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How children are dictating what you can and will buy

By By WINSLEY MASESE | December 15th 2013
By By WINSLEY MASESE | December 15th 2013


KENYA: You buy items in a supermarket and as you move to pay towards a till, there are sweets, popcorn or toys at the exit.

Then a child cries for one. Ashamed of his/her crying, as everyone looks at you, so you pull some for the child.

They are passive spenders, shrewd on how to get into dad’s wallet or mum’s purse. But you cannot escape from buying that candy in a supermarket.

A lucrative consumer at that, the child points to one and seriously asks for it, persuasively. You hope to instill some financial literacy by not budging but the little one yells. And since you cannot cover the mouth, amid stares from other shoppers, you oblige.

Probably, you want to go to work but the child wants to go along with you. The only way to make them go back amid subdued sobs is to buy that chocolate, and the habit grows to a big market.

Besides, they are the ones you send during this long holiday or weekends to buy a loaf of bread and packet of milk at the nearest shop, for breakfast.

Possibly, you give them some coins to spend. They know where and how they will get value for their money.

Booming business

“Some of them buy a sweet with a propeller or a balloon attached. This makes the sweet fun and in turn the child yearns for a similar product and before you know, the whole neighbourhood goes for it,” says Charles Kimani, a marketer. In the market are also sweets with a sticker that wows the whole neighbourhood and the nearest shop with it registers booming business.

In some cases are sweets with straws with holes. This allow children to blow and produce a sound that entertains and satisfies their childhood adventures.

Consequently, the children have carved a powerful market influence that manufacturers cannot afford to ignore.

“If you fail to have what they want, you miss out to sell the other products,” says David Owino, a shop owner in Ongata Rongai, in the outskirts of Nairobi.

Luckily, for the children’s products, no intensive marketing or advertising is required. Their word of mouth is enough and the cycle of peer influence infects the whole estate or neighbourhood.

“Some of them come to buy because they saw a child in class or school with a similar product and no substitute can satisfy their curiosity,” says Kimani.

Having learnt this trick, Owino says that the only way out is to ensure the shop is adequately stocked with sweets that appeal to the child’s sense and curiosity. Kimani says manufacturers and marketers know the psychology of children as excellent design and colour convince the child easily.

The disadvantage with children though is their lack of critical thinking and analytical skills necessary to make informed decisions and analyse situations hence more vulnerable to manipulation from marketers.

Joseph Ngomeli, Institute of Certified Marketing, Kenya chairman agrees that goods targeting children is an untapped potential in the country.

“The industry has realised that children play a significant role in the fast moving consumer goods and target parents, subconsciously,” he said.

“Dealers of the children products give attention to young ones since they influence their parents or guardians subconsciously,” noted Ngomeli.

Emotional intelligence

By influencing the children’s mind from an early age, Ngomeli believes that this is one way to hook them up and once they become adults and able to spend, they will spend on their products. “They want to influence and hook their minds as part of their 20-year strategy and they have to get the young hooked through emotional intelligence,” Ngomeli noted.

Statistics indicate that 43 per cent of Kenya’s population is made up of the young aged below 15 years and with this in mind, a lucrative market lies ahead.

However, Ngomeli believes parents need to intervene and reduce the influence fast moving consumer goods have on them because one cannot control the retailer selling the products.

“They need to be made aware of the problem of sweets as the production and distribution of the same would continue to increase,” he observed. Worst is advertising on the goods on electronic media, which is consumed by children. “The influence needs to be checked and protect children since some of the sweets are of poor quality,” he warned.

Consumer Federation of Kenya Secretary General Stephen Mutoro says the displaying of products that induce the children’s attention is a common problem.

He believes that certain standards need to be set so that one is not induced or compelled to buy what they did not budget for. “Parents need to undergo basic training to understand issues that touch on childhood consumerism and how best to handle them,” he urged.

Youth identity

However, Mutoro noted with regret that the concept of displaying candy and sweets at the tills so that in case there are no coins to give as change a shopper is given sweets makes it difficult to avoid buying sweets for children.

Sociologist Jennifer Ann Hill of the University of Columbia, Canada, remarks that the increasing consumerism on children has a negative impact on their identity.

In her thesis; Endangered Childhood: How consumerism is Impacting Child and Youth Identity, she says that the modern-day children are immersed in cultures of consumption such that every aspect of their lives is touched by a buy-and-consume modality. She further reckons that young people receive an endless barrage of material messages encouraging purchasing behaviour and consumption that impacts the self-image. She writes: “Indeed, children from the ages of four to 12 have increasingly been defined and viewed by their spending capacity.”

Consequently, Hill notes that this increased consumerism will erode the structure of childhood and children are suffering from serious physical, emotional and social deficits directly related to consumerism.

American child psychologist Allen Kanner says, “The materialistic shift happening in our society is having an enormous impact and major influence on children’s lives that is highly psychological in nature,” Kanner says.

Biggest area

Studies also indicate that children are not able to fully differentiate between advertising and reality in adverts.

Besides, adverts can distort their view of the world with the biggest area of concern with toy adverts being exaggeration. This is so because they often think a toy actually can do a lot more than it can because of the way toys are portrayed in advertisements.

To directly target children, fast food, soft drinks and candy industries use more than traditional commercials. Ngomeli says some restaurants offer gifts for children when you patronise them.

Restaurants offer incentives such as playgrounds, contests, clubs, games, and free toys to directly influence parents and guardians to spend on the children. With the increasing usage of the Internet, advertising has changed the rules of the game tremendously as children can be a target.

Consequently, researchers point at the growing concern where parents and guardians live with children making unreasonable purchase requests from advertisements they see such as toys and food that is not good for them.

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