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Brand Equity Starts Young

Do children really have the capacity to receive, process and filter brand messages in the same way as adults can? When children are bombarded with so many brands every day, how do they learn to make sense of these multiple messages? Let's discuss

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The world of brands is fascinating, riveting and exciting for children. Children today are living in a brandscape, brands being an integral part of their familiar environment. They speak ‘brands’ much more than products. Children today, are aware of brands, can recall brand names and can identify brands whenever prompted. Exposed to several brands every day, children are constantly learning and re-learning the intricate and subtle brand messages propagated through the television, print, in- shop displays, promotional materials, digital channels, hoardings and actual product use. These brand images formed and learned in childhood carry on well into adulthood, and become the basis for long term perceptions, evaluations and assessments of brands. These in fact become the foundation for long term brand equity creation that carries and builds on over the years. 

Do children really have the capacity to receive, process and filter brand messages in the same way as adults can? When children are bombarded with so many brands every day, how do they learn to make sense of these multiple messages? Children learn about the world of brands through a process called consumer socialisation. The process through which they learn to become consumers and understand how to discern, differentiate and decide on brands starts almost at birth and continues up until early adulthood. Picture a mother taking a baby to a supermarket in a pram. Where the baby actively observes the various brands on the aisles, and learns to recognise the ones that regularly make their way into his mother’s cart. Children as young as 2 years are able to recognise jingles, identify names and characters that are repeatedly shown to them. As children grow older, they are able to name multiple brands in various categories, are able to recognise and differentiate brands, and are also able to understand underlying and symbolic messages that brands try to project. 

We conducted a study to measure the brand information that children have captured about brands from an exposure at KidZania (an educational theme park with branded content). As opposed to traditional media, KidZania provides an experiential format where children learn about brands and the role they play through a simulation of the adult world. Children interact with the brand in a gamified environment and are able to pick up subtle nuances about the brand. These interactions help children understand the brand message, internalise the brand benefits and also form opinions on the brand. We were commissioned to study whether these interactions really have a positive impact on the child’s ability to process and retain brand messages. 

Researching children poses various challenges. It is inappropriate to get children to sit across a table for an interview. It was important to develop the right tools and techniques that would make the interaction enjoyable for children. We developed a tool to study the parameters such as awareness, knowledge, judgment and resonance. Employing a child-friendly informal discussion using pictoral cues, games and activities, we interviewed 3000 children across a span of 15 days. This tool was employed as a before-after, gauging the child’s understanding before they had experienced the activity and after they had interacted with the brand. 

What we found was very encouraging. While children are well aware of brands and brand messages from an early age, their depth of knowledge increases when they engage in experiences like the ones at KidZania. For example, every child knows the brand Dettol. But knowing it as an ‘antiseptic’ brand, one that is used for ‘germ protection’, ‘recommended by doctors’, these are hooks that get embedded when they interact closely with the brand. These hooks become the source for long term equity creation. Similarly, symbolic association with the brand helps the child understand the brand in a more nuanced way, creating better pathways in his mind. 

Brand trust develops as children grow older. When they are able to clearly differentiate between brands, are able to form judgments based on their evaluations that involve perceptual and non-perceptual aspects of the product. We noticed a sharp increase in children’s trust- both at a relative and an absolute level. Trust also leads to preference and loyalty for the brand. For Dettol, the trust gained was a result of a loss of trust among all other competing brands, where they had developed a strong affinity to Dettol as a result of the activity. More so, we noticed a deeper assurance and a conviction for the brand as a result of the experience. 

Non child brands, when placed in a child centric setting like KidZania also helps making the brand more relevant, thereby creating a favourable connect. For example, L&T, which is a brand that kids may have never interacted with, suddenly appears as a brand that enters their vocabulary. 

Our research using this tool has highlighted that brand knowledge forms as a result of the stimuli that children see in the environment. The quality of information they see is critical in helping them form a deeper, more embedded form of brand knowledge. While mediums such as television, print, digital are also effective in relaying the story- the experiential platform works in creating stronger hooks and generating conviction and assurance for brands.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Rutu Mody Kamdar

The author is Founder - Director of Jigsaw Brand Consultants

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