TV's reaching fewer children but brands are finding new ways to connect
Tim Höchel, president of We Are Family, believes the declining influence of TV shouldn’t stop brands from connecting with children. We explore as part of The Drum’s media convergence deep dive.
Brands aimed at children and families are in a tricky position. They are constantly facing a dichotomy between marketing to the gatekeeper (parents) and directly to the product user (kids). It’s no surprise that the ad industry still hasn’t reconciled when marketing to kids is OK and when it’s not. The moral and ethical issues are probably best saved for another article. Still, it’s somewhat of a tightrope between that and navigating the complicated guidelines and regulations that vary from country to country.
However, it’s always been clear that you market to parents and engage children. The days of TV ads directly selling to kids are becoming less common. Not just because tighter restrictions or outdated ads are often horribly gender-biased (again, probably best saved for another article), but because kids and families are spending less time with linear TV.
Best illustrated by the closure of CITV after 40 years and replaced by an online streaming platform, ITVX Kids, and the BBC’s decision to move CBBC to iPlayer by 2025, the proliferation of television content has seen more kids and families going to Netflix, Disney Plus, Paramount+ and YouTube over Channel 5 for their cartoons and content. You won’t get the eyeballs if you’re selling a toy, cereal or fizzy drink.
Launching a new brand – in any sector - is hard. Aside from ATL advertising, many automatically reach for social media and engage influencers to get in front of new users or customers. But when you can’t or struggle to do that in the kids and family space, what do you do?
Toniebox is a brand that has cleverly circumnavigated this by leveraging the enormous success of other brands. A simple mini speaker that’s operated using tactile character-based figurines, the company has cleverly crafted an excellent content and licensing strategy with known, trusted and wholesome storytelling brands, including Disney, Paddington and The Gruffalo – creating a perfect synergy between them. This means that they are instantly recognizable to the kids using them (and the engagement job has already been done) and offer a shortcut to trust for the parents purchasing them (half the marketing job is already done).
But what about new brands? The most exciting and innovative brands are in the gaming space when engaging directly with kids.
Roblox, Minecraft, and Adopt Me have tapped into a sweet spot. Not only are they all social games, but they’re also “sandbox games,” meaning kids can explore and build non-linearly, never repeating the same activity twice. They also enable you to engage kids and users in a non-marketing way. These are content pieces – the holy grail of marketing.
Behaving much like a social platform, these games drive organic growth naturally. Kids join to play with their friends – inviting more to join – until they’ve created their community network. It cleverly encompasses elements of gaming, social media, education, entertainment and even commerce (for example, buying add-ons) to provide limitless and immersive experiences. We see these brands pushing the boundaries – creating demand by engaging kids in the places they enjoy playing with their friends. From there, it’s natural for Adopt Me, and Terraria to drop the merch line and plow money into brilliant updates. Done well, expanding and refreshing the brand creates a natural longevity, generating a fevered obsession and brand loyalty for years.
Juggernaut brands like Bluey and Paw Patrol might still hail from TV content, but I predict these will become less and less influential and need new ways to engage children long-term. The real question of how you engage and excite children in a modern world has created a new battleground in which gaming is winning.