From the bottom up – the new pester power for good

Researcher Rebekah Yock is seeing a new type of pester power which presents a huge opportunity for brands. Unlike the pester power we’ve known before, children in 2019 are lobbying their parents to make more environmentally friendly and socially impactful purchases.

Rebekah Yock 150 BWWhen it comes to decision-making in the home, children aren’t the household shoppers of the future – they’re the household shoppers of the now. 

In 2019, children are ‘pestering’ for change and parents are listening. This isn’t pester power as we’ve known it for generations gone by, this is progressive and positive pester power. 

I recently interviewed a mum of a 15-year-old boy who told me her son wanted to be a vegetarian because it was more sustainable. She was nervous cooking vegetarian food as it was out of her comfort zone, but she was also willing to give it a go. Then there’s the dad who reluctantly stopped buying his favourite chocolate biscuit because his daughter has banned all brands using palm oil from the house. 

This wasn’t the first time I’d seen kids having a real say in what their families ate and the types of products they bought, from a health perspective to a more sustainable one – ‘we need to buy recycled toilet paper because she’s worried about the koalas’.

To win over grocery buyers, brands today need to also win over their children and the reason the kids of Australia have such sway is a result of their environmental awareness. Many parents feel their kids are better informed than they are, so they’re prepared to take their lead. There’s also the very real uncertainty parents fear for their children in the age of climate change and a desire to do anything to help protect their futures. 

There’s an extra factor at work here that brands can tap into – the natural optimism and enthusiasm of kids. While adults feel overwhelmed by the problem, or cynical about how much change they can affect, often resulting in inertia, children are more positive and can drive action as a result. 

This difference in attitudes was made clear in 2017 when New Zealand brand Ecostore launched a campaign asking children and adults to picture the future. The TVC showed two large-scale murals being created to bring the adults’ and children’s visions to life. 

The adults imagined pollution, sickness, fewer forests and chaos. The kids imagined more space for animals and people, new exotic fruits, floating cities, friendly robots and tree houses. Brands need to harness this energy and optimism to get adults to come on the journey. 

For this to happen, researchers have a responsibility to include children in the conversation. We need to be talking to more family groups and conducting more in-home ethnography to give brands the complete picture. It’s also useful to understand what kids are doing at school as this information is coming straight back into the home. 

Since kids are often driving the purchase of environmentally friendly products, there is potential for brands to make the most of this this either via sustainable initiatives or affiliations with environmental causes. Kids want to avoid palm oil if it means they’re saving Orang Utan habitats. Mums want to make vegetarian food, but it still has to be kid friendly.  

A great example that speaks to this dual audience is Iceland’s repackaging a short film by Greenpeace showing the destruction of rainforest. Told in the style of a children’s story, the film was backed up by Iceland’s commitment to removing palm oil from all of its brand products. 

It was powerful and moving for children and adults alike ending on a call to action – ‘the future’s not yet written but I’ll make sure it is ours’. 

Although the ad was banned for being too political (because it was originally made by Greenpeace) it got traction. To date, it has more than six million views on Iceland Foods’ YouTube channel and a petition on change.org to allow the ad to be aired on TV has a million signatures. 

Caring for the environment is serious business but that doesn’t mean marketing sustainability to families can’t also be fun and playful. Who gives a Crap is a great example of a sustainable brand that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The toilet paper brand’s recent limited edition rolls are designed to be mixed and matched to create fun characters, arriving in a box that can be turned into a toilet paper theatre. The accompanying text encourages productions of Romeo and Pooliet while reminding people that the really fun part is saving trees and helping build toilets for 2.3 billion people in need. 

Children may not control the purse strings, but they are inheriting a compromised planet. For this reason, theirs is a persuasive argument in the home than can help to affect real change. Brands and researchers need to get much better at listening to it. 

Rebekah Yock is a senior director for The Source Insight, an M&C Saatchi Group company

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Image credit: Ryan Franco