Selling online to children – a different approach to creating websites for kids and parents

Illustration by Bhakti Chande

Recently we have been handed several kids targeted website projects and its been quite a different experience.  A lot of things you take for granted marketing to adults go out of the window. Colors, fonts, simplicity of messages etc all have to be different. Not to mention the constant care you have to take about appropriateness, regulations and security. Children are a target audience with whom you cannot afford to take chances. Some learning from our experience below. For the sake of this post we shall assume children to be from 8 to 15 year old with access to the Internet.

Parents and children are a combined package – you cannot target one without the other.

Parents are the most powerful influencers in a child’s life and vice versa. Selling anything to children/parents need a two level approval process. If the parent likes it but the kids does not, its a loss. Similarly if the parent vetoes it then its a loss. Smart marketing especially online websites  have to appeal to both parents and kids.  There are tons of literature talking about selling to kids/parents but online the rules change a bit from the conventional wisdom.

Who is the primary influencer and who is the secondary influencer, that will affect the design and marketing approach.

Unlike the physical world online its difficult to acertain whether your website will be seen by kids first or by parents. Depending on the product you can guess who is the ‘primary influencer’. E.g. Games will always be kids first, while food products most probably will be parents landing on the site first. This means your website will have to target one and also support others interest. You need to find a balance which will appeal to both but slightly skewed to the decision maker. 

The two examples below roughly illustrate this point

Toys/ Games – Primary is kids, secondary is Parent. Site design/ images  to appeal to kids but sufficient information for parents to allow the purchase decision i.e safety issues, price etc. Design words: Colourful, exciting, visual, visceral, informative.

Food/ Nutritional items – Primary is parent and secondary is kids. Site / design to appeal to parents and address their primary concerns such as nutritional value, manufacturing process, ingredients etc. But also have a visual appeal which will prevent the kid from opposing it.  Design Words: Informative, visual, colourful, exciting, visceral.

The priority of the site changes with the target – Parent or child.

 Children don’t pickup concepts and ideas, they need a more visceral, emotional experience for decision making.

If a site talks about a chocolate and how it is made with the finest ingredients and is tasty and healthy – to the kids its just blah, blah blah. Show a melting chocolate dripping with gooey yummy chocolate flavours which makes the mouth water than you have him/her.

Children understand things at a very visceral primal level. They are emotional creatures not spoilt by the cold logic which adults use. If your primary influencer is a kid then fire your copywriter and instead just fill the site with photos and images. Let the kids convince the parent. Just give enough information to allow the parent to feel safe about the choice.

This entire point is vice versa for parents.

Don’t treat children like idiots – they are much more sophisticated then we give them credit for.

Don’t talk down to them. Don’t try to fool them. Don’t underestimate them. Treat them as any other customer – a sophisticated decision maker. They will reward you with a lifetime of loyalty if you honor and respect them. Some people create kids sites that are so kiddish that even kids are ashamed to use them.

 Be very aware of the laws and ensure that your site is complaint with all rules and regulations for kids sites.

Each country and region have laws and regulation for the protection of children online and the penalties are severe if they are not followed, both legally and for brand image too. Lack of knowledge or unintentional rule breaking will not stand when kids are involved. If possible hire consultants and lawyers to ensure that your site is compliant and adheres to all child safety laws.

Things you need to be aware of are:

  • There is a limit to information you can safely ask from a child. Know what that limit is.
  • Kids cannot be exposed to other adults on the site without parental supervision.
  • Kids must never be exposed to bad language or any adult content accidentally or otherwise.
  • Text chats, video chats and other interactive forums need to be child proofed.
  • Payments must be made by parents only. Ensure a mechanism to ensure this.

I won’t go into the design aspects of a kids sites as that is very common sense. Kids get bored easily, like colors etc. That’s intuitive stuff.  Above all make sure that the site is fun for both the parents and the kids.

Cheers and be safe,
Ron

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