SBJ/September 13 - 19, 2004/SBJ In Depth

Research needed to keep up with savvy youngsters

As important a demographic as they are, kids and teenagers are just one segment of the mass audience teams have to reach.

Sports Illustrated for Kids runs focus groups at schools to gain feedback.
So what can be learned from marketers whose entire audience is the under-18 set?

For one thing: Even if kids are your sole focus, it takes continuous research to monitor their tastes and consumption habits.

Sports Illustrated for Kids carefully measures how children consume its editorial and advertising, and conducts regular focus groups and online surveys, said David Watt, the magazine’s publisher.

Watt said the online surveys — the magazine posts about 10 per year — query SI for Kids readers and non-readers about their intent to purchase advertisers’ products, a tack team marketers could easily replicate to provide valuable data to sponsors.

SI for Kids runs focus groups at schools; the magazine trades subscriptions in exchange for access to students. “That’s where our editors get the most rich information about the magazine because they can share ideas with the kids and get direct, one-to-one feedback,” Watt said.

Despite the popularity of action sports, the bulk of SI for Kids’ readers remain interested in more traditional sports. “The older segment tends to become more interested in [action sports] and the personalities around that,” Watt said. “But I don’t think they move away from [team sports]. It’s just that as they get older, they become more sophisticated and more aware of sports beyond them.”

Marketers at Reebok International also are finding that kids are savvier consumers, and at even younger ages, than they were just a few years ago. “We used to say, seven or eight years ago, that parents [generally] made purchase decisions for kids who were 7 and younger,” said Matt Feiner, vice president of kids’ global footwear. “Today, we could say it’s only for kids who are 4 or 5 and younger.”

To attract those youngsters, Reebok markets kids-only styles, creates kid-targeted retail displays and steals a few tricks from kids’ breakfast cereals.

“We’ve definitely found that a gift with purchase works,” Feiner said. “Kids will look at shoes they like, and the mother or father lets them choose between three pairs. A lot of times, we think the [gift] helps seal the deal in our favor.”

“With so many shoes on the wall and price compression in the industry, we put a lot of emphasis on the product, whether it’s including two laces instead of one or the gift with purchase. You can’t just rely on a strong brand.”

Gifts have included sequined bracelets for girls as well as carabiners, metal hooks often used on mountain climbing ropes but used by kids as keychains.

Feiner said Reebok tries to mirror its kid-targeted advertising with retail displays to help young kids make the connection from TV spots to the product in stores. Sales at stores with those displays consistently outstrip sales at merchants without them, he said.

Sean Brenner is a writer in Chicago.

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Related Topics:

Reebok, In-Depth, Sports Illustrated

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