Shaping Tweens' Values: Can Marketers Help Create A Healthy Balance?
UNIVERSITY PARK, PA-Marvin Goldberg of Penn State's Smeal College of Business will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming Ninth Annual Kid Power Spring Conference.
Goldberg is professor of marketing and chair of the Department of Marketing in Penn State's College of Business. The presentation, "Children and Materialism in the New Era," will focus on his recent research concerning how marketing efforts aimed at kids may be making them more materialistic.
Kid Power is devoted to topics relating to marketing to youth. The conference takes place May 5-8, 2002 at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in Orlando. Goldberg's keynote address will take place Monday, May 6.
"My talk will focus on the values young people carry and how these values will carry on onto their adult lives," explains Goldberg. "It's a controversial topic to have at a conference that is targeted to senior executives, directors and managers with responsibilities toward marketing products to children."
Results from his research suggest marketing efforts aimed at youngsters
may indeed be robbing children of their childhood and making kids more
"We were surprised to find no difference between how materialistic the nine-year-old and 14-year-old children were in the survey," says Goldberg, and lead author of the study, "Understanding Materialism Among Youth." The study appeared in The Journal of Consumer Psychology .
He notes that over the past decade or so marketers have increasingly targeted the 27 million youth that are 9-14 years old. Midway between early childhood and adolescence, they have been labeled "tweens" and this subsegment has drawn the attention of a broad array of marketers. Goldberg points out that while there is concern regarding materialism among youth, very little research has focused on the issue and that the study's findings are intended as an exploratory effort to understand materialism as a phenomenon among youth and how it relates to other aspects of their environment.
"There is a change in the level of materialism. Our results suggest no difference between 9-year-old pre-pubescent and 14-year-old post-pubescent children in terms of how materialistic they are, or how much they expect by ways of an Christmas or birthday gifts," says Goldberg. "This is not likely to have been the case a decade or two ago, and it supports the notion that the effort to market down to a tween-age set is, in a sense, robbing children of their childhood.
"The gap in perspective between children and adults is being reduced daily, by both marketing and communications efforts. We're seeing the Britney Spears-type phenomenon: the highly charged/ highly sexual marketing efforts that are targeted to tweens."
While parents may still control the checkbook, children account directly for an estimated $36 billion in sales annually and when their indirect influence over far-ranging product decisions from stereos to vacations is considered, the estimate of the total economic spending impacted by children in the U.S. is $290 billion, notes Goldberg.
"More materialistic youths seemed to exert more influence or pressure on their parents with regard to the purchase process," says Goldberg. "More highly materialistic youths were more likely to ask their parents for products they saw advertised on TV or in the store."
Studying materialism among the young is important, believes Goldberg. In a broad sense, he says, the values youth carry with them into adulthood, perhaps especially that of materialism, will no doubt affect the balance in the private and public choices they make throughout life, and is one reason to continue to explore a materialism orientation among the young.
In the study, the researchers focus on the materialism of 9-14 year old tweens and, through the use of a Youth Materialism Scale (YMS), they sought to gain a better understanding of: 1) youth's orientation towards purchasing; 2) their responses to marketing initiatives; 3) the interplay in the marketplace between youth and their parents, and 4) broader issues such as the general happiness of youth and their liking for school.
Administered nationwide as part of a Simmons study, the questionnaire for the 9-14 year olds included questions related to product and service usage, media and lifestyle-type questions. In addition, a questionnaire was also administered to the parents of these children. Questionnaires from 540 parents and 996 9-14 year old youths were completed and returned. Of the sample of 9-14 year olds, 512 were female and 476 were males. The youths could respond using a four point scale: 1 = "disagree a lot"; 2 = "disagree a little"; 3 = "agree a little;" 4 = "agree a lot." Scale items included: "I have fun just thinking of all the things I own;" "I'd rather spend time buying things and doing almost anything else;" and "The only kind of job I want when I grow up is one that gets me lots of money."
The results include:
- More materialistic youths appeared to be more interested in TV commercials than those who were less materialistic. When asked: "Do you usually watch the commercials on TV most of the time or do you skip over them with a remote control?" 68% of the youths in the upper quartile reported that they were likely to watch the commercials, compared to (the still relatively high) 54% of those in the lowest quartile.
- When asked: "Do you ask your parents to buy a product because you have seen it on TV?" a significantly higher percentage (77%) of the most materialistic youths answered "yes" as compared to 50% of the least materialistic youth.
- A greater percentage of the most materialistic youths (22% of those in the upper quartile vs. 14% in the lower quartile) reported that they had answered appeals in TV commercials that provided a telephone number to purchase a product.
- More materialistic youths appeared to be more influenced by in-store promotions than did less materialistic youths. A higher percentage of youths in the upper vs. lower quartile of the YMS measure (29% vs. 17%) indicated that they always talked to their parents about, or pointed to, signs/ads on shelves.
- The most materialistic youths were less likely to have a savings account (probably in their eagerness to spend whatever money they had, notes Goldberg) than the least materialistic youths (45% vs. 59%).
- Parents who are more materialistic tend to have children who are more materialistic.
Goldberg authored the study with Laura Peracchio of the University of
Wisconsin; Gerald J. Gorn of Hong Kong University of Science & Technology;
and Gary Bamossy of the University of Utah.