Introduction: their future lives during these early years, thus


the moment a child is brought into this world they are immersed in a
culture of costs. From nappies to buggies the first decade of a
child’s life is as formative as it is invaluable to a company and a
marketer. (Brandhome, 2018) If a company can influence a child’s
early years they can shape this fresh mind to be a brand loyal,
trolley grabbing, tantrum throwing machine utilising the superpower
all children are born with that is ‘pester power’. According to
NCCA, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment

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develop very early in young children. Through participating in
everyday activities and play, children absorb powerful messages from
people, the environment and community regarding their identity,
culture and social values”(French,2007).

Children can absorb languages and gain the framework that will be the
backbone of their future lives during these early years, thus the
same must be true for the way in which they view and learn media in
this consumerist saturated generation. This forms a basis for
children that help in shaping their attitude to the products that
they see and are submerged into and how they learn around this.

is described as a ”relatively permanent change in behaviour
brought about by practice or experience” (Lachman, 1997). There
are several major factors that are fundamental to learning. This
includes memory, responses/ behaviour and time and conditions. All of
these factors have a huge influence on learning and behaviour and in
turn, have a life-changing effect on children. According to studies
children between the ages of 2 and 5 children gain the biggest leap
in cognitive development, allowing them to think of reason. Children
also make strides in their emotional and social development and
gradually learn how to handle feelings during these early years
(Blogs and Health, 2018). This means that for children, the objects
to which they are introduced and the information they observe will
then become an ingrained learned behaviour that has the power to
influence future decisions or indeed the buying habits of a
household. In a modern setting with the rise of new media, it is
easier than ever to see celebrities or people who hold a position of
power showcasing their newest ”cant live without” and
”must buy” products that will influence the buying
decisions of a consumer. This along with the attitude of ”she
has I want” festers a unique power within children and by proxy,
children become a fast lane to success for companies looking to sell.
Pester power is magical. For the companies who market products for
children, this is gold dust and the end goal of all their present and
future marketing campaigns (Pester power is ‘more effective than ever
for app generation’ 2018).
Rise of Consumerism and Children

is thought that children are more susceptible to the influence of
marketing than their adult counterparts (Murtagh 2008). Adults have
a higher capacity to critically evaluate marketing and recognise it
for what it may be. This ability has been learned over time as adults
realise that the purpose of a marketing campaign, at its core, will
always be to sell services or goods. Children are more vulnerable to
the marketer’s tricks than adults may be. Studies have shown that
children may in fact not be able to see the differences between
magazine ads, television ads and programmed television (Murtagh

order to look at children as consumers, it is first important to look
at the rise of consumerism. Sigmund Freud’s view of psychoanalysis
was flourishing in the USA after World War 1 with thanks to Edward
Bernays, Freud’s nephew (Gunderson 2015) known also as “the
Father of Public Relations”. Bernays was intrigued as to how
propaganda had been used to influenced people, both adults and
children alike, during WW1. Bernays used his advertisements to
condition the consumer to believe that even if they did not need what
was being sold, they wanted it and that was just, if not more,
important (ibid). With WW1 consumption in society had grown and with
that, the need for factories to serve this growth rose too. However,
after the war, there was a fatal flaw in the marketing strategy of
these mass-produced products. The primary focus of these companies
was on the functionality of the products they were selling. Using his
uncle’s psychoanalytic view, Bernays taught major corporations the
importance of tapping into a consumers emotions. Bernays wanted these
companies to aim their marketing strategies towards their audiences
”wants” not their ”needs”(Gunderson 2015). These
marketing techniques only targeted adults as they saw adults as the
consumers with the purchasing power, however, in the modern day,
marketers can make ads targeting children knowing that though they
don’t hold the money they certainly hold the power. The driving force
behind this power lies in the aspect of public displays of
embarrassment whereas if a parent does not give in to the ‘pestering’
of the child they risk the chance of a public tantrum or argument
(anon 2011)

Theory behind children as consumers

of the main psychologists interested in the cognitive reactions of
children was Jean Piaget. Piaget was an epistemologist and a Swiss
psychologist, born in 1896 and died in 1980, who was a forerunner in
studying children’s development. Piaget placed a huge amount of
emphasis on educating children. He once said, “only education is
capable of saving our societies from possible collapse, whether
violent or gradual.” (Piaget 2000). Piaget’s theories are still
studied to this day in relation to his findings on children’s
development. Piaget Theory in relation to Cognitive Development has
four stages (Piaget 1952)

Sensorimotor stage- from birth to 2 years old (Piaget 1952)

the child begins to gain an understanding of themselves and begins to figure out how certain things work by being in and around everyday environments.

Preoperational stage – age 2 to 4 (Piaget 1952)

While the child can classify objects in a simple way they are not yet able to conceptualize.

Concrete stage – age 7 to 11 (Piaget 1952)

The child can now begin to conceptualize and think ”outside the box” can think of logical explanations

Formal stage – starts at age 11 to 15 (Piaget 1952)

the final stage of cognitive thinking. The child does not need physical objects to make judgements. The child can make deductions and think hypothetically. Thought process is similar to adults

Christmas and Children

According to Mike Searles, president of Kidz ‘R’ Us from 1983 – 1993 “If you own this child at an early age, you can own this child for years to come” (Moran 2018). This shows the importance of brand loyalty in children. By convincing children, who are by nature vulnerable and tend to trust authority figures such as adults, that they need to have what the advertiser is selling, the child is turned into a spokesperson for the company. The child then holds the power to make demands to buy the product. This is a method for marketers that, while it may seem ruthless, is also highly effective and brings a huge amount of commerce to the company. While ”pester power” is a yearly battle between parents and corporations the war is fought more acutely over the Christmas period. Streams of television ads directly targeted towards children showcase a colossal amount of toys and clothes, dolls and games. As Nancy Shalek once said,

“Advertising at its best is making people feel that without their product, you’re a loser. Children are very sensitive to this. You open up emotional vulnerabilities, and it’s very easy to do with kids because they’re the most emotionally vulnerable” (French 2007).

Every Christmas, parents around the globe come under fire from their children to buy them the newest doll or game or film. An example of this would be the Late Late Toy Show, while it is known to all today as somewhat of an Irish institution. The Late Late Toy Show is a two-hour long advertisement. Nor does the programme pretend to be anything else. RTÉ helpfully has a list of all the products shown on the show along with the costs and the retailer posted on its website allowing easy access for parents when their child picks something they cant live without (ibid).

New Media and Advertising

The driving force of pester power lies in how children are being targeted. Social media plays a huge part in how children see products. If their favourite celebrity is endorsing a specific item or toy the child will be more drawn to that product. This can help the celebrity earn thousands just by tweeting their love of ”lol dolls”. (Rubin 2018) As shown in Piaget’s theories the child has not got the cognitive functions as a young child to realise this marketing ploy. Another way children are being targeted is by mobile phone. It is very easy for children and teens to sign up for text alerts about their favourite show which helpfully for marketing company’s come with advertisements. YouTube is a huge platform for children to be targeted. YouTube Kids is a part of YouTube Showing ”kid-friendly content”. According to Youtube’s parental guide,(YouTube 2018)

”YouTube Kids is ad-supported with limited advertising. When your child selects a video in the app, your child may see an ad intro followed by a video ad—marked with “Ad”—before the video you selected. These are paid advertisements (“Paid Ads”). We only show Paid Ads that are approved as family-friendly and all Paid Ads undergo a rigorous review process for compliance with our policies. Paid Ads won’t include any click-throughs to websites or product purchase flows”(YouTube 2018)

However, videos uploaded to YouTube are not all paid for advertisements meaning that these videos can contain unpaid product placements and still showcase toys/games/products in the form of a review. An example of this is ”RyansToyReview” (Ryan ToysReview 2015). This is a YouTube channel in which a 6-year-old boy opens and reviews all types of toys and games and showcases him playing with them on his channel. Set up in 2016 RyansToyReview at the time of writing now has 11,455,353 subscribers and 18,265,812,441 views making it one of the most watched channels in 2016 and 2017 (ibid)

Advertisers know the younger they can teach a child about their brand the higher the likelihood will be for that child to demand it from their parents later. There is no thing as too early for putting your hooks into a child to make them brand loyal. As previously stated children at a young age find it difficult to differentiate between ads and entrainment. For marketers, targeting children is good business. The children of today will become the consumers of tomorrow (Knorr 2018). if children are thought and learn from an early age that they connect with a brand then they are more likely to feel connected well into their adult years. Children’s ability to rule the consumer roost stems from the persuasive power children hold over their parents (ibid). Children also hold the ability to not take no for an answer. That incessant pestering leads to parents eventually giving in. Years ago Pokémon came up with their slogan ”Gotta catch ’em all” (Moyes 2000). this jackpot of a slogan sums up the marketer’s dream of convincing children to get as many toys and games relating to Pokémon. With all the study’s done on pester power the biggest correlation is how likeable an ad is and how much a child will pester or nag. An example of this is the Aldi’s ad on ”Kevin and Katie the Carrot” a cute ad that caused a frenzy over the Christmas period to buy this soft carrot toy. This is because the advertisement brought life to ‘Kevin’ and made him extremely likeable making children feel like they needed to have the soft toy. (Healy and Evens 2017). a cute or catchy advertisement will make the world of difference in gaining a child’s attention to your product.


In conclusion marketers view the advertisements they show to children as a core part of their responsibility as a brand, however, this can leave the brand open to accusations of playing into a child’s innocence (Fazio, Eiser and Shook 2004). Marketers deliberately aim their campaigns towards parental love and a parent’s embedded desire to bring happiness to their children’s life by any means. Marketers can use these fears along with the fear of public displays of embarrassment to sell their products. Children learn from a young age to be brand loyal by identity with cute and catchy ads and toys. The use of new media only furthers the way in which the attitudes of children are formed in relation to becoming consumers. Children’s attitudes and behaviour is formed at a young age is the prime opportunity for a brand to inspire ‘pester power’ within children to further their own companies sales.