Forget the traditional doll's house and train set - all youngsters want for Christmas this year is an MP3 player or haute couture. Children are becoming wiser and more sophisticated in their Christmas present choices, according to academics from Birmingham Business School at the University of Birmingham.
Youngsters are no longer asking Santa, but telling their parents which electronic gadgets or designer clothes they want to unwrap at Christmas. Kids are becoming more empowered through greater brand choice and are taking charge of the festive purse. Not only are they choosing their presents, but they are researching their future gift (and its brand) online.
This gadget-loving, fashion conscious generation are called tweenagers – children aged between eight and 13. The most materialist generation of youngsters in history, tweens have the fastest-rising spending power on the high street, between £600m and £1billion a year. They watch 22,000 TV adverts a year and receive about £11-12 (16-18 Euros) spending allowance a week and are thought to have a direct influence on 60 per cent of all parental expenditure.
Professor Leslie de Chernatony, Director of the Centre for Research in Brand Marketing at Birmingham, has been identified by The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) as one of the world's 50 most influential thinkers in marketing. He and his team have found brand choices are empowering tweens and giving them more choice than ever, which is resulting in a generation of highly discerning consumers.
He said: "Children are much more brand savvy than a few years ago. Not only will they be asking for a games console or an MP3 player this December, but they will have identified the makes and models they want. Branding is helping kids make wise choices and helping them to express their personality."
Tweenagers are focused on innovation, which is reflected in this year's top-selling Christmas presents, which include robotics, multi-media and mobile 'phones – setting parents back anything up to £200.
Professor de Chernatony said: "This is the generation born with a mouse in their fingers; they are less reliant on advertising and more brand aware. Because they are IT literate the internet is giving them more capability to investigate and understand the strengths and weaknesses of brands and to make their own decisions."
Tweenagers' love of technology has a big impact on how parents spend their money. In addition to pester power, youngsters are using rational argument, technical expertise and brand awareness to influence the family's purchases.
"Parents are abdicating decisions to children. The child has already carried out the research and is focused on what they want. Retailers are aware of this and in-store assistants will often converse directly with the youngster who will then persuade the parent to buy that item," Professor de Chernatony said.
In the Collet family from Shirley in Birmingham. Nine-year-old Beth wants an electronic organiser for Christmas while her brother Michael, aged 11, is only too aware of the differences between games consoles. Their father Martin said: "Two or three years ago they were looking at new gadgets, but it was much more on a toy or game basis. Now it's moved on to phones and DVD players – adult goods. These are appliances that we would want in the house ourselves but it's actually the children who are making the choices as to the items we end up buying."
Professor de Chernatony's argues that tweenagers are influenced by peer pressure and that branding helps them to become part of groups. They are particularly keen follow the trends of current teenagers, who are also big spenders. A US Mintel report shows teen consumer spending was valued at $175 billion in 2003 and is on the rise. However, appealing to the tween market can be difficult.
"These are highly influential consumers who don't want to be patronised. They are fully aware of the different brands as they have conducted their own research. Advertisers need to be especially shrewd when pitching their brand to this particular group," said Professor de Chernatony.
Demographic changes also account for an increase in tween spending. Parents are divorcing, having fewer children later and working full-time, and they will often compensate for this by buying more expensive presents. However, Professor de Chernatony believes that when it comes to deciding this year's Christmas buys, adults and children need to work together.
He said: "Parents need to work with the child and think about prioritising the list so that everybody has a good night's sleep on the 24th December!"
Source: University of Birmingham
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