American Families Increasingly Let Kids Make Buying Decisions

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Breakfast is the most important meal of the day — so why are you letting your kid pick what you’ll eat? A new study from the NPD Group shows that parents defer to their children about a third of the time when it comes to deciding what to eat for breakfast, and about a quarter of the time for lunch. (The family members who are old enough to bring home the bacon are still the ones calling the shots on dinner, with only 3% of kids dictating that menu.) The mealtime surrender is just one more way parents are increasingly letting their children dictate what they buy, and it’s got marketers scrambling. 

NPD advises companies, “By understanding who controls the meal… you can more effectively target your audience.”

According to a study conducted last year by Viacom’s Nickelodeon, kids pick what to eat 85% of the time at fast-food visits. (Maybe that’s why those apple slices haven’t been selling like, well, hotcakes infused with syrup and wrapped around eggs, cheese, and a sausage patty.)

Food manufacturers seem to have gotten the message: Market research firm Packaged Facts says in a new report that it expects breakfast versions of “popular indulgent” dessert items like cookies and pies in flavors like chocolate to become more popular. Breakfast cookies are obviously a kid-friendly concept, but these new versions also aim to please parents with better nutritional content.

It’s not just food choices that kids are dictating — or at least voting on. “Decision-making within families today is almost entirely collaborative – and as kids become more influential, they’re impacting purchasing decisions,” Christian Kurz, vice president of research at Viacom International Media Networks wrote on Viacom’s blog last year after Nickelodeon conducted its study. Kids also help pick clothes, shoes, and where their families go on vacation.

(MORE: Parent Holiday Conundrum: How to Walk the Fine Line Between Treating and Spoiling Your Kids)

The Nickelodeon study found that family decision-making in general is more inclusive these days; more than half of parents seek their kids’ input, and just under half say their family discusses and decides major decisions together.

This effect is more pronounced when dollars are at stake — 71% of parents say they solicit opinions from their kids regarding purchases. Nearly all let the kids weigh in when what’s being bought is mainly for the kids themselves, but more than two-thirds of parents take their kids’ views into consideration when making family purchases.

Kids even get a say when the purchase is something they won’t directly use. Nearly three out of five parents consult with their kids before they buy a car — an increase of almost 20 percentage points in just three years. “We discovered some adults let their kids pick out the luxury cars that they buy,” Lexus general manager Mark Templin told Advertising Age.

The Nickelodeon study found a similar trend: More than a quarter of parents ask their kids for advice or input before buying stuff for themselves.

The temptation here might be to spout off about indulgent American parents, but it turns out that giving deference to the smallest members of the household is a global phenomenon, studies from IsraelIndia and the Philippines show.

So we’re eating cookies for breakfast and letting kids who can’t even see over the steering wheel pick out our new SUV — and marketers are encouraging this trend because there’s big money at stake. Last year, ad agency Digitas reported that kids have $1.2 trillion in buying power a year.

Digitas says families are acting more like democracies in general. “We’re treating our kids more like adults than ever before,” the company said in a report about the findings. When its researchers interviewed a panel of 10-to-13-year-olds, they found that kids today are tech-savvy and demanding: All of the kids either had a cell phone or knew when they’d be getting their own. (Nickelodeon found that about half of kids get a say on what cell phone they get.)

“What we’re seeing over time is that they’re showing preference for adult things,” Digitas says. “We believe that we’ll see fewer multi-brands, and more mega- brands.” It starts young: Nielsen found that half of 6- to 12-year olds wanted a full-sized iPad for the holidays last year — and over a third wanted an iPad Mini.

(MORE: Worst. Gift. Ever. The 6 Kinds of Presents You Should Never Give)

The popularity of iPads among kids still young enough to play with crayons is illustrative of a broader trend, and explains why companies are so eager to get in kids’ good graces. A smaller concentration of brands makes the stakes even higher. “Given the power of kids’ influence over purchasing decisions, marketers would be remiss to exclude kids from their messaging and branding,” Kurz says. Companies love when parents hand over the purchasing reins to their kids because that’s money in the bank today and a down payment on the next generation of customers.

25 comments
Colleen McGovern
Colleen McGovern

Yes I do, let them choose the breakfast to the clothes to the vacation to the car even. They succeed in sports, school and are very social. We have a very peaceful household. They also have healthy choices. and lets face it, at least the clothes are being worn and not at the bottom of the closet. That is being a kid and thats me knowing whats important in life. I spent over 25 years be attentive, 5 more years and then maybe I can choose my own vacation. lol.

Philip Henz
Philip Henz

long time Daisy....how are you doing over there?

Philip Henz
Philip Henz

Caresse you are right but its all about individual differences....How are you doing?

Daisy Fung
Daisy Fung

depends on how you describe an adult. if by adult mean they should learn about responsibility, respect, honor, value of money and family, then yes.

Animelee
Animelee

@OfficialSGP NO! Guided, sheltered decisions, yes. Kids need explanations for reality: history, data, and stats. Kids need structure.

Thomas Fox
Thomas Fox

I think the world is going to end...

Elyas Saeed
Elyas Saeed

Yes- I'm a kid. I know PEGI and what's G, PG and blabla.

Rikka Lisa Marie Seibert
Rikka Lisa Marie Seibert

I really think it depends on the curiosity, maturity and desire of the child. If parents have one child that wants to know all of the adult type stuff, it should be introduced though balanced with kid things too. Another child may have no desire so basic introduction and responsibilities designed for who they are can be introduced. I think it is all up to the parents and the unique personalities they identify in their own children. We can try to grow them at graduated paces but sometimes you just get a child who functions mentally at a very mature level and the job of a parent really should be to grow the unique individual in each child...

Nicholas Wilson
Nicholas Wilson

Ok Bonnie, Your kids can just work for mine. As they will developed critical thinking, balancing a budget, learning how to have minor mistakes managing small amounts of money way before your kids will be. My children will need a work force. =)

Amy Wang
Amy Wang

Good thing for marketers, more focus on targeting

Caresse Imon-Dabian
Caresse Imon-Dabian

True but wrong.... Kids are not adults... everything has an appointed time... so kids should not have any opinion in matters such as buying a car. Kids don't realize that all comes with a high price. And by the time parents wants the child to listen to them, it's too late coz children are used to voice their opinion......

Eric Lin
Eric Lin

That's not the way it goes in my family.

Joe Kloos
Joe Kloos

That would depend on the kid making the decision.

gmPsychologists
gmPsychologists

@APA Ours is a kid-centric culture. Adults seem to be abdicating. What's wrong with this picture?

rjsigmund
rjsigmund

i'm 65, & i always had a choice of several options for breakfast & lunch (cept sundays, when my father made breakfast...