Drive a Prius, Eat Organic? Kids Think So.
Eller College marketing researcher finds that children as young as five form stereotypes about people based on brand consumption.
TUCSON, Ariz. – APRIL 26, 2010 – Cross-promotional advertising targeted at children has exploded in the past decade, but there has been little evidence to indicate whether marketers have had any influence on the way children use products and brands to define and enact social roles.
Now a paper by UA assistant marketing professor Lan Nguyen Chaplin of the Eller College of Management and Tina M. Lowrey of the University of Texas at San Antonio sheds light on not only why material things may be so important to children (i.e., to help them define and enact social roles), but also on how children’s knowledge of product and brand symbolism can lead to stereotypes and feelings of prejudice.
“We found that children as young as five are capable of forming consumption constellations, which is a group of complementary products, brands, and consumption activities used to construct a social role,” says Chaplin. Her results indicate that across ages 5-16, early adolescents between 12 and 13 years old appear to have the most rigid and myopic view of social roles and are most likely to use products and brands to form stereotypes of others.
For example, one twelve-year-old girl in the study characterized her neighbor as a “tree hugger,” saying, “You know, vegetarian, environment lover, super smart but so laid back…wears Birkenstocks, drives a Prius, eats only organic…I bet he washes his clothes with Seventh Generation detergent.”
Chaplin and Lowrey observe little developmental change in children’s consumption constellations up until third grade, when children begin to describe social roles using products and brands that “go together” better. The most dramatic change occurs between fifth and seventh grades, when adolescents use more products and brands to describe social roles and become rigid in their definitions of those roles. For example, a fifth grader might say that some cool kids wear expensive clothes but might shop at thrift stores, too. A seventh grader is more likely to say that all cool kids always wear expensive clothes and cite brand names like Adidas or Abercrombie and Fitch. By tenth grade, these rigid definitions have eased. Tenth graders were apt to note that some cool kids are into sports while others are into theater.
“Our research reveals how diverse marketing cues are received by children, and helps parents, educators, and other concerned constituents understand how marketers’ increasingly popular cross-promotional tactics affect children’s knowledge of social roles,” explains Chaplin. “It’s important because these perceptions of social roles can lead to stereotyping and feelings of prejudice that may carry into adulthood.”The paper, “The Development of Consumer-Based Consumption Constellations in Children,” was published in the February 2010 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.
The Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona is internationally recognized for pioneering research, innovative curriculum, distinguished faculty, excellence in management information systems, entrepreneurship, and social responsibility. U.S. News & World Report ranks the Eller undergraduate program #14 among public business schools and three of its programs are among the top 20 — Entrepreneurship, MIS, and Management. U.S. News & World Report ranks the Eller MBA Full-Time program #44 in the U.S. and #21 among public business schools. The College leads the nation’s business schools in generating grant funds for research. In addition to a Full-Time MBA program, the Eller College offers an Evening MBA program and the Eller Executive MBA. The Eller College of Management supports approximately 5,700 undergraduate and 700 graduate students on the UA campus in beautiful Tucson, Arizona.
Liz Warren-Pederson, Eller College of Management
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