Online Marketing & Kids
Published Dawn, Aurora Magazine, September, 2008

by Umair Mohsin

Imagine a giant commercial that kids can enter, where they can talk and play with products and brand mascots / characters, a commercial that gives marketers access to a plethora of information about individual kids who interacted with their brand, including knowing their inner-most dreams and desires. This is the power of the immersive worlds that marketers can create on the World Wide Web, a medium which is fast becoming an important marketing tool in Pakistan.

Current kids (age under 12) in Pakistan are becoming the first totally wired generation of our country, especially the ‘millennials’ (children born in or after year 2000), for whom the internet and mobile technologies have always been there. Increasingly because of this factor the difference between online, digital and offline medium is fast disappearing. Trouble arises however when one wants to estimate the number of kids online. According to the latest figures released by PTA the total number of Internet subscribers crossed 3.5 million and total number of users crossed the 17 million mark in December 2007. The growth rates in telecom and broadband that our country is going through has put us in the top 10 fastest growing countries in Asia – 8.861% growth in internet users between year 2000 & 2007 alone. However specific data related to kids or their online usage is still not available from any agency. At best, we can guesstimate the size of the users by looking at the statistics from various websites and initiatives undertaken in Pakistan. The biggest success story of online marketing to kids is P&G and Commander Safeguard. The total number of kids who registered themselves for access to Commander Safeguard’s online material on the website http://www.commandersafeguard.com numbered two million whilst it was on the air. A more recent data is that of miniclips.com, an international website on which approx. three million impressions are generated monthly by a Pakistani audience aged between 7-15 years of age. Also recently Badar Khushnood, Country Consultant Google Pakistan on his personal website/blog @ www.badar.com.pk estimated that around 5% of the Pakistani users online are less than 20 years of age. It’s hard to gauge which figure represents the truest picture, but it can be safely assumed however that the number of users in Pakistan below the age of 12 in Pakistan has crossed the millionth mark.

This is important for marketers because with kids influencing the purchase of billions of Rupees worth of products (see Aurora Article – Meet Generation NOW & Whose Afraid Of New Media), this audience is clearly an important part of the marketing mix. Kids may not have the spending power of adults but there is little doubt about their ability to influence purchases through ‘Pester Power’.  It can also be easily assumed that kids with the most access to the net also belong to the SEC classes with the highest spending power.

To date there are few examples of online marketing initiatives aimed at kids in Pakistan which one can use to identify best practices or key learning however one of the most-oft repeated tactics that marketers have employed in targeting kids online is to combine advertising with entertainment. Traditional advertisements don’t work on the Internet, so advertisers seamlessly blend advertising content with games and / or other activities. This engages children interactively, allowing them to react to the content provided by the marketer and participate in online environments. This branded entertainment, particularly games (also called advergames), have thus become the tool of choice for marketers.

For children, an “advergaming” website can be more than a place to play and to explore. As a form of mediated communication, it departs in significant ways from television, the medium advertisers have traditionally used to reach children and which engages children only as passive consumers. The adver-gaming medium is much more powerful than that. Online games can provide a more highly involving and entertaining brand experience than is possible with conventional media. We can even characterized these as “virtual amusement parks”, where there are no natural breaks between commercial and non-commercial content typical of television which allows kids to escape the core marketed message with the single press of a button. Here the message is the experience.

At a more fundamental level, marketers have also used the immersive world to serve as a central organizing platform for an entire integrated marketing communications program. It can and has been used to create synergies among various brand building programs so that the total impact is greater than it would otherwise be. Internet here is not displacing television viewing but rather supplementing it. Children already are doing more “media multi-tasking” or using multiple types of media simultaneously which gives marketers an ideal opportunity to ensure that the core message is heard across all mediums. This best example of this is the recent Energile campaign.

Unilever has shown a leadership stance in this, utilizing both of the tactics successfully with the launch of http://www.energilefootball.com. This initiative was made part of the Energile Youth Football Championship (EYFC) 2008 which heralded the beginning of Energile’s commitment to football in Pakistan. Partnering with brands such as Nike and Karachi United FC, the aim was to set up at a grassroots level, a forum where the best young talent of the country can showcase their talent. Aside from other features, the site utilizes an ‘adver-game’ highlighting its core energy message and the football platform. Unilever’s integrated this campaign further by developing ‘Energile Football’, a mobile game that can be downloaded by consumers in Pakistan. This game was recently promoted through SMS and internet advertising, and allowed consumers to post their hi-scores through fugumobile’s (developers) proprietary Game Tournament platform. High scorers were then eligible to win prizes from Energile. So far Unilever has kept mum about the results of the initiative but looks set to grow it further.

From a historical perspective this is nothing new. Companies creating branded content to appeal to kids is as old as the first days of television. However what is different in these virtual worlds that changes the equation for brand marketers is that a child’s interaction and emotional engagement is very high. Young consumers have to seek out desired content and interact with it in some way. This is an inherently active process: surfing through a website demands a continuing series of decisions and actions. It is this feature that distinguishes the Internet from a more passive medium like television. Rather than capturing children’s attention for 30 seconds, the advertiser may now actively engage children for several minutes and maybe more.

Beyond its power to create brand engagement, however, the Internet also has several additional advantages from a marketer’s perspective. First, it is a cost-effective way to deliver a brand message. While the cost to air a television commercial ranges from approximately Rs. 0.60 per thousand viewers (depending on channel, time slot, frequency, budget, etc), there are no media distribution costs once a website has been created. Once development costs are spread across the number of users interacting with the site, the cost per thousand will be significantly decreased and will continue to do so as the site expands. So there are real economic efficiencies to be gained.

Secondly, the technology of the Internet also provides audience tracking capabilities. While it can be difficult for a marketer to gauge the impact of a television commercial, the Internet allows a much more precise assessment via measures such as the number of visitors, time spent on a site, repeat visits, etc. Traditional marketing tools such as diaries or even people meters may give advertisers a general idea of their audience profile, in terms of age and maybe gender but individual children are anonymous. Internet marketers on the other hand are able to collect data about specific users, through the use of online registration forms, quizzes and surveys.

Thirdly, TV advertisers purchase time slots between TV shows, which they select because they hope their product or service will appeal to the same audience the programs attract. On the Internet, brands create their own programming. They build entire online environments to create associations with their own products, to establish brand loyalty, and to collect information about their present and future customers. Just some of the methods that can be used by advertisers to involve kids with their products include the creation of virtual environments that make kids feel as if they are entering an actual place, friendly cartoon mascots that encourage kids to identify with the brand, interactive games and activities like coloring pages, quizzes featuring brand-name products and their characters, downloadable screensavers or email “postcards” that can be sent to other kids, clubs that kids can join or contests they can enter to win prizes. Even the prizes that are offered can feature product logos, slogans or characters.

One thing is changing for sure however because of which marketers in Pakistan cannot afford to maintain the status quo. Thanks to the online medium, creating a clear profile of your kid’s audience is no longer a straight-forward marketing exercise that falls into simple categories. The only common denominator that exists in this group is the fact that they’re all kids. The similarities stop there. Kids often have one type of image at home and a totally different image online (Please see Aurora Article “Cats Don’t Bark“ published) and marketers will need to learn how to cater to both.  One brand which maybe regarded as totally cool in say a kid’s school maybe regarded as the opposite in a virtual world. This is simply because online dynamics are different, since the audience is behaving under different conditions. Their identities are changed with perhaps totally different friends and thus they have different needs. Thus they may adopt completely different attitudes towards brands that will appear contradictory.

Thus it is essential that the link between the product, brand values, online & offline marketing vehicles and relevance is clear at all times. Relevance itself will have two dimensions. First in relation to the particular personality segment you are addressing, and second, to your core brand values. If you don’t fulfill both aspects, it’s more likely you’ll end up tuned out and turned off.

There have been exercises by many marketers who have tried to enter this medium but without an understanding of its dynamics. They’ve felt the need to break through by creating a really disruptive experience for their target users. This is a world where the audience does not like to be disrupted however and no one hates it more than our kid’s audience. A disruptive advertising experience in their space is equivalent to creating a bad brand experience. They want respect and will only respect those brands that show them that.

For kids more and more “Going on the Internet” is ceasing to be something special and unique simply because now it’s always there and becoming an inherent part of their lives. They are increasingly immersed in the “digital” lifestyle and in the future this will change the world of marketing, technology and communications. The challenge is for marketers to understand that not only their media but their whole world is now fragmenting. Life for today’s kids increasingly resembles one of those ubiquitous blogs that go up every second: random, breathless and intensely personal. To market to this dynamic population, companies will need to tap into platforms well beyond traditional media such as broadband video, immersive environments, mobile marketing and maybe even instant messaging.

Thus marketers should start to engrain themselves in kids’ interactive lives. Youth marketing currently is already flushed with sponsored events, games, contests and ringtone promotions yet today’s teens are more sophisticated, demanding and powerful consumers than their parents ever were. Tomorrow’s teens will be even more so because they’ve been wired from the day they were born and it will take a lot more to appeal to them. That’s why it’s very important to learn to live in their world from now.

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