ROCHESTER, NY: In a new survey, youth marketers, including PR professionals, said they feel it is appropriate to begin marketing to children at age 7, on average - two years younger than when they feel children can view advertising critically (age 9.1) or when they feel children can separate fantasy from reality in media and advertising (age 9.3).
In the study, by pollster Harris Interactive and Kid Power Xchange, which puts on conferences for youth marketers, the respondents said they felt young people are unable to make intelligent choices as consumers until age 11.7.
While the companies conducting the poll couched the results in terms of the respect marketers have for the power and influence of children, not everyone thought the findings were so encouraging - especially the notion that marketers are willing to pitch to children before they have much of a critical faculty (though 61% did say they feel advertising to children begins at too young an age).
"It's a little young in terms of the decision-making process," said Alan Rambam, SVP of youth marketing at Fleishman-Hillard. "They are influencing, especially with the single-headed household. At least when they're 9 they can say, 'I don't like that' or have a product preference."
Rambam said PR usually comes into this type of marketing with mascots at supermarkets He said PR could be positively aimed at children that young for educational purposes, such as "using a mascot to talk about healthy eating."
But Dave Siegel, president of The Wonder Group, a youth-marketing agency in Cincinnati, and co-author of The Great Tween Buying Machine, disagreed that 7 is too young. "I would say they should market younger. When we do research the parents want the child to know about the product, depending on the product. They want you to pre-sell the product. Parents find it easier when kids know what brands they want."
Siegel said that according to psychologists, 4- to 5-year-olds sometimes have difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality but that situation changes by 7.
Siegel said his agency starts markets to children as young as 3-years-old. "As a marketer do you really care that the consumer is getting exactly the message you want or can recognize the brand? They point to Tony the Tiger. Then at least they're showing the mom the child wants this brand and probably will eat this brand."
Harris Interactive did note that the marketers in the survey feel compelled to reach kids at a young age to foster brand loyalty.
The online poll was conducted in February and included 878 respondents working in youth-related fields.