Shocking Ways Companies Get Kids Hooked On Brands

kids halloween candy

Photo: By manny on Flickr

It’s a huge feat for companies to land lifelong customers. According to an SIS International Research survey, 53% of adults and 56% of teens buy brands they used while growing up. 

So it’s no wonder companies devote billions of dollars to capture young consumers.

In Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use To Manipulate Our Minds And Persuade Us To BuyMartin Lindstrom reveals the shocking ways brands try to get kids hooked.

It starts while we're still in the womb. For example: A Philippine candy brand called Kopiko sent doctors candy to give away to pregnant mothers

What pregnant women eat not only affects their unborn child's development, but their future habits too. A pregnant mother's diet physically transforms the fetal brain, which affects what the baby will later want to eat, according to studies by Dr. Josephine Todrank at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

But the case with Kopiko is extreme. Months later, it rolled out a coffee product which tasted just like the candy, which became hugely successful with kids. Lindstrom says that mothers would even give agitated newborn babies the coffee, which quickly calmed them down. Four years later, Kopiko coffee has become the third-largest brand in the Philippines.

Source: Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, by Martin Lindstrom

A major Asian shopping chain even sprayed J&J baby power wherever clothing was sold, infused cherry fragrance around food and beverages and played soothing music -- and they infiltrated the womb

Music is a particularly strong in producing fetal memories, and even seemingly innocent songs can have surprising effects. A study from Queen's University in Belfast found that newborn babies show a preference for TV theme songs that we heard a lot by their mothers during pregnancy.

And it's backed up by the case of this shopping chain. Later on, mothers said that their babies would be spellbound the moment they entered the mall -- an effect that 60% of the women said that they'd never seen before from their babies. Management concluded that they were primed for it, thus subconsciously affecting the shopping habits of the next generation.

Source: Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, by Martin Lindstrom

A trio of major food companies -- Kellogg's, General Mills and Post -- used games to sell the their least nutritious cereals (like Trix, Lucky Charms and Froot Loops), according to a 2009 report from the Rudd centre for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University.

Lindstrom identifies three benefits for the companies that use these ads-as-games:

  • Marketers can bypass regulations on advertising junk food on TV
  • They spread virally, and turn kids into brand ambassadors
  • The games are inherently addictive in nature

Source: Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, by Martin Lindstrom

The New York Times says that the iPhone has become 'the most effective tool in human history to mollify a fussy toddler.'

Lindstrom explains, 'I have no doubt that Apple's marketers know full well that once mum or Dad passes along the iPod Touch to their child, the kid can't help but get hooked on the gizmo and will eventually be asking for a high-priced Apple computer of his or her own.'

He also says the Apple influence starts even younger than that. Lindstrom conducted an experiment where he gave one-year-old kids Blackberrys -- every one of them first tried to swipe their fingers over the screen.

Source: Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, by Martin Lindstrom

Tobacco companies send birthday presents to teens when they turn 18, which include vouchers for cigarettes

It should be no surprise that cigarette companies reach out the minute a teen becomes legally able to smoke, but it doesn't stop there, according to Lindstrom.

They send another package a month later, and a month after that, and a month after that. If you don't go for it by the third or fourth box, they give up. Studies show that after the third pack, you're either hooked, or a lost cause.

Source: Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, by Martin Lindstrom

Sexual influences are drifting to increasingly younger kids, and girls are often the target. Abercrombie & Fitch marketed and sold padded bikini tops to second-grade girls

Some toys are shockingly age-inappropriate. A Tesco toy called the Peekaboo Pole Dancing Kit was marketed to girls under 10

Here's what the advertising for the toy said, according to a report from the Daily Mail:

'The Tesco Direct site advertises the kit with the words, 'Unleash the sex kitten inside...simply extend the Peekaboo pole inside the tube, slip on the sexy tunes and away you go!

'Soon you'll be flaunting it to the world and earning a fortune in Peekaboo Dance Dollars'.'

Source: Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, by Martin Lindstrom

Lindstrom says that marketers are increasingly aiming beauty products at kids. He cites an NPD report that says that the percentage of girls age 8-12 who regularly use mascara and eyeliner nearly doubled from 2007 to 2009. (now 18% for mascara and 15% for eyeliner).

And he references Peggy Orenstein's book Cinderella Ate My Daughter, which says nearly half of 6-9 year old girls use lipstick and lip gloss, and spend more than $40 million per month on beauty products.

Source: Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, by Martin Lindstrom

And when they outgrow princesses, they just identify with Barbie or a pop culture star like Miley Cyrus, says Lindstrom.

The icons are so strong that their influence is incredibly widespread. There are a staggering 26,000 DIsney princess items out on the market, and Mattel reports that two Barbie dolls are sold every second -- sales of the brand make up 20% of the company's annual revenue.

Source: Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, by Martin Lindstrom

These types of drinks make up 29% of the alcohol the group drinks, according to the study.

And kids can get hooked easily. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says:

The younger the age of drinking onset, the greater the chance that an individual at some point in life will develop a clinically defined alcohol disorder. Young people who began drinking before age 15 were four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence (alcohol addiction, commonly known as alcoholism) than those who began drinking at age 21.

The risk that a person would develop alcohol abuse (a maladaptive drinking pattern that repeatedly causes life problems) was more than doubled for persons who began drinking before age 15 compared with those who began drinking at age 21.

Source: Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, by Martin Lindstrom

The Girls Intelligence Agency has a stable of 40,000 girls -- as young as 8 -- across the US that act as guerrilla marketers, promoting the products that they're given to friends

Just as market research firms try to gauge what drives the purchases we all make, there are some agencies out there that focus solely on finding out what children are thinking.

GIA also organizes overnight events -- coined 'Slumber Parties in a Box' -- to give away free items. 'GIA instructs the girls to 'be slick and find out some sly scoop on your friends,' such as what they think is currently fashionable,' says Lindstrom.

Source: Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, by Martin Lindstrom

Lindstrom says marketing budgets are increasingly devoting more cash to 'brandwashing the next generation of male customers at as young an age as possible.'

Why? Well, in Gillette's case, its researchers found that if a kid uses a Gillette shaver just twice, there is a 92% chance that a boy will stick with the brand as an adult.

Source: Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, by Martin Lindstrom

The Zhu Zhu Pets fad was an ingenious example of peer pressuring kids -- and mothers -- into buying the toy

Cepia's little toy hamster became a viral hit, but it wasn't just blind luck. It was engineered to be a big fad.

Here's how Cepia did it, according to Lindstrom. They had hamster giveaways, invitation-only hamster parties with prizes and interactive discussions on talk-radio to start some buzz amongst the kids. Then, once mums caught on and bought the toys, Cepia started producing fewer toys.

They didn't need to get anymore demand from the kids after that -- the job was done. Mothers feared missing out, and crowds flocked to get any Zhu Zhu Pets they could.

Source: Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, by Martin Lindstrom

Brands massage the hand-me-down influence by creating kids versions of their adult brands, like BabyGap and Crewcuts

We subconsciously pair brands up with positive memories of home and family, creating a way to connect with happy times we once had, says Lindstrom. It's nostalgia.

Through these mini versions, brands are able to tap into that feeling with the hope that the kids will connect and stay customers for life.

He also uses Crest as an example:

'I have a friend who insists on using Crest toothpaste and Crest toothpaste only. When I asked him why, he thought for a moment. 'Because,' he said, 'I feel somehow as though I would be betraying my parents if I used another toothpaste.''

Source: Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, by Martin Lindstrom

BONUS: And remember, kids' decisions affect entire families, making them even more important for brands to win over

Lindstrom calls it 'pester power' -- the way kids are able to affect what their parents buy. There are four ways that they do it: negotiation, setting parents up against each other, making an embarrassing public scene and sneaking items to the cash register.

Professor James U. McNeal of Texas A&M University provides a pair of incredible stats on the topic: 75% of spontaneous food purchases can be traced to a nagging child, and 50% of mothers will buy a food solely because her kid asks for it. 'To trigger a desire in the child is to trigger desire in the whole family,' he says.

Source: Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, by Martin Lindstrom

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