A guide to how to avoid appealing to kids in your marketing

Jul 26th '23

Author: Matthew Macaulay, Senior Strategist, Kids Industries


Kids Industries is a specialist award winning research and marketing agency focused on the children’s and family market. We work with the largest brands in the world including Kellogg’s, McDonalds and the BBC, and we have supported the marketing of Bing, Bluey, Pokémon and Star Wars amongst many others.


The Portman Group and Independent Complaints Panel recently commissioned us to undertake research on broad marketing techniques that are used to appeal to children and teenagers outside of alcohol marketing. The research and training are designed to assist the Independent Complaints Panel with its rulings in relation to the Code of Practice – in particular the application of the rule that alcohol is promoted in a socially responsible way that does not have particular appeal to under-18s.


In my role as a strategist at Kids Industries I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to make products, services and advertising which will appeal to children. But what constitutes appealing marketing to children isn’t a straightforward question.


There is a tendency for some companies to view under 18s as a homogenous group who have similar needs and motivations. The reality is, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Crammed into the age range 0-18 are 9 developmental stages which shape the sorts of marketing that children will or won’t respond to. It’s only by understanding the nuances of these developmental stages that we can create effective marketing campaigns that will resonate with young people.


Determining what type of marketing is particularly appealing to children is therefore a challenge when there are such differences in how children react to advertising depending on their developmental stage.


The majority of the rulings made by the Independent Complaints Panel in relation to the suitability of alcohol marketing, focus on packaging. Whilst it isn’t possible to generalise about the type of packaging that will potentially attract an under 18 year old, we can develop a set of principles based on products and packaging that are designed to appeal to young children:


  1. Colour & clarity: young children – under the age of 7 – pay little attention to verbal messages, it’s the visuals that matter. They tend to be most attracted to bright primary or secondary colours. Bright colours are particularly stimulating to their developing brains and easier to perceive. But it’s not all about colour – contrast in luminance is as important to attract a child’s attention.
  2. Character: characters on child-targeted food packaging have strong appeal for children and tend to demonstrate certain consistencies. More often than not they are cartoon-like e.g. animals or anthropomorphised foods. To adult eyes they seem exaggerated with oversized features (eyes, smiles, cheeks) but to children’s developing brains this exaggeration is appealing. It’s also noticeable that all characters are approachable (no jagged teeth, no hard corners) – fulfilling the safety that children and parents alike desire.
  3. Brand Licensing: strongly connected to character is the power of brand licensing to drive children to want certain products. Any parent knows that entertainment characters are a sure fire way to get children to engage with certain items, from Peppa Pig raisins to Minions yoghurt drinks.
  4. Name & Logo: from Frubes to Munch Bunch, brand logos aimed at children tend to embody simplicity, play, bright primary text, chunky font, high contrast or a thick outline. These elements in combination attract children’s attention.
  5. Collectability: collectables are perennially popular with kids from trading card games (Pokémon) to football sticker sets and toys / dolls like Barbie and Hatchimals. They are frequently leveraged by FMCG companies looking to attract children and drive repeat purchase. YoYoBear – the fruit based snack with collectable cards – is a prime example of this. The cards have proved hugely popular, with some even commanding significant sums on eBay.
  6. Flavour: children have a genetic predisposition towards sugary / sweet and salty foods and flavours. They initially reject sour and bitter tastes.


Of course, the aim for alcohol producers it to avoid their products and marketing having a particular appeal to under-18s. As a guide, we’d recommend  looking at these six elements in conjunction with each other to assess the appeal of a particular product or piece of marketing to children alongside the Portman Group’s guidance on particular appeal to under-18s.


Source: Portman Group


Related: Portman Group updates guidance taking advice from top children’s marketing company


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