bring your products to children while they are in a social setting. Let them eat your snacks with their friends. This is the key to your marketing success.

Ultimately, by donating their snack products to local preschools, food companies that specialize in children’s snacks can reach their targeted audience, and unlike the expensive television spots, this opportunity allows the companies to successfully brand themselves to the kids. The kids in turn convince their parents to purchase the snacks that they enjoyed with their friends. This allows the food companies to easily give back to get back: they can take away some of the financial burden that preschools face by providing local preschools with free snacks, all while gaining branded consumers. The food company wins (increase in sales, decrease in marketing costs), the preschool wins (free snacks means more money for learning materials), the children win (better learning materials for a better education), and the parents win (a better education for their children, and less time trying to find healthy snacks their children will eat!). Sounds like a winning advertising campaign to me.

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