Should marketers be allowed to conduct market research with young children? Why yes/ why no? What are the implications? What are the advantages?
Let us try to understand how the minds of children work, through an allegory:
The old man (guard) near the village church well, was shouting:
“Children, children, listen to me,
Waste no water, waste no water,
There’s a ghost in the church well,
If your spill the water, he will lift you to hell!
That’s how he controlled and influenced the minds of children who were wasting water near the church well in a water-starved village!
The impressionable minds of children can be influenced easily, for better or worse. To bring up a child is a continuous experiment. Its care begins from the cradle. Till the age of 5 or until such time a child is admitted to the school, the child looks forward to the parents for guidance in every aspect of its needs. The habit formation has already begun in the child. The child feels good about certain things, and the food habits once initiated, may continue for long.
Children are highly motivated by the advertisements and programs in television, and in the school, by the contents of the lunch-boxes of other children. They wish to imitate and emulate. Life is full of choices and making the right choices is important for the children. Dr. Bernard Shaw said, “Your food is your grave.” Here is the message for the parents about the food items they need to give to the children. The lack of food discipline amongst the children and the lack of its awareness among the caretakers (including parents) is one of the grave problems of the modern era, influenced by the materialistic civilization, the electronic media and the internet revolution.
No control exists over the sources of information that the children receive; leave aside other sources, over 500 TV channels running 24 hours a day alone is sufficient either to build or break the children, depending upon the programs they are habituated to view. Consequently there is no control either, how they assimilate and utilize such information in their personal lives.
This is the age, when children begin to outsmart the parents or any controlling authority. Market researchers are, therefore, having the field day, to serve the expansion programs of the multinational giants, and provide those data as per specified classifications. In each child, they see a potential customer for their products.
Market research in any area related to young children is a welcome step. In the absence of proper data, any decision, any policy on issues relating to the children would be fallacious. On the basis of the data collected, the right procedures for the future benefit of children need to be adopted and they must be implemented with all sincerity Whether one likes it or not, manufacturing and marketing of food products exclusively for children has come to stay; now the question is what type of food products needs to be supported and what are to be rejected, by the free exercise of market forces and by creating proper awareness amongst the children. In an experiment conducted to decide the influence of branding vis-à-vis the taste preference, it was found that branding has deep impact on the minds of the children.
The children preferred the branded packaging, than the unbranded packaging. Perhaps the imaginative packaging system backed up by the influence of the advertisements for that product, which the children recalled while making choices did the trick and the market researchers scored their anticipated goals. Here is the danger of the container dominating over the contents of the product. The manufacturers of such products must be thanking the television sets in the homes of children.
The advantages of research on young children is inclusive not exclusive. What is important is the tangible action taken on the findings of the research. In a recent report published by the World Health Organization of UNO, energy-dense foods and fast food outlets is the cause of increasing overweight and obesity amongst young children. This is the inherent danger of branding of food products as the children stick on to a particular brand of food, and it becomes the regular part of their food intake.
The giants of the food and beverage industry who spend more than $ 10 billion per year count on such children and the drug industry must be making proper projections for expansion on the basis of statistics of obese children; The drug industry must be thanking the fast food industry for providing them ‘ raw material’ in the form of obese children. This is how, evil begets the evil!
Beginning from the age of 2, the children have begun to identify the brands, and by the age of 7-9, they have mastered brand names, logos, characters, packaging, color preferences, carton characters and everything that contributes to the world of fantasy of the children. They have formed opinions; their requests for products have turned to nagging, begging and even quarrelling!
The necessity of parental guidance has never been felt more, as in the conditions prevailing today. Marketing organizations create fictional characters to influence the minds of children and make them slaves of their own imaginations. The impact of the advertisements and the promotional campaigns, hype of gift schemes is so much –for example we are prepared to pay ten times of the cost of pure lime juice, to a bottled drink of lime, treated with preservatives.
And the company advertises; “Now this drink has the taste of fresh lime!” The enslaved minds of the children refuse to think why we can’t have he fresh limejuice from the natural lime itself! Similarly we pay a hefty sum for a fancy pack of potato chips, which is harmful for the health of children, viewed from any angle. The models, who are part of the advertisement campaigns, charge hefty sums and we pay to believe their tissue of lies beamed through TVs, created by the imaginative copy-writers.
This is the tragedy of the market research, as the findings are utilized for harming the health of children. Well-intentioned market research for the benefit of children is good. The motivated campaigns to tap and exploit the tender emotions of the children will harm them, the parents, the family and the society in the long run. Over emphasis on early learning is not desirable and the market researchers need to do their job as human beings, not as the cut-throat competitors serving the tough strategies of the companies whose sole aim is to beget more and more profits. Such motivated market research campaigns are not conducive for the long-term welfare of the children.
The ultimate aim of all research, including that on children, is to create a healthy and happy society. Therefore, nothing related to the children should be done in a hurry. To achieve this end, take lessons from Nature: Hurry is not known to all creative expressions in Nature. The sun rising, the moon setting, the blossoming of the buds, the arrival of the fruits, the germination of the seeds, the fetus in the womb, the bird in the egg, all have no hurry, and each takes is own time to grow and emerge out. So, the market researchers and the product manufacturers need to perform with care, taking into consideration the ultimate welfare of children.