Pester Power – Some views

Around the mid 80s and the early 90s, the liberalization era had not started and there was very little choice when it comes to products and services. We had only one telecom service provider – the government run BSNL / MTNL. So it is not surprising that advertising was very different. Especially the ones targeted at children.

I am just unable to think of any advertisements apart from milk products from Aavin or Amul, uniforms by S Kumars or shoes by Bata. Maybe there were more, but can’t think of any more. Even Horlicks and Complan used to advertise to the mother with the message being good health for children.

Somewhere down the line the ‘line’ actually disappeared. Today every product can be targeted at children and they are!

I believe that it started with the retail revolution. We all would have seen the following even unfold in front of our eyes some time or the other.

Dad, mom and a young kid of about 4 to 5 years old visit the supermarket for buying provisions for the month. Generally kids are very inquisitive. But today’s kids are even more because the parents are genuinely unable to spend too much time with the child since both work! The little brat who is in control of neither parent runs around the store and pulls the store down for the big bar of chocolate. He is seen running away from the clutches of the mother and making enough noise to attract the attention of the fellow shoppers and the store attendants. Embarrassed, the mom hands him the chocolate from the counter just to keep the brat quiet.

What the parent calls ‘embarrassment’ is euphemistically referred to by the marketer as ‘Pester Power’.

Recently seven marketing companies (Hindustan Unilever, Coca-Cola India Inc, General Mills India, Kellogg India, Nestle India, Mars International India and PepsiCo India Holdings) have taken a conscious decision to promote a healthy and active lifestyle for children. Cadbury’s India has also committed to join the gang soon. These marketers have gone forward in signing a self regulation in which the main commitment is to not advertise any food and beverage products to children under the age of 12.

It is common sense that advertising unhealthy food products purely on its taste unmindful of the harmful effects that it may have on the child during its later years is not done. For instance excessive chocolate with high caffeine content results in an unhealthy child. So does that change the way these products get consumed going forward?

Children will be children and will continue to be adamant. They will still fight for that chocolate, but by not advertising such products during programmes targeted at children, one would expect that the kid wouldn’t know of it. So far so good! It is true that today’s children have much more opportunities to learn about a lot of things which we as children wouldn’t have heard about. Internet for instance, is a wealthy resource for children to learn anything under the sun.

So is this regulation going to change the world? Maybe not! But I am sure it is a step in the right direction. Few points that come to my mind:

For Kids & Parents

  • By not exposing kids below the age of 12 (at least by these seven marketers) to advertising which doesn’t cater to them, it would help in reducing their role as ‘influencers’ in unrelated categories.
  • I know of children who would ask for products where the advertisement is more appealing to them, irrespective of their worth. By stopping exposure of such ads to these children, we may reduce these instances
  • The ads may not target the children, but even exposure otherwise can be harmful. For instance, it is very unhealthy for kids to get used to soda / Pepsi / Coke. But featuring children in these ads and exposing children to these products at young age would mean lack of health during later years. This may go down in numbers now.

For Marketers

  • Products like ‘Happy Meal’ by McDonalds targeted at children may have to stop. However, McDonalds is yet to sign any such self-regulation.
  • I am wondering what some product categories like Toothpastes for instance will do. They may have to change some product lines, some brand extensions may go out of the window, and a whole lot of advertising will change.
  • Will this force (on a moral front) other marketers to do get into a self regulation? I am just being a devil’s advocate here. These marketers have done all they could to spoil the health of the kid and are now professing self-regulation. At one end it does sound like the USA imposing emission control on countries like India & China.

In any case, pester power may lose its power but will continue to stay.

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