Brands and agencies must internalize millennial values while finding creative ways to connect with kids
By Emmy Liederman & Kyle O’Brien
Marcel Hollerbach’s son learned how to skip YouTube ads before he could talk. But Hollerbach knows his kid is still being served ads: just in a different format. He is an avid fan of Vlad and Niki, a YouTube channel that stars twin brothers who test out toys, and the young boy watches the same clips on a loop without getting bored.
“It’s incredible how many views these videos receive,” said the chief innovation officer at commerce platform ProductsUp, noting that YouTube is Generation Alpha’s favorite platform. “I recommend taking a kid to a toy store and seeing what happens. They can be very persistent and are highly influenced by advertising. My son will say, ‘that’s what Vlad and Niki have.’ The content is all just a big ad.”
Thinking about marketing to a generation with some members who haven’t even been born yet is an eerie concept, but Gen Alpha—those born in 2010 and after—is next in line for brands and agencies to target after Gen Z grows up. While there are legal restrictions when doing business with kids aged 10 and under, marketers are getting smart about how to do it. Because of certain regulations, brands can’t collect data on Gen Alpha, but they are still finding clever ways to target this generation by partnering with influencers for unboxings, gamifying experiences, creating brand partnerships with popular TV shows and movies and internalizing millennial buying trends as a gateway into young minds.
Pursuing the parents
Kids hold tremendous influence over their parents, but parents of Gen Alpha kids, who tend to be millennials, also loom large in the purchasing process. Not only do they have the money, they have a vested interest in their children’s well-being and future, and they want to make sure what they buy for them will help them grow and become well-adjusted adults.
“Millennials are looking for the very best for their kids, they are all about building confidence and they’re savvy,” Mary Beth Weil, evp, managing director at Barker, told Adweek. Weil was previously director of global marketing at Music Together, a company that markets music to children.
Gen Alpha wants marketing to reflect the self-confidence and optimism with which their parents raised them, said Therese Caruso, global director of strategy and planning at integrated communications agency Zeno Group. This attracts them to brands like Barbie and Lego, which tap into nostalgia while carrying the slogans “You Can Be Anything” and “Only The Best Is Good Enough.” While there is a strong stereotype that members of Gen Alpha are glued to their screens, Caruso calls this age group the “free range and Harvard generation.”
“Millennial parents want them to breathe in nature and go outside without shoes or socks and then have them studying languages for hours on a screen,” said Caruso. “The best way to reach Gen Alphas is through the parents, who are strictly hovering over their kids.”
Since kids of this age are intertwined with their parents, marketers must find a way to reach them both, and often that’s finding things for the whole family to do. Caruso praised a recent Amazon Prime Video campaign in France, which targeted both millennials and their kids by inviting Gen Alphas to draw ads for “mature shows,” which was a marketing tool for the streamer’s parental controls feature.
Given some of the legal restrictions and FTC/COPPA guidelines on marketing to children—safeguards against marketing specifically to children and privacy laws—shared family experiences can offer a safer and more compliant way to engage with this audience.
“Brand marketers who position themselves as proactive participants in bringing families closer together will benefit by inspiring the deepest and most meaningful long-term relationships,” Mark Giovino, CEO and founding partner of Allionce Group, an agency that partners with aquariums and zoos, told Adweek.
Creative for this age, said Giovino, should be direct, simple and foster an appreciation or love of learning.
“Young children have an innate appetite for discovery and playfulness, so creative messaging and positioning that tap into this will allow kids to discover brands and engage on their own terms,” Giovino said, adding that messaging and positioning built around discovery helps recalibrate the mind into uncovering and finding new ideas, thoughts or habits. “This unlocks a psychological trigger that leads to new adoption and trial, not only in kids, but also their parents, who may be gatekeepers of sorts depending on the media channel or experience.”
Understanding kids also means understanding their development—socially, emotionally, physically and cognitively.
“Like any good comms, it needs to be insight-led,” insisted Gary Pope, co-founder of Kids Industries, a family-focused agency that has been around for 20 years in London. “Language and imagery is translated differently by the developing brain and if you understand how that brain perceives the world you can create words and pictures that matter to the children.”
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