The Nightmare Before Christmas

The toy industry is in a bit of a state this Christmas as is the kids business as a whole. The only way companies seem to think they can "succeed" is by throwing ever more money at TV and retail, or hoping for a break-out hit, neither one a sustainable model. With retailers driving a harder bargain, and consumers being more selective than ever, brand owners have turned to what they know best -- kids TV as a cheap way to pester parents into submission and get shelf space. Sound a bit like lemmings about to jump off a cliff?

Whenever we question kids brand owners about this approach, the first response is usually that getting shelf space is key, retailers only care about ratings and reaching large numbers of kids on TV is cheap. All true but this only gets you on the list, not as the must-buy gift ... and it doesn't take away from the fact that the model stinks.

It was different when we were young. There was one TV, the only screen in the house, and the entire family would usually sit down together to watch whatever was on. Some half-decent planner could reach everyone in one go. On the back of an okay commercial, mom and dad would see the expression of joy on our faces, there might be some discussion, but essentially the job was done.

The reality is that, these days, there are screens in nearly every room so families rarely sit down together and when they do, it's incredibly expensive air time on the likes of "American Idol." All this doesn't make achieving an emotional connection across the family, the key in our mind to being a must-buy gift, any less valuable, just harder.

Family purchase decisions, in our experience, are the result of a complex interplay of relationships where kids don't just "pester" their parents -- or where moms act as ultimate gatekeepers of the purse -- but where everyone influences everyone else in an ongoing dance. Deeper understanding of this dynamic and how to connect across the family audience, in our opinion, is key to success not only for toy manufacturers that want to be on the must-buy list, but also for all brands that want to pitch their wares to the family audience.

Some brands show signs of understanding this such as Xbox, which has created a family game space in theme parks certain toyco's that buy in-cinema advertising ... two of the rare places the family still comes together. Other brands such as Mercedes have decided to create reasons for the family to do exactly that, with its Driving Academy -- a clever way to connect with the next generation.

Buying in the few places the family still gets together or creating events so they do are very smart strategies as part of a wider campaign but they won't deliver the level of reach most brands require. Brand owners that want to genuinely connect with the family audience therefore need to take a multi-audience approach, choosing a variety of channels to reach the kid, mom and dad, and potentially siblings, grandma and granddad, on TV, online, at events etc.

The content will need to be different for each channel to best appeal to the various audiences, but ultimately it needs to support the bigger campaign idea and drive connections among the various family members. This is what will genuinely enable brands to become part of the family and move from being another item on the list to the must-buy for Christmas.

It's too late for this year, but hopefully Christmas 2010 will see marketers who are trying to reach kids understand they actually need to engage the entire family and that the first place to start is by better understanding who they are.

Tags: holiday, moms
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1 comment about "The Nightmare Before Christmas ".
  1. Maryanne Conlin from RedRopes Digital/4GreenPs , December 23, 2009 at 10:31 p.m.

    Very interesting and thoughtful post. Is this the demise of pester power? Are moms greater gatekeepers than before? Good questions to consider as we enter a new year!

    Thanks for making me think!