Edition 45, Marketing

Children’s Influence on Consumer Buying

By: Carlos Mondragón
Professor of Marketing at the ITAM

Children play an important role in purchasing decisions, influencing their parent’s acquisition and selection of products. The most common tactics they use are whining or acting up, until their parents give in to their demands.

Children exert an increasingly strong influence on consumer buying, not only in toys and recreational activities, but also in clothes that traditionally parents would choose for them. How successful they are in getting their wishes fulfilled will depend on the type of offer, the characteristics of the parents, the child’s age, and the stage in the purchasing decision process.

When children show consistent behavior, they have a positive approach to new situations, are highly adaptable to change, and therefore are attracted to innovations and different situations.

The problem that children of the 21st century face is that they are over stimulated, making it more difficult for novelty to attract their attention. New things don’t impact them in the same way as an adult, because from an early age they are accustomed to a faster pace of innovation. This makes children want new things and quickly discard the product they already have due to the strong external stimuli they receive and the feeling that what they have is no longer up to date. They easily enter into competition with their environment and greatly want to be part of the group of innovators, by acquiring the latest product. Among the products they seek and most frequently change are: video games, shoes, clothing (especially shirts, hats and jackets), very innovative toys, cell phones and electronics in general, cereals and junk food.

Another important feature of the children of the new generations is that they have lost interest in games that stimulate both motor and manual skills. A typical toy for children between the ages of 6 months and 2 years is a plastic octagon with holes formed by different shapes. Plastic shape sorters are also made large enough to keep the child from putting them in their mouths and swallowing them. The child must identify the various shapes in order to insert them in the correct hole. Since this toy is not electronic nor can it be connected to a computer, it is no longer of interest to children.

Parents play a vital role, as they are directly responsible for the intellectual and social development of the child. If they are unaware of the type of activities that a child should develop at a certain age, they may allow them to play with electronic devices, including cell phones, which in no way help to develop their nervous system or motor skills.

The psychosocial development in childhood occurs in stages. The psycho stage is the development of the unique personality of individuals, while the social part involves factors that affect their ability to interact with other people. These skills may be innate, for example, newborns prefer human faces to other visual stimuli. A child’s social behavior will begin to clearly manifest itself when he or she is one year old.

When children begin to interact with electronic devices from a very early age, they lose the opportunity to interact with other children, which is crucial in the social maturation stage. When they play, if you call it that, with other children through a computer, they lose the ability to interact personally. They may be playing with children who live a block away or in another country, but the social interaction is zero, since they don’t know one another, they don’t see their eyes nor do they speak directly with them. The form of communication becomes very elementary, through figures and symbols that have become universal.

Therefore, children are having severe problems in writing, reading and speaking correctly. Their ideas are choppy and they depend on electronic devices to convey an idea. They are not interested in reading, unless it is via electronic devices. They are not interested in writing, unless it is by “chat”. They have lost the ability to read out loud, and do not have basic knowledge of grammar and spelling.

Today’s children, unlike those of the decade prior to the 1990s, are no longer loyal to any one brand. They buy or want the latest fashion, no matter if it is the competitor of the product they have at that time. These frequent changes provoke diverse levels of anxiety, which is apparently overcome if they buy the new products. But this may cause problems for their parents, who in their desire to satisfy them, may end up spending more than what they actually earn. It is very likely that when these children reach adolescence or adulthood, they will have become compulsive buyers, because at a very young age they learned that feeling happy and satisfied depends on acquiring the newest and unique products on the market, as a way of competing in their social milieu.

In the cycle of family life, children will receive their first purchasing stimuli from their parents. For market research experts, it is very important to carry out their studies frequently because buying habits, life styles, tastes and needs of the family gradually change, a dynamic in which children will play an important role.

Social Networks

In Mexico, it has become increasingly common to rely on social networks and new technologies. This is the situation in developed countries, where it has been found that those who drift away from social networks may suffer from symptoms of anxiety. Within this large group of users, we unfortunately are finding that children as early as six or seven years old are joining this group of users who are dependent on social networks or cell phones. Parents, and especially mothers, feel that the child must carry a cell phone with them to communicate in cases of emergency. The problem is that the cell phone is part of the social network in which the child moves and he uses it to communicate with his friends, to send text messages, to download photos, songs, different games, to make videos, visit social networks, even buy online, translate texts and download homework assignments, among other things.

Children use cell phones throughout the day: at home, while eating, in the car or on public transportation, during class, at recess, on vacation. They send messages while listening to music on their cell phone, which keeps them incommunicado in relation to their environment.

Children become trapped in an obsessive and neurotic dynamic that leads them to states of anxiety, making them think that without a cell phone in their hands they are unarmed, inert, held incommunicado and insecure because they cannot communicate with their world, which is unreal and unreflective. The cell phone produces high levels of stimulation in its users that ends up distancing them from everyday life.

Buying a cell phone is not a simple purchase; it must meet a number of requirements, which do not involve solely making and receiving calls or sending or receiving messages. Since the early 1990s, cell phone manufacturers have been in fierce competition with one other, and those who don’t renovate, die. Therefore, the child who does not have the most recent device will be considered “out of it” and subject to ridicule.

Sleep: why children need it

Some authors argue that the main function of sleep is restorative, because you can give your body the time it needs to renew itself and refuel, thus helping the brain recover from the everyday wear and tear, and restock the proteins consumed during the numerous activities of the day. Sleep is reinvigorating because after a good night’s sleep you feel rested and alert. In order to be restful, sleep should be orderly, quiet and comfortable. You should respect normal sleeping hours, go to bed regularly at the same time every night and wake up at the same time in the morning.

Children between 4 and 12 years of age require 8 to 10 hours of sleep a day. However, it has been found that they tend to sleep fewer hours than they should. On an average, they only sleep between 6 and 7 hours a night. To a large extent, this is due to the fact that they surf or play on the Internet or watch television until late – multiple factors that are nothing more than distractions that affect their sleep.

If a child doesn’t get a full night’s sleep, he may feel a little scattered the following day, but he may be able to tolerate it. However, a lack of sleep causes slower reaction time, disrupts concentration, and affects memory and the ability to solve problems. It makes it more difficult to retain information and harms a child’s academic performance. The above situation should induce parents and elementary and middle schoolteachers to investigate to what extent the symptom of attention deficit is caused by a lack of sleep or if it is a disease that has become fashionable. With the previous picture that raises the importance and involvement of children in consumer practices, one might infer that parents of the 21st century, in an effort to offer a “better” life for their children, buy them more toys and objects than they can assimilate, thus setting into motion the creation of compulsive buyers of tomorrow.

References

  • Castells, Manuel, Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol, Jack Linchuan Qiu y Araba Sey. Mobile Communication and Society. A global perspective. The MIT Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2007.
  • Davis, Stephen y Joseph Palladino (2008), Psicología, 5a, ed., México. Pearson Educación.
  • Marvin E. Golberg, Gerald Gorn y Richard W. Pollay, Advances in Consumer Research, vol. 17 pp. 813-825, 13 de agosto de 2012.
  • Escamilla, Héctor, Adicción a redes sociales.
  • Nevid, Jeffrey (2011), Psicología. Conceptos y aplicaciones. México: CENGAGE learning

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