As more chil­dren have smart­phones, apps such as Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret’s Pink tar­get kids

TV not the best medium for reach­ing young­sters any­more

Waterloo Region Record - - Business - ABHA BHAT­TARAI

Nine-year-old Is­abella Colello shops for just about ev­ery­thing on­line.

She scrolls through the Ama­zon app on her phone (yes, she has her own phone al­ready) at least once a day. She gets ideas from YouTube, searches on Google for things she wants and sends the links to her dad: Pink swim­suits, ear­rings, Adi­das sneak­ers (he said yes); Gucci back­pack (no).

“It’s like, I’ll put 18 items in my cart, and we’ll end up get­ting like one or two,” said the child, who lives in Sharpsville, Penn., and spends about $100 a month on­line. (Well, her par­ents spend it). “It’s so much bet­ter than go­ing to the mall be­cause there aren’t that many places to shop any­more.”

Many chil­dren and pre­teens are more con­nected to the in­ter­net than ever be­fore, which means re­tail­ers are look­ing for new ways to mar­ket — and sell — di­rectly to young shop­pers on their phones, tablets and lap­tops. Gone are the days of blanket tele­vi­sion ads, mar­ket­ing ex­perts say. In­stead, com­pa­nies are flock­ing to Snapchat, YouTube Kids and other mo­bile apps to reach chil­dren with per­son­al­ized mes­sages.

Nearly half of U.S. chil­dren ages 10 to 12, have their own smart­phones, ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey com­pany Nielsen. By the time they’re teenagers, 95 per­cent of Amer­i­cans have ac­cess to a smart­phone.

“Kids are shop­ping on their phones and in­flu­enc­ing much more of their fam­i­lies’ spend­ing,” said Kather­ine Cullen, direc­tor of re­tail and con­sumer in­sights for the Na­tional Re­tail Fed­er­a­tion. “As a re­sult, re­tail­ers are pay­ing a lot more at­ten­tion to pint-sized cus­tomers.”

Back-to-school sea­son is peak time for di­rect-to-kids mar­ket­ing. Brands such as Five Star, which makes binders and fold­ers, and Red Bull, the en­ergy drink maker, have re­leased new back-toschool “fil­ters” on Snapchat, while cloth­ing chain Jus­tice is ad­ver­tis­ing in-store fash­ion shows on its app. Amer­i­can fam­i­lies are ex­pected to spend an av­er­age of $685 per house­hold on cloth­ing, shoes and other items for school-age chil­dren in the com­ing weeks, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Re­tail Fed­er­a­tion.

But ad­vo­cacy groups say mar­ket­ing to chil­dren di­rectly on their smart­phones — where com­pa­nies can col­lect data on users and tai­lor ads to spe­cific con­sumers — also raises a num­ber of con­cerns, not just about pri­vacy but also about the kind of in­flu­ence those ads may have on young chil­dren.

“As adults, we might think it’s a lit­tle weird or creepy if we’re get­ting tar­geted ads that fol­low us from site to site,” said Josh Golin, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Cam­paign for a Com­mer­cialFree Child­hood. “Kids, though, are es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble be­cause they have no un­der­stand­ing of what those ads are or why they’re see­ing them.”

Nearly 1.5 mil­lion chil­dren age 11 and un­der have ac­tive Snapchat ac­counts, ac­cord­ing to data from eMar­keter, which ex­pects con­tin­ued dou­ble-digit growth in com­ing years. (Snapchat re­quires that users be at least 13.)

The so­cial me­dia plat­form — which is par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar among teenagers and 20-some­things — has emerged as a holy grail for re­tail­ers in search of young con­sumers. That is es­pe­cially true, the com­pany says, dur­ing back-to-school sea­sons, where last year users spent an ex­tra 130 mil­lion hours us­ing the plat­form to chat with friends and con­nect with pop­u­lar brands like Vans, Hol­lis­ter and Michael Kors.

“Kids have their own screens and are choos­ing ex­actly what they want to watch at younger ages,” said Nick Cicero, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Del­mondo, a New York firm that helps brands such as Red Bull and MTV mar­ket them­selves on Snapchat and other so­cial me­dia plat­forms.”

Jus­tice, the cloth­ing brand, is pop­u­lar among the un­der-13 crowd and pitches its mo­bile app to par­ents as “a safe place where your girl can cre­ate, en­gage and have fun with awe­some girls just like her­self.”

Once in the app, shop­pers can save items to a wish list that they’re en­cour­aged to email to their par­ents.

Ama­zon.com, mean­while, al­lows chil­dren as young as 13 to cre­ate their own lo­gins for on­line pur­chases. (Par­ents can ei­ther set spend­ing lim­its or ask to ap­prove all pur­chases.)

The com­pany de­clined to say how many teenagers had signed up for teen ac­counts since they were in­tro­duced late last year but said “cus­tomer re­sponse has been strong.” (Jeff Be­zos, the founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Ama­zon, also owns The Wash­ing­ton Post.)

It’s been over a year, Kristin Har­ris says, since her kids watched TV.

In­stead, her 6- and 10-year-old daugh­ters spend hours a week watch­ing videos on YouTube, where com­pa­nies such as Nike and Nin­tendo rou­tinely part­ner with “in­flu­encers” to get their toys, cloth­ing and ac­ces­sories fea­tured in videos.

“The videos that re­ally get their at­ten­tion are the ones where kids are play­ing with toys like Breyer Horses or Hatchi­mals — those re­ally get them in­ter­ested,” said Har­ris. “As an adult, you’re like, ‘Why are you watch­ing this?’ But the next thing you know, they’re ask­ing for Hatchi­mals be­cause they saw them in a video.”

It’s be­come in­creas­ingly chal­leng­ing, mar­ket­ing ex­perts said, to keep a child’s in­ter­est — there is no ex­pec­ta­tion any­more that they’ll have to sit through com­mer­cials dur­ing their favourite TV shows. In­stead, they can skip through ads and eas­ily close out of videos they’re not in­ter­ested in. As a re­sult, brands such as Build-A-Bear, Amer­i­can Girl and Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret’s Pink now of­fer games and photo fil­ters on their apps.

“Snapchat and YouTube have be­come a way for brands to mar­viewed ket right to tweens — in fact, it’s one of the only ways to get to them di­rectly,” said Gregg L. Witt, ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent of youth mar­ket­ing for Mo­ti­vate, an ad­ver­tis­ing firm in San Diego. “If you’re try­ing to tar­get a spe­cific de­mo­graphic, TV no longer works. You’re go­ing to mo­bile, dig­i­tal, so­cial me­dia.”

But, he added, di­rect-mar­ket­ing emails — the kind that might res­onate with adults — haven’t caught on with younger con­sumers. “If you’re un­der 16, there’s no way you’re ever, ever check­ing your in­box,” he said. “It’s just not hap­pen­ing.”

Is­abella, the 9-year-old from Penn­syl­va­nia, gets most of her pur­chas­ing in­spi­ra­tion from cur­rently pop­u­lar YouTube per­son­al­i­ties such as the Ace fam­ily, a Seat­tle fam­ily of three that posts videos with ti­tles like “Gi­ant fluffy slime comes alive!!!” and “1 year old baby un­box­ing the new iPhone 8!!!”

The videos, which have been mil­lions of times by the fam­ily’s 10.5 mil­lion sub­scribers, aren’t tra­di­tional com­mer­cials — they’re bet­ter, Is­abella says, be­cause they’re en­ter­tain­ing and in­for­ma­tive. And they often re­sult in a pur­chase down the line.

“When I find a YouTu­ber I like, I go straight on their web­site to shop,” she said.

She re­cently bought a $60 Ace­fam­ily-branded back­pack to take to fourth grade, and often wears hair bows and T-shirts by YouTube per­son­al­ity JoJo Siwa, who’s 15.

When she finds some­thing she wants to buy, her par­ents type in their credit card in­for­ma­tion, and she hands over cash she’s saved from birth­days, lemon­ade stands and her weekly al­lowance of about $20. She also has a Snapchat ac­count but so far hasn’t used it to shop.

“I still have to beg my mom and dad for stuff, but now it’s at home in­stead of at the store,” Is­abella said. “It’s kind of eas­ier this way.”

Fiona Tay­lor’s 11-year-old daugh­ter, Ar­den, started shop­ping on­line two years ago when Ar­den, then in Grade 4, started help­ing her babysit­ter scour the In­ter­net for a dress.

“They spent hours look­ing for the right out­fit,” Tay­lor said. “I think that’s when she re­al­ized, ‘Oh look, I can find all of this stuff on­line.’” It can then be or­dered and tried on.

Just as well, says Tay­lor, who lives in New York and hardly ever shops in phys­i­cal stores any­more. In­stead, they rely on Ama­zon for most pur­chases.

Kids are shop­ping on their phones and in­flu­enc­ing much more of their fam­i­lies’ spend­ing. KATHER­INE CULLEN U.S. Na­tional Re­tail Fed­er­a­tion

REESS ADLER BLOOMBERG

Re­tail­ers know chil­dren have phones and use them, so are devel­op­ing shop­ping apps for them. The Wash­ing­ton Post’s Abha Bhat­tarai re­ports many par­ents are al­low­ing very young chil­dren to shop on­line. Above, an Ama­zon ware­house.

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