February 21, 2019
Retailers are marketing directly to kids shopping on their smartphones
WASHINGTON--Children and preteens are more connected to the Internet than ever, 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 10- to 12-year-olds have their own smartphones, according to 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-size 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-to-school filters on Snapchat, while clothing chain Justice is advertising in-store fashion shows on its app. 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, raises a number of concerns, not just about privacy but also about the kind of influence those ads may have on 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 Commercial-Free 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 such as 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.”

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 favorite 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 market 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.” (Source: The Washington Post)
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