In 2020, kids are encouraging their parents to give up things like their favorite chocolate spread (Nutella, anyone?) because it contains palm oil, whose plantations mean large-scale deforestation — and further global warming.
Pester power — or the “nag factor” as it’s called in U.S. literature - is the ability of children to unrelentingly request/pressurise their parents into buying the products or services, especially those that were advertised in the media.
Originally used to describe the negative influence of children in their parents’ buying habits, now it means children are asking their parents to make environmentally-friendly, socially aware and impactful purchases.
Like climate strikes and political protests that work to influence those at the top and create change at the local level by starting conversations, advertising has a responsibility and the power to inspire action and change minds on a massive scale with our outreach.
The beauty of this progressive pester power is kids’ natural optimism and enthusiasm. While adults may feel overwhelmed and nihilistic about the absolute barrage of information about climate change and environmental exploitation, and thus inert, children are more positive.
This positivity is a driving force of change, and brands need to harness this energy to get adults on-board for the journey.
Children are now “pestering” their parents for change, and the adults are starting to listen. Though the idea that pester power can be used in a positive way seems paradoxical.
Is it positive manipulation?
National Schools Partnership (NSP) Chief Executive Mark Fawcett doesn’t think so, rather that brands should encourage positive activities rather than just promoting themselves.
“There are some issues that are so important to children that it is arrogant to suggest that they shouldn’t be involved.”
For example, car marque Renault came out with Renault Tales to offer books on discount to promote reading. Its website featured a story written by famous children’s author Michael Morpurgo; Renault claimed that 75 percent of the children it targeted started reading more as a result of its campaign.
But there are some who oppose marketing to kids in its entirety. The belief is that children should be children, before being consumers and influencers, and marketing aimed at them creates pressure, which leads to depression or low self-esteem. Others argue for a more pragmatic (and responsible) approach to pester power advertising, sticking to maintaining kids’ best interests.
“Most of the things children need you can’t pay for — love, play, song, care and time.”
Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood
Evolving gender norms in the face of more global exposure via the Internet (especially around parenthood and shared responsibilities) means a new dynamic between parents and children. Parents feel like their children are better informed in some areas than they are, and are willing to take their lead, created with no little part of a fear parents feel for their children in the age of climate change and a desire to do anything to help protect their futures.
Since children are a driving force of purchasing environmentally-friendly products and services, this means a potential for businesses to make the most of this — either through sustainability initiatives or affiliating to environmental causes. If this awareness means kids avoiding palm oil to save the forest and its fauna, then brands need to find a way to make the most of this awareness, and maybe add some fun elements into it as well; they’re marketing to children, after all.
Through the new pester power, brands are trying to show that methods of marketing that were long thought of as shallow and manipulative can be used for good, and change children’s behaviour for the better. While kids might not control monetary assets and strings, they are the inheritors of a potentially severely-compromised planet.
This alone is a persuasive enough argument to help affect real change at the ground level.
Businesses just need to start listening.
Originally published on and written for Digital Odyssey.