How Marketers Target Your Kids

This holiday, marketers are staging a fierce battle for your toy dollar.

ByColumn By LARRY D. WOODARD <br/> <a href="" target="external">Vigilante</a> CEO and President
November 10, 2009, 2:56 PM

Dec. 9, 2009 &#151; -- It's a better than even bet your child has Zhu Zhu pet on their holiday wish list. I'll reprise the role of Carnac the Magnificent and guess a few other things that are likely on your kid's list: Nintendo Wii or Sony Play Station, Barbie's Twilight Bella and Edward Dolls, Disney's Princess and the Frog Tiana Doll, Fisher Price VTech Ride and Learn Giraffe Bike, Star Wars Lego's or a Dance Around Dora.

Okay, I confess, I'm not a magician and have no powers that would allow me to read your child's mind. I do however have more than a passing knowledge of advertising spending and how marketers target you and your kids during the holiday season. In 1992 marketers spent about $8 billion dollars targeting kids; this year that number is more in the $15 billion to $20 billion dollar range.

It is a known fact in the advertising and marketing world that "pester power" i.e. the power kids have over your pocket book is huge. According to studies children influence as much as 180 billion dollars of spending each year a sizeable portion during the traditional holiday gift giving season. Savvy marketers know it isn't always enough just to influence junior, time must be spent educating parents, usually mom, about the values of a particular toy or game.

Although sales are expected to be flat, holiday spending accounts for about $810 million and smart manufacturers and retailers know there are winners and losers in that number. Kmart, one of the top three toy retailers started marketing 30 to 40 days earlier than they have in previous years.

Wal-Mart, the largest toy retailer doubled its October spending. Toys R Us, which gets about 40 percent of its revenue from the fourth quarter has become the fastest growing brand on Facebook, growing by 40,000 to 90,000 fans per day both young parents and kids with its "Big Book" showcasing the hottest toys along with tools to find and purchase at a Toys R Us location.

Marketers are taking additional steps to make sure holiday sales increase. Toys R Us is opening up 350 temporary stores in its other retail outlets and in malls where bankrupt KB toys was located. Kmart and Wal-Mart are also increasing by as much as ten-fold their offerings of toys that cost less than $10.

Zhu Zhu Pets Marketed Aggressively

Although NPD, a leading marketing and research company that tracks consumer spending predicts that holiday spending will be down this year, marketers are in a fierce battle for your toy dollar. One of the clear winners this year is the Zhu Zhu pet, manufactured by Cepia, LLC. These motorized pet hamsters behave, in many ways, like the real thing. They can make over 40 noises, navigate like a smart vacuum cleaner and be accessorized with everything from a tiny skateboard and hamster wheel to a fun house and a hamster car.

But the story behind the story is how aggressively they were marketed. The Martz Agency, a Phoenix-based advertising agency handles the account and the Beacon Media Group, also responsible for past holiday hits like Cabbage Patch Dolls, Furby and Pokemon are the advertising and media agencies behind the Zhu Zhu craze. Advertising for the robot-like hamsters began in late summer on children's cable such as Nickelodeon and Disney to begin to create demand for the faux pets. In addition to television, the campaign relied heavily on events, promotions and PR. There were more than 300 mom influencer party events as well as giveaway events at hospitals and zoos across the country. Special emphasis was put on moms who Blog and Twitter. Leaving no stone unturned, there is even an iPhone App.

The quest to be the hot toy is a lucrative one. Coleco sold 18 million Cabbage Patch dolls in 1984, the year the doll topped the Christmas wish list, grossing 1.5 billion dollars. In 1999, 14 million Furby's were sold while the year before it rose to the top of the holiday list, just 1.8 million. One of the hottest toys of all time, the Beanie Baby was the "it" toy for 1995. From the holiday season of 1995 until the end of 1196, Ty sold more than 100 million Beanie babies and made a profit of over $250 million dollars.

Frantic Parents

This year, advertisers have the equivalent of a marketing Rubik's Cube to solve to have a successful holiday selling season. Many retailers are sacrificing margins to get people into the stores to buy. Many manufacturers have produced fewer quantities mindful of the recession. Consumers are telling pollsters they are likely to spend less on gifts this year, but positive economic news and the moderate price tags on some of this year's hottest toys, might make the pre-shopping surveys irrelevant.

I predict in the final analysis it will come down to frantic parents, scouring shelves, both cyber and brick-and-mortar terrified they won't see that bright light in the eyes of their children on Christmas morning. And with smart phones and texting make no mistake about it, kids are armed with lots of information about where the toys are.

The work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Larry D. Woodard is president and CEO of Vigilante, a New York-based advertising agency that develops consumer-centric advertising campaigns. He is also chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies New York Council and the recipient of many prestigious industry awards, including two O'Toole Awards for Agency of the Year, the London International Award, Gold Effie, Telly, Mobius, Addy's and the Cannes Gold Lion. A blogger and a frequent public speaker, Woodard enjoys discussing the intersection of media, politics, entertainment and technology.

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