A few years ago, I attended a presentation made by a well-known branding consultancy which covered the topic of promoting brands to children, a tactic which I am very much against.
Afterwards, as I sat in the lounge listening to the various strategies and techniques being discussed by fellow attendees, I started to consider how this vast section of the population is being targeted in a manner that could easily be viewed as aggressive.
I know that brands have to make themselves heard to exist, and those who shout loudest often succeed, but somehow, it made me uncomfortable. The image of large corporations yelling their messages at our kids isn’t a pretty one.
As I drove home, I thought back to when I was a kid in the late ’70s and early ’80s. My childhood toys and games seemed to be brand free, and I wondered if that were true.
I believed that brands back then behaved differently. The available avenues, pre-internet and satellite television, were limited and more expensive than today, but they seemed to survive.
Did brands target kids just as much as today, or was it as I remembered and happily logo free?
When I arrived home, I pulled out one of my family photo albums from 1979 and flicked through to Christmas day. There resplendent in my Spiderman pyjamas sat I with a massive grin on my face surrounded by boxes of Airfix models, Meccano kits, Lego sets and Action Man vehicles.
So the brands were indeed there, and I was most definitely exposed to them, but why didn’t I remember that level of exposure?
The next day I met up with Jason, a good friend of mine who was also at the presentation and, like I, was slightly unnerved with the techniques employed by some brands when marketing to kids. I told him of my discovery, and he too was intrigued, and after a short discussion, we decided to look back at the marketing of Airfix in 1979.
Airfix didn’t advertise on television, and they rarely advertised widely in magazines or newspapers. Instead, the company promoted their brand by making their products capture their customers’ imagination in an instance.
So how did they do this?
It all comes down to their packaging. The artwork that adorned the boxes that Airfix supplied their models kits in was a combination of fine art and clever marketing. The artwork captures amazing, almost cinematic, scenes of combat and adventure, which the model builder could recreate in model form. This sense of adventure was key to their marketing success because when the boxes were placed in the model shop window, not one little boy (or big boy) would pass by without stopping to take in this week’s epic battles. (I say “boys” because the majority of modellers back then were boys, but there were plenty of girls with the bug and one girl I grew up with is now a successful architect and often thanks to her success to her early interest in Airfix models, Meccano and Lego).
This technique of capturing the imagination was used in many of my childhood brands and with great success. Airfix still employs the approach today, albeit backed up by a web and print presence, and they are still selling well to children and adults alike.
I still have fond memories of building Airfix kits and as such, would have no hesitation in letting my kids buy some, so perhaps this is why I don’t feel that we were surrounded by brands pushing their products towards us.
So should brands of today look towards capturing imagination rather than shouting at kids and bombarding them with campaign after campaign?
Isn’t it better to develop a brand that stays with a customer from childhood through to adulthood without intruding on their lives in such a brash and almost aggressive manner?
Well, yes, and I, like many others, think so.
These are just a few thoughts, and if you have anything to add, please get in touch.