Children and 'tweens' are increasingly the target for a growing array of major holiday providers such as Walt Disney or TUI. Why are they important? Simply they are the most important people in most people's life or the focus of all of there attention and time.
Travel Futurologist Dr Ian Yeoman discusses the phenomena of consumer kids.
Opinions differ on culture of consumption and children, whether they should be viewed as competent or as victim. Some would argue that due to their early exposure to advertising they are already marketing savvy and thus easily developing their own coping strategies. Others think that the rich diet of consumerism increasingly fed to children has a corrupting effect and that is causing them to emulate adult behaviour at too young an age. From a marketing influence perspective, children would have previously been approached via their mothers, today they are the epicentre of the marketing world. Their taste drives market trends, their opinions and preferences structure brand strategies. Martin Linstorrm, author of the book, BRANDchild, argues that children and tweens influence up to 80% of consumer purchases.
Eager to grow up, today's tweens like all youngsters before them, are zealously trying to emulate the consumer habits of those older than them. Marketers have been quick to recognise that the growing distinction between children's ages is pronounced enough to warrant products and services specifically focused on those tweens who are aspiring to become more like teenagers and adults. Children when they are young want to be older.
Children have always had specific consumer needs. But the difference today compared to earlier is perhaps that more and more products are targeting these tween needs from an earlier age. Whether we think this a blameworthy development (laid at the door of the media and marketing communities) or whether children are just evolving faster than before something of a shrinking of childhood seems to have taken place indeed. This phenomenon is often referred to as age compression or 'children growing older younger'. As illustrated in figure 1, the blurring of the boundaries between childhood and full–blown adolescence is happening at an earlier age than just a generation or two ago. In the 1960s childhood was a distinct stage and it had been only roughly a decade since the world had discovered or invented the 'teenager'.
Today children seem to adopt the habits and attitudes of what has so far been considered teen–domain at an earlier age then previously – hence the emergence of the 'tween'.
There can be no doubt that both the concepts of 'childhood' and 'youth' are being redefined and that, as consumers, today's kids are very different. For example, Teenage Research Unlimited found that the average American 12 year old wishes he/she were 17 and the average 17 year old wants to be 19. Kids are now abandoning toys they think are babyish when they are still considered a main target by manufacturers. Today, increasingly sophisticated merchandise is being pitched at much younger children, with far more advertising. A whole new industry has developed trying to lure tweens with toys that are edgy or sophisticated enough for their taste. Producers of make–up, clothes, toiletries, electronics, food and drink, music or games (the list is endless) treat children as a current 'market'. At the retail level, such outlets as video arcades, shopping centres, restaurants and cinemas also recognise that tweens are an important segment with money to spend (but not on any old thing).
It seems clear, that children are turned into consumers at a very early stage in our society, partly encouraged by the media and marketers, partly by parents who provide the necessary financial support. At the same time, it seems that kids are marching forward towards adulthood at a much brisker pace than they used to and wanting more mature things to do with that accelerated growth. Not a day passes without some worried headline about misbehaviour and not a generation goes by without the previous one expressing concern about the dangerous freedoms of the next. One specific social issue is sex, according to the Global Sex Survey shows that young people continue to have their first sexual relationship at an earlier age than previous generations: while the 25–34's lost their virginity at 17.9, the 21–24 year olds were 17.5 and 16–20 year olds were just 16.3. Globally, the survey showed that people worldwide are having sex for the first time at an average age of 17.3 but 35% say they were 16 or under when they lost their virginity.
Florida based FranChild enables kids aged 5 to 15 to go beyond lemonade stands and operate 'grown–up' style business instead. Parents and kids begin by picking a product to sell i.e., organic soap or jewellery. The initial start up cost is US $25, which gets the child a FranChild Company Certificate to acknowledge his or her business launch; business cards ready to print from FranChilds ready templates; how–to instructions for marketing and selling products; and access to the My First Franchise Resource Centre, a US $75,000 marketing system for creating customised products.
How about a pedicure, manicure or facial for children who haven't reached puberty? Phillymag.com labels this 'pretty baby trends'. Little girls as young as 4 get pedicures. A 10 year old gets microdermasion – a procedure to slough off dead skin to make the skin look younger. You have 8 year old girls insisting on eyebrow waxing for that arched fashion model look and a bikini wax. One doctor, Janice Hillman, who specialises in adolescent magazines said;
"It's such a rarity to find it these days in 10 and 12–year–old girls, and older girls. I need to check for it at that age – it's an indicator of puberty and development, how much there is, where it's growing. And now, I need to ask girls, if it's not there, 'Do you wax? Do you shave?' Because so many of them do. Some say that little girls are growing up much too fast and learning to be self–absorbed about their appearance. The sad thing is, such narcissistic behaviour is being encouraged by their own mothers. They bring their children with them when they themselves go for spa treatments for a treat, perhaps to spend girlie time together. The trouble is these kids grow up to expect the pampering as norm".
Medical tourism is growing phenomena so how about breast enhancement for teenagers as reported by ABC. Sangaria is a Japanese company that markets juice to children by encouraging them to think its beer. Everything about the drink convinces kids they are drinking beer, right from the packaging design which is in a 6–pack format, the bottle is designed to look like a real beer bottle and when poured the drink has a "head" of foam just like real beer. The anime cartoons on the bottle and the apple juice flavour are the only ways kids can tell this product isn't real beer. There's nothing like encouraging children to be underage alcoholics who can't wait to drink the real thing. The company has recently expanded its product line to include drinks like champagne, wine and cocktails.
Ramada Resort Karon Beach Phuket has introduced the bouquet rooms for kids. This is a new concept of family vacations in Thailand. The resort offers 3 different adventure themes such as the Outer Space room; the Underwater room; and the Castle room. These kid rooms are connected to the Duplex Suite so that all of the family can enjoy the pleasure time together.
It should come as no surprise that an increasing number of parents are paying for personal training sessions for their kids. After all, we've already seen articles about the rise of obese children and the tripling of obesity surgery among teens. For most parents, the goal is to teach their children positive motivation and to develop healthy fitness habits. However, the concept is sparking debate among experts who believe that there are alternatives to encourage healthy lifestyles.
All children want to grow up fast but they struggle with assimilating the rules of the adult world, as they aren't adults. Tweens do influence many tourist and holiday purchases and have to be considered as potential influencers:
Kids and tweens are adults–in–the–making and like to be seen as such. They are also being raised in a profoundly consumerist society and are therefore ad–literate earlier than ever.
Kids and tweens are looking to assert identity but also have a strong need to fit in. The peer–group is important and kids inspire each other. Peer–to–peer communications remain perhaps, the most important tool for reaching a large group of tweens.
Kids and tweens are often early adopters and eager users of new technologies making this a perfect medium for talking to young people.
NEW 26/4/18 New publication: What is food tourism? here.
NEW 2/3/18 Ian talks about the future of travel in Virgin Atlantic’s Inflight magazine here.
NEW 22/2/18 New publication: Teaching tourism futures here.
20/2/18 Journal of Tourism Futures – Call for papers on the history of tourism here.
02/2/18 The Future of Luxury: new research published in the Journal of Revenue and Pricing Management here.
The Future of Travel, featuring my research with ABC Australia here.
Call for Papers: Futures Practice and Theory here.
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Ian speaks about the future tourist in VisitEngland report here.
Keynote address: The Future of Luxury and Premium Pricing – Paris 15th December 2017: More.
Call for Book Chapter: The Future Past of Tourism here.
Watch talk about the core drivers of change and Europe's future here.
Ian presents his views on technology futures to the OECD – 21st June here.
Ian profiled in Qatar Airways Oryx Magazine about the 'life of a futurist' here.
The future history of Revenue Management here.
The future of ping pong here.
Ian publishes research paper on scenario planning and policy in the Journal of Tourism Futures here.
The Future of Food Tourism reviewed in Annals of Leisure Research here.
Ian speaks to the EU on the future tourist here.
Fifteen years of Revenue Management here.
Ian appointed series editor by Channelview about the future of tourism Read More.
Previous News items can be found here.