The marketing director of Walkers Crisps in the UK was asked at a recent conference what we should be doing to improve the health of kids. The answer was simple: companies should, if possible, improve its products and, therefore, kids’ health. Walkers Crisps has taken its own lead by reducing salt and changing the oil that fries the crisps. I may still argue that a slice of bread is healthier than a pack of crisps, and I certainly don’t believe their assertions that they don’t target advertising toward kids (paging Mr. Potato Head), but I admire Walkers Crisps for its effort.
Walkers Crisps, McDonald’s and the toy industry seem to shoulder the blame for the connection between obesity and pester power. I acknowledge that it does not seem fair to bracket all toy companies together and accuse them of exploitation, especially since most toys cannot be accused of making our kids indulge in food. However, the toy industry is just as culpable as the food giants of sending out conflicting, confusing messages.
There is still a pervasive attitude, just as with kids, that it is cool to stretch and bend the rules as far as possible rather than self-govern and take a mature responsible attitude. We ask kids to become more mature as they grow; why shouldn’t kids ask the same from the markets that supply them food, toys, etc.?
The three mentioned “culprits” have huge marketing clout and spend millions of pounds each year on advertising. Why not research how kids view the companies’ efforts and find out if kids have suggestions on how to develop new products? Imagine marketing a product to kids in which they had some degree of ownership.
Now I’m just being silly, aren’t I?
Well, yes I am, in that kids do not possess the necessary experience or education.
But what if we were to give them the tools to succeed? I can’t think of a better way to empower kids.
It is my opinion that these tools do, in fact, exist already and I call it “positive pester power.” Kids may not be able to grasp the essentials of the manufacturing process, but they do possess opinions, lifestyles and attributes and, most importantly, they have standards set by their own social community in the home, on the computer and in the playground. These standards vary a great deal from culture to culture, but there are some overriding themes shared by kids of all cultures: they want to fit in, they want to find their position in their community and they want to contribute to their society. Kids have an affinity for one another and they want the adult world to care about anything that will affect their future. This affinity and compassion can be harnessed as energy for ethical kids marketing. It is this energy that is the fundamental ethos behind positive pester power.
We recently had “Fairtrade Fortnight” in the UK, whereby we were encouraged to purchase products baring the Fairtrade label. I don’t know anyone who is opposed to such an idea, but do you know who are some of the biggest champions of it? Yes, kids. They have been the force behind the public relations; their schools have been highlighted, demonstrating how they are helping Third World kids. Kids subsequently nagging for a Fairtrade alternative in their family’s shopping basket cannot be considered a pest.
A Fairtrade label found on a product is a prime illustration of positive pester power. Another example is the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), as kids understand the WWF’s work on saving the planet and becoming “carbon neutral.” Kids also can feel like they have participation or ownership in brands like Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and The Heart Foundation.
Kids have an understanding of the world. They see how we treat the planet and they have an appreciation for the hardships of others. We need to think about harnessing kids’ attitudes into a positive and have them pester for brands because of their positive ethos. Companies that adopt these policies will remain ethical while marketing products to kids.