What kids really, really want

A new initiative promises greater insight into children as consumers, says Roger Trapp

IN THE film Big the Hollywood actor Tom Hanks has a great deal of fun with the notion that nobody knows better what children want than the children themselves. As a child hidden in the body of a man, he enjoys huge success in the toy business - the point being that he alone among the executives has the insight into children.

The film was very successful but it did not do much to change the habits of businesses that rely on selling to children. Although such organisations and their advertising agencies make increasing use of focus groups and other facets of the marketer's trade, there is still a sense of adults feeling they know best what children want.

It is this situation that the London office of the international advertising agency McCann-Erickson is seeking to challenge with the introduction of what it describes as a "child consumer initiative".

The idea is a response to the growing realisation that the modern child is perhaps more misunderstood than any of his or her predecessors. While previous generations have generally been perceived as behaving little differently from how their parents did at that age, the explosion in technology combined with changing social conditions are felt to have brought about a different type of child.

Marc Le Pere, deputy chairman and head of strategic planning at McCann, says the agency's initial researches indicate that many young children have televisions, video recorders and computers in their own bedrooms - giving them a great deal of control over what media they see. In particular, through being able to tape programmes, they are able to make a mockery of the 9pm watershed - and presumably of advertisers' marketing plans.

Moreover, he adds, the fact that many children are these days given large amounts of pocket money means that they have money in their own right as well as great influence over parents through "pester power".

But while that much is known - and is fairly obvious - the details of children's desires and responses to different types of communications have largely proved elusive.

McCann Junior, launched last week, is designed to help clients build awareness of the reality of the lives of children aged between five and 11 years by issuing them with a quarterly compendium that takes the form of a brightly-coloured box.

Its contents will vary according to developments at the time but the box, issued in return for a subscription of pounds 6,000 a quarter, will typically contain reports and product samples covering product development and packaging, analysis of children's behaviour and interests, surveys of children's attitudes to marketing and an expert view on a certain children's issue from a specialist in the field.

The idea, according to Ben Langdon, managing director of McCann-Erickson London, is to create "a way of getting into the minds of kids and, most importantly, reminding ourselves of what it is like to be an eight-year- old again". In the first of what is intended to be a series of strategic products, McCann Junior aims to provide subscribers with in-depth knowledge of how "this highly important market" thinks and behaves, of what it wants, and of how they are influenced by existing communications.

In addition to compiling collections of press cuttings covering children's issues and the expert analysis, McCann-Erickson is also conducting weekly focus groups as an adjunct to the regular "pulse" research it carries out with adults. Accordingly, it claims to have already started to build a picture of the lives of children - covering such matters as the growing US influence, their attitudes to health and the importance of branding.

Perhaps most importantly it is starting to learn that children cannot be grouped in a single category, but - as has already happened with adults - must be divided up.

The first divisions were made along age lines - on the basis that five- year-olds will have entirely different interests and perceptions from 11-year-olds. As a result, focus groups are split into three: one for children aged five and six; another for those aged seven, eight and nine; and a final one for 10- and 11-year-olds. In addition, it was quickly realised that the groups worked better if boys were questioned separately from girls.

Katherine Hannah, senior planning director, explained that this was because at the lower ages, each sex thought the other "silly" or "smelly", while later on such attitudes gave way to competitiveness and pre-adolescent sexual tensions.

It is not quite the same as letting Tom Hanks run the company, but it seems that business is intent on injecting a little science into the process of marketing to what is clearly a powerful consumer group.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Digital Optimisation Executive - Marketing

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's fastest growing, multi...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Reporting Manager

£70000 - £90000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Financial Reporting Manager i...

Recruitment Genius: Payments Operations Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They win lots of awards for the...

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Debt Negotiator

£13500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This nationwide enforcement com...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific