Children: seen and heard

Joeri van den Bergh, director of ON SNEAKERS,InSites Consulting’s Kids and Youth research centre, visited the ‘Children: seen and heard’ conference organised by MRS (the British market research federation) in London last Thursday. Five speakers at this conference on researching next generation family, kids and youth left an impression on him.

James Thickett, Director of Market Research of Ofcom, updated a number of figures regarding the use of new media used by children and youngsters in the UK. It provided interesting benchmarking material for the ON SCREEN_study, which InSites will publish towards the end of February about the Belgian situation. Only 16% in the 8-11 age category uses social network sites in the UK, and 52% in the 12-15 age category. In the oldest group, Bebo is the most popular social website (69% of social network site users), making it more popular than Facebook (37%), MySpace (36%) and Piczo (12%). In the 8-11 age category, Club Penguin (37%) of the British publishing group has just pipped Bebo at the post (36%). Girls seem to worry more about privacy issues than boys. 49% of girls aged between 12 and 15 are afraid that strangers will findpersonal details about them on the Internet compared to only 27% of boys. 40% of boys does not protect their profile on a social network at all, whereas for girls this percentage is only 25%. All research data is available for free on Ofcom’s website.

For researchers it is always great to see that amultinational such as Unilever uses consumer research to create an emotional bond with its brands in product categories with a low involvement. Dove’s “Campaign for Beauty” is a good example of this. However, Unilever’s “Dirt is Good” campaign for Omo/Persil has also reached the target group of mothers with children between 0 and 12.International research involving 2400 mothers with children in this age category in 16 countries showed Unilever that mothers feel that children are no longer allowed to be children and have less opportunities to play outside and learn by experiment.Through the“Dirt is good” campaign, Unilever wanted to encourage parents to let their children be children again. In addition to the scientific white papers, the research and the Roboboy TV campaign and printed advertising, a CSR programme was developed in Asia which according to research has the biggest lack of outdoor play areas.

Together with the government, Unilever sponsored 500 play areas in Vietnam and 100 in Pakistan. However, apart from thecultural impact, the campaign also achieved the necessary business results:the market share of Unilever washing powders jumped in the principal countries and the target group of mothers with children aged 0 to 12 was more willing to pay a price supplement. Both the brand loyalty and the recognition of Unilever washing powder brands went up everywhere.

By far the most inspiring presentation at the conference was by Bryan Urbick, CEO of Consumer Knowledge Center, and the unsurpassed Magnus Scheving, the Icelandic father of LazyTown and one of the most energetic and charismatic people I have ever met in my life. Magnus not only thought up LazyTown, he also plays the leading part of Sportacus who can do everything and helps children in difficulties thanks to the energy in a sporty sweet (fruit or vegetables). But first Bryan Urbick touched on the very interesting concept of “Neophobia”, i.e. the fear of everything new (brands, people, experience, …), which according to Urbick has important consequences for children research. He does not believe in short research sessions with children, because they would never get beyond the initial unfamiliarity with new products, concepts, campaigns, etc.After all, for children familiarity and liking are synonyms. In other words, Urbick advocates long half day sessions with children and he is one of the few children research experts who is not afraid to do research sessions with children from 18 months. He also gave an example of a visual scale for product research with children aged barely three: a mummy cuddly toy stands for too soft, a daddy cuddly toy for too hard and a baby cuddly toy for too small.

And then Magnus Scheving took the floor and he had everyone’s attention. In the space of less than 9 months Magnus managed to get Lazytown on television in 109 countries. According to him it is the only children’s brand that is directly associated with sports and health. With his energy points system (a savings system with tokens which is very similar to the Supernanny parenting systems) he was responsible for a 22% hike in the sale of fruit and vegetables by mothers with children.Magnus tells it all with a flair and charisma which only the greats such as Richard Branson possess. “I spoke to 160 writers to write scenarios for LazyTown, none of them had children, only dogs”. That is why 16 years ago he wrote the book Go, Go Lazytown which is at the basis of the successful children’s series for 4 to 7 year olds. Magnus was an athlete and fitness expert and in his speeches all over the world he discovered there were no health role models for children. “The only role model was Popeye but he smokes and hates people”. He accepted the challenge to convey a healthy lifestyle in an entertaining way to children through two classic children’s story elements, i.e.reconciling emotional elements and the battle between heroes and baddies in one concept. “Parents and children are practically the same all over the world:children seek excitement, movement and respect (not be treated as a child), parents want safety and education, a healthy lifestyle for their children, they want their children to follow rules and not to hurt other children, they want their children to share and not lie or cheat.LazyTown meets these demands and, apart from a TV series, has also become a merchandising brand in various fields with live shows which has already sold more than 1 million tickets.Magnus is most proud of the letter he received from the Icelandic president in which he thanked him for tackling the obesity problem of children in Iceland.He ended in true Sportacus style with a push up demonstration using 1 arm and a number of rotations leaving a perplexed audience…

Slightly more serious but therefore not less interesting was the presentation by Obi Felten, head of consumer marketing at Google. Something is happening in British secondary schools. 15 years from now they will be completely differently. Instead of the classic row of school desks, classrooms will be landscape office environments where every student has his own island with his/her own computer. Many classes already have interactive whiteboards with a direct link to the Internet. All schools must also have a VLE, a Virtual Learning Environment, which allows teachers to share sources and equipment with their colleagues, students are able to post homework online and are able to co-operate online on projects and assignments. In other words, over the coming years teachers will have to develop new skills.Google’s ambitious company mission is:“organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” In this context Google wanted to study how its products such as search, maps, earth and sketchup (a 3D sketching tool) could play a relevant role in schools. In a study among teachers Google discovered that in spite of the fact that all teachers use Google search intensively, they don’t know the other Google productsand had a relatively low level of knowledge and trust in Google. They believe that students who use Google are encouraged to “cut & paste” their homework. Moreover they can work much faster with Google search than the teachers themselves which is a reason for concern.In response to this study Google launched a specific site in the UK for teachers, i.e. with ideas and handy teaching lesson plans for history, geography lessons, etc.They also printed classroom posters with tips for faster and more efficient use of the search engine. And finally they supported the idea of a teacher and Google Earth fan who is travelling around the country to teach geography teachers how they can use Google Earth and Google Maps in their lessons. (cf. Digital explorer – bringing the World to the classroom-).

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