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Faculty Spotlight

Bob Ahuja, professor of marketing.

Q: During the holiday season, do you see a difference in how toys are marketed to children than the rest of year?

No, there is no difference in how they market during the holiday season as opposed to the rest of the year, there is just more of it. In an average year, companies spend $20 billion a year on marketing to children under 18. A significant portion of that is spent in the last two months of the year, because marketers know more people are buying this time of year.

Q: Is it easier marketing to children than teens and adults because children have less of an understanding of the tactics that are being used? Do you see a difference in how toys are marketed today than five years ago? Ten years ago?

Children sometimes aren’t given the credit that they deserve when it comes to this topic, and marketers know this. Many of the old advertising media—television, radio and magazines—are being proven unsuccessful because children know what toys they like and what they dislike. However, marketing to teenagers compared to children has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that there are fewer government regulations when marketing to 13- to 19-year-old groups. Once they start marketing to 12 year olds, there are more rules and more agencies watching them. In addition, in the teenage years, many experience their first job and a choice on how to spend their new income. This translates into teenagers spending $67 billion a year.

Companies used to market to parents, then they marketed to both parents and children, and now most just market to the kids directly. Today, marketers are using an alternative method called buzz marketing to children and teenagers because they, too, are skeptical about the credibility of advertisers. There are marketing units for companies that recruit agents of kids and send them 10 or 20 of the latest products, like DVDs and compact discs, and tell them to give them to their friends. The free products serve as payment to the child, in addition to the psychological boost they get when they are the first at school with all the newest trends.

Getting the product out in the schools and on campuses will create a buzz around the product because it comes from a credible source, your friend, not an advertiser. A unit of Proctor & Gamble’s marketing division called Tremor does this type of marketing. Tremor is subcontracted by companies looking to reach children and teenagers with their products. However, telling your friends you are working for the advertisers alleviates buzz marketing’s effectiveness. Its deceptive nature creates some ethical dilemmas.

Q: All things considered, can you describe the purchasing power of children? How much do companies depend on revenue from children?

Children ages 4 to 12 spend $24 billion a year on products themselves, which is remarkable considering they don’t have a steady source of income. However, children influence $200 billion a year, and the holidays account for a lot of that. Therefore, companies depend on the revenue from teenagers and children, especially during the holiday season.

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