The Mobile Toddler

He doesn’t have a job or any money. He can’t tie his own shoes, count past 10 or spell his name. But he’s fast becoming a coveted consumer. That’s because my youngest son, not yet three years old, is pretty adept at using the iPad and iPhone. Flipping through my wife’s photos, playing Air Hockey or testing his still unrefined driving skills on VW Real Racing GTI will keep him engaged for long stretches.

And he’s not alone.

The digital dependence of kids has escalated every year. They are entranced by a screen, seamlessly bouncing from iPad to Xbox to the desktop, back to the iPad, glance at the TV and over to the mobile phone, never missing a beat. Forget for a second any negative impact on their cognitive ability or a diminished attention span. This is the reality and it will become more pronounced as these kids age. An increasingly younger audience is influencing the digital revolution. Thirty-seven percent of U.S. children between 4 and 5 years-old use a device like the iPad or smartphone. That number jumps to 47% for those 12 to 14 years-old.

What about permission from their parents? They’re the ones indoctrinating them. As a Mom Central Consulting study tells us, “39% of US mothers who use the internet have a mobile phone that they pass on to their children to keep them engaged during a car trip. Only the Nintendo DS and the car DVD player or video were used more often to keep kids engaged during car travel.”

That presents a much-needed avenue for youth marketers who have been shut out of more conventional routes.

Online engagement is one of the last arenas in which youth marketers can get truly creative. Kids aren’t spending a lot of time with print magazines. While the average adult is exposed to 22 minutes of ads per hour of TV, the FCC limits it to 10.5 minutes on weekend children’s shows. And forget about product placement on kids’ shows. The FCC is guarding that gate, as well. So marketers are creating immersive experiences for their young audience. An audience that bores easily.

The Wall Street Journal offered an interesting peek into how food companies, for instance, are taking advantage of the trend. They are diving deeper into mobile marketing with apps and games like Kraft’s cause-themed “Dinner, Not Art” and Spangler Candy Company’s “Dum Dums Flick-A-Pop.” Though its corporate website shows no hint of it, J&J Snack Foods is the brand behind one of the most popular games in the App Store. “Super Pretzel Factory” was ranked as the #1 iPhone game for kids earlier this year. J&J’s “Icee Maker” is the #1 app in the App Store and has been downloaded eight million times. That’s more than brand exposure; it’s engagement, which is much more valuable and lasting.

Smart brands will continue to work closely with their developers and digital strategists to create fun, intuitive experiences that are both immersive and shareable, regardless of the age of their consumer. It’s especially important for those who may be too young to have direct purchase power but, as anyone who has kids can testify, are weighty purchase influencers. What they say matters, so what holds their attention is pretty important.

Even as we parents look to encourage childhood experiences away from the LTE network and out of WiFi range, we as marketers have an opportunity to build much more dynamic interactions with a growing audience. At some point my youngest son is going to have a job (I hope) and you better be practiced at reaching him on his terms. Sorry but I have to cut it short; my son wants to play Fruit Ninja.

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