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Why Sustainability Messaging Should be Directed at Children

3p is proud to partner with the Presidio Graduate School’s Managerial Marketing course on a blogging series about “sustainable marketing.” This post is part of that series. To follow along, please click here.

-If the use of sustainable products is to grow, marketers should be aiming their messages at kids.

By John Brydon

If you’ve ever tried to convince a parent that they should change their behavior for the sake of the environment, I’ll bet your experience is like mine. Unless you can show them they will keep money in their pocket, it usually doesn’t work. Adults don’t like it when their behaviors and values are challenged by others. But, if their kids pitch the exact same idea, they will listen.

This is why marketing efforts should be aimed at children. They have the power to influence buying decisions by tugging at the heartstrings of their parents. Speaking from experience, my boys have a way of getting me to purchase items I normally wouldn’t buy if they were not with me. Sometimes I fall for their innocent pleas, other times it’s just to get them off my back. Either way, they can work me.

Here’s where targeting this marketing can be powerful. If children are attracted to sustainable products, their parents are more likely to buy them. And they will continue to buy them even at a premium price.

Numerous studies show that brand loyalty is developed early in life. Sustainable producers need to take advantage of this fact. Branding (or rebranding) a product’s image towards kids has the potential to change the buying habits of parents which should carry through to their children.

It may appear to be a formidable challenge to competitively market sustainable products. Most producers of these goods are small companies and organizations (i.e. CSAs) lacking the financial resources to mount robust marketing campaigns. For those running your business out of your garage, don’t give up hope. Take a look at the challenges that the tobacco companies have faced and overcome.

-What we can learn from Big Tobacco.

Through legislation in the U.S., tobacco companies have been banned from almost every from of advertising. But, according to health officials, as reported on Washington Post,  each day, 4,000 children younger than 18 try cigarettes for the first time and 1,000 of them become lifelong smokers.  No TV, no radio, no more sponsoring sporting and entertainment events, yet the tobacco companies are still able to send a message that smoking is cool to the tune of 365,000 new, lifelong customers per year. How did they do it?

Joe Camel

Over and over, this one image of a hip, smoking camel was pointed to as evidence that tobacco companies were marketing to teens. If you believe that a cartoon can influence kids to try cigarettes, why can’t a picture of a dancing strawberry get them to buy organic produce?

So forget the earthy, eco-consciences images. Imitate what sells. Walk down the cereal aisle. Look at the colors. Think Tony the Tiger and Captain Crunch. They sell cereal most parents don’t really want to buy. Tour the local supermarket, and then get out your crayons. You just may tap a market you can hold for generations.

[Image credit: ecastro, Flickr]

Want to learn more about Presidio and this project? Click here.

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