Online Marketing to Children – A Christmas Story

I was once asked why I would want to take a vacation in January – after all, with the long holiday (Christmas) weekend, I should already be relaxed.  My reply… “You don’t have kids, do you?”

For parents (and grandparents I imagine), the annual chaos often begins sometime in November as the kids start realizing that Christmas is near and begin the all-too-familiar “I want that..” chanting and pleading.

Thanks to the Internet, this year was wonderfully different.  But before I divulge my family’s 2006 successes, I’ll share with you our typical 7-step program that greets my home each Christmas season:

  1. Long wish lists filled with odd spellings, strangely named toys, and dozens of scribbles and hash marks as your child attempts to write down the toy that they must have this year. 
  2. Spending countless hours attempting to decipher the language apparently only known to avid Nickelodeon, Disney, and random video game fans.
  3. Outsmarting your child by asking her to vocalize the list to make sure Santa knows what to get – then laughing out loud when her words match the writing precisely – impossible to understand.
  4. Embarrassing yourself while trying to mimic the indecipherable words your child mumbled earlier to the young toy store clerk – and feeling some relief when the clerk thinks he understands what you need.
  5. At least 2-dozen return trips to the toy store when faced with the real possibility that the clerk steered you in the wrong direction.    
  6. Watching intently Christmas morning – praying you bought and wrapped the right item, chose the right color, and picked up the right type of batteries.
  7. Either rejoicing that you made it through the pandemonium successfully or lecturing your child about how Santa can’t get everything right all the time.

This year was entirely different thanks to a moderate amount of television advertising and my kids’ proclivity for the Internet (with a dad who works, eats, and sleeps Search marketing, and a mom who does SEM consulting and a WHOLE LOT of shopping online – our children are bound to pick some things up).

So as a father of four, I felt proud sitting back and watching my six and eight year old children excitedly enter the world of Internet marketing in order to produce our family’s new 2006 hi-tech, low-stress 7-step Christmas experience, as shown below: 

  1. See a commercial on television for an item they want.
  2. Google the item to find who makes it, where to get it, and the age appropriateness (mom’s instructions) of each item.  
  3. Visit several targeted sites (mostly toysrus.com. Walmart.com, ebay.com) for prices and additional information, as well as locate similar items.
  4. Compile a Christmas wish list, sorted by level of desire (#1 being the most wanted gift), and including item number, preferred color, and prices from various sites.  No changes allowed after December 8th.  After all, Santa has to have some time to complete his planning.
  5. Help younger siblings find their desired toys as well and compile their lists.
  6. Print out all lists and help mom and dad create an envelope to mail to Santa (Yes, we know you can email Santa, but it’s just not the same).
  7. Since the mayhem is a thing of the past, the kids can spend time tracking Santa through NORADsanta.org, while mom and dad track dozens of packages from various stores.  Oh yeah – and send a thank you note to the Google Shopping Cart guys for giving us $20 off of just about every purchase we made this season. 

Not to say Christmas is now void of busy days, headaches, and exhaustion – after all, we still have to prepare for multiple family gatherings over a 3-day span; but at least Christmas morning is more relaxing and enjoyable – knowing that the toy inside the wrapping is exactly what they asked for.

As for business, I couldn’t help but make this fun family topic work related  – but it made me realize that there is still much work to be done on the Internet, so after watching these events unfold this season, I built a small list of recommendations for clients – of which I’ll share some with you.

First let me say that many of these recommendations are valid for all sites – not just those that market to children.  Not even just to ecommerce.

But if kids are part of your market, you should realize that many of them are online, preparing parents for eventual purchases.  So talk to your kids, go visit your nieces and nephews, or see if your grandkids can come over for the day – then learn how they use the Internet (parental controls in place of course).  Your findings probably won’t surprise you, but it may at least make you look at your online marketing plan a bit differently.

My recommendations:

  1. Think about your 5 – 10 year old online visitors when you build/redesign your site. 
    • It’s all about simplicity.  Watch how a young child reads a book or puts together a puzzle.  Think simple navigation, simple search tools, mixed text and imagery.
    • Your site doesn’t have to be a cartoon for kids to ‘get it’.  They just need to be able to easily find what they’re looking for.
  2. Don’t forget those misspelled words.  Even adults have a hard time spelling – it’s usually more frequent for small children.  Don’t reserve this just for pay-per-click – you should also incorporate misspellings in you internal search tool.  If a child happens upon your site and misspells the toy – it behooves you to have the tool find the matched toy anyway.
  3. Kids truly do not know the difference between paid ads and organic.  If you’re marketing to kids, PPC will likely be the most effective form of traffic generation as they will typically click on the first related ads they see.
  4. Make product information easily accessible. Price, item number, color, and other product options.  Because the child won’t be purchasing the item, but rather handing the information off to a parent or guardian, it’s critical for this information to be readily available. 
  5. Offer additional (similar) products on the product page – Kids will often look at one toy, see a similar one (or maybe another piece to a set) and expand their list accordingly.

If children aren’t part of your audience – I suggest you pay attention to the above recommendations anyway.  You might be surprised at how much help your average visitor needs to find what they’re looking for. 

As for my family, I’ll keep teaching the kids advanced search tactics and pointing them to the sites that make shopping easy and fun.  One day, maybe they’ll even make dad proud by becoming SEM experts and helping change the way we all look at marketing.