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The Development of a Child into a Consumer - Valkenburg & Cantor (2001)
AbstractThis paper presents a descriptive model of the development of children's consumer behaviour from infancy to 12 years of age. Although there is no single definition of consumer behaviour it seems to entail at least four characteristics. A
consumer is able to:
1. Feel wants and preferences.
2. Search to fulfil them.
3. Make a choice and a purchase.
4. Evaluate the product and its alternatives.
IntroductionOver the past two decades marketers of children's products have developed a massive and diverse spectrum of strategies to reach the child consumer (Kline, 1993).They are interested in children for three reasons:
1. Today's children in Western society have considerable amounts of money to spend on wants and needs of their own which qualifies them as an important primary market (McNeal, 1992).
2. Children are also a future market, it has been demonstrated that children develop brand loyalty at an early age and that favourable attitudes last well into adulthood (McNeal, 1992).
3. Children are an important market of influencers. Not only do they give direction to daily household purchases but as they get older they also have a say in their parent's major purchasing decisions (McNeal, 1992).Another factor that explains the increase in children's influence on family decisions is the liberalisation of the parentchild relationships in Western society.A few decades ago child-rearing patters were characterised by authority, obedience and respect (Torrance, 1998).
However in today's families understanding, equality and compromise are considered to be of importance. The parentchild relationship is no longer regulated by command and authority but rather negotiation (Torrance, 1998).In most modern Western families children's opinions and participation in the decision making processes are encouraged and taken seriously. As a result children have never been as emancipated, articulate and market mature as they currently are (Gunter and Furnham, 1998).Consumer socialisation is seen as a rather effortless process by which children learn the skills, knowledge and attitudes necessary to function as consumers (Ward, 1974).A basic assumption made in this paper is that children of all ages strive to understand their physical and social environment. Moreover their level of understanding determines to a large extent, their tastes and preferences for products, information and entertainment, and as a result their consumer behaviour.In addition the paper assumes that children of different developmental levels vary in their attention and susceptibility to different environmental forces that influence their consumer behaviour and values (e.g. commercial media and peer pressure). Infants & Toddlers (0-2): Feelings, Wants & PreferencesAlthough little is known about how children's wants and tastes are formed during childhood it has been shown that even toddlers firmly express their preferences regarding what to eat, wear watch or play (Bartsch and Wellman, 1995).Some of these wants and tastes seem to be innate whilst others are formed during childhood.Researchers agree that babies come into the world with some very definitive preferences for tastes and smells.
Newborns seem to come equipped with a preference for sweet substances whereas sour, salty or bitter liquids elicit disgust (Ganchrow et al, 1983).Infants have also been shown to dislike the same smells that adults consider disagreeable. When they detect an unpleasant smell, they turn their head away or turn up their nose (Rieser et al, 1976).Babies also seem to enjoy listening to music, and they prefer rhythmic to non-rhythmic sounds (Siegler, 1991). By the age of 4-6 months, they start to turn their head in the direction of the source of music, and they have been observed to listen to music with an "unmistakable expression of astonishment and joy'' (Moog, 1976, p. 39).Because young children are so responsive to songs, rhymes, and music, these devices are often used to elicit interest in educational and entertainment programs for young children (Wakshlag et al, 1982), though the song lyrics may not be well understood even at older ages (Calvert & Billingsley, 1998).Although babies are quite responsive to music and speech, their visual perception matures more slowly. However,
babies do have distinct preferences for certain types of images. They like to watch moving objects with primary colours and sharp contrasts (Acuff, 1997). It is no coincidence, therefore, that toys and entertainment programs for infants and toddlers are often produced in such colours.When children are 4-5 months of age, they start to develop an interest in television programs. Observational studies have shown that they are mostly interested in children's programs, such as Sesame Street and The Teletubbies, that have brightly coloured fantasy figures (Lemish, 1987). Both children's programs and commercials specialize in drawing attention by visual and auditory means, and babies are very sensitive to these kinds of stimuli (Lemish, 1987).By 8 months of age, most children are able to sit erect without support. At this time, they typically begin to be allowed to sit in the child seat of the shopping cart, from which they observe and admire the brightly colored products that are often deliberately positioned at the eye level of children (McNeal, 1992). After a few months of observing, children start to be able to take products from the supermarket shelves and between 18 and 24 months of age, they start to ask their parents to buy products (McNeal, 1992).
Pre-schoolers (2-5): Nagging & NegotiatingThere are several characteristics of the pre-schooler's mind that determine children's tastes and preferences for products and entertainment, and as a result, their consumer behaviour. One of these characteristics is their limited ability to distinguish fantasy from reality.Preschool children often believe that the characters and events that they encounter in the media are real. Often, 2- and 3-year-olds think that television characters reside inside the TV set (Noble, 1975).By the time they are 3 years old, children start to make statements indicating attachment to television personalities
(Jaglom & Gardner, 1981). However, because children between the ages of 2 and 5 often do not adequately distinguish between fantasy and reality, they can just as easily focus their attraction on an animal or a fantasy protagonist as on a real-life character.Preschool-aged children also think that the information in commercials is true. They often do not understand the persuasive intent of commercials, and they have trouble distinguishing commercials from television programs (Buijzen and Valkenburg, 2000).
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