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Author: Barrie Gunter

Brands are introduced into the lives of consumers from an early age. Even before they start school, they can recognise brand names and ask for brands by name. The meaning of brands to children can vary dramatically with age. As with other aspects of consumer socialisation, children’s initial orientation towards brands occurs at a superficial level because their level of cognitive development does not allow them to understand deeper-seated symbolic meanings of brands.

This book examines these processes and how they evolve over the different stages of childhood. It considers specific models of cognitive development and how they inform what we know about the way children engage with brands. It also examines the way brands have adopted new promotional platforms in the digital era and in consequence the ways in which they have taken on new forms that often disguise their true purpose.

While children can begin the understand the nature and purpose of advertising from well before their teen years, when advertising is less overt and more subtle – as it often is in the promotional techniques used by brands in online social media and virtual environments – this can impede a child’s ability to recognise what is going on. This book examines these phenomena and considers their implications for the future regulation of brand promotions.

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Barrie Gunter
in Kids and branding in a digital world
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Barrie Gunter

Brands ascended as advances in technology enabled mass production of goods and speedier forms of transportation over long distances so that local products could spread beyond local markets. With the triggering of mass demand came a need on the part of citizens as ‘consumers’ for more choice. More versions of individual products appeared and needed to find ways to look distinctive and appear better than their rivals and hence ‘brands’ emerged. Brands and branding have a long history but the modern era meaning of brands has evolved primarily in the last 150 years following the earliest incarnations of the mass media. This chapter examines how the nature and meaning of branding has changed and opens up a discussion about the different ways in which children get involved with brands. It presents an overview of how new forms of brand promotion have emerged that raise questions about how well equipped children are to cope with a world of marketing that permeates their lives and is not always as obvious in its appearance in the digital world as it used to be in the analogue world.

in Kids and branding in a digital world
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Barrie Gunter

This chapter examines the involvement of children with brands in more depth. It tracks the extent and nature of young consumers’ engagement with brands in the mass media era and introduces theories of cognitive development that can help us understand why children respond to brands in different ways as they progress through childhood. It examines also the debate between whether children’s psychological development can be conceived to pass through distinct ‘stages’ or whether it is a fluid process that occurs gradually and at different rates for different children? It also considers the way that children development and related brand awareness are measured and evaluates the quality of different types of research in enabling us to understand properly how this developmental process occurs.

in Kids and branding in a digital world
Barrie Gunter

This chapter builds on the previous chapter and places more emphasis on the concept of the ‘brand’ and how children become aware of it. We know that as children pass through different stages of psychological development, their abilities to understand the world in increasingly complex ways evolves. How does this knowledge of child developmental psychology translate into a model for enabling us to comprehend children’s growing awareness of brands? Research is examined that shows the extent of brand awareness at different ages and how this can be linked back to what we might expect given a child’s level of cognitive or social development. It also introduces the new phenomena or subtle or disguised forms of advertising such as product placement and the use of branded social media sites or virtual environments. How do these different forms of marketing affect children?

in Kids and branding in a digital world
Barrie Gunter

The emergence of digital communications media has transformed the marketing landscape for all consumers. Marketers have embraced many new platforms for the promotion of their brands during the 21st century. The emergence of the internet has been a critical factor here along with the dramatic rise of mobile technology and the increased computerisation of television sets. These developments have enabled marketers to establish new forms of brand marketing that often differ in their appearance from the more traditional styles of advertising in the older mass media and retail settings. The current chapter begins by examining how children respond to overt and distinctive brand marketing whereby brand messages are clearly differentiated from the non-advertising content in which they are embedded and then how this might differ from newer digital marketing forms. With traditional forms of brand promotion, what do we know about children’s consumer socialisation and how relevant is that older learning in enabling them to cope with newer forms of digital marketing?

in Kids and branding in a digital world
Barrie Gunter

The 21st century has witnessed the rapid rise of online social media. At the forefront of these developments have been popular sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Young adults and then children adopted these sites first before moving on to other even newer and more fashionable locations such as Instagram, SnapChat and others once their parents made the initial social media less trendy places to hang out. Marketing professionals have not been slow to recognise the popularity of these platforms with children and the centrality they have in young people’s lives. Marketers have quickly adopted these sites as branding locations and have even gone as far as developing their own sites. The use of online social media to promote brands to children has raised concerns about whether they are necessarily aware of the marketing use of these sites when in their outward appearance they seem like other social media sites. This chapter examines the way brands have co-opted social media technologies for branding purposes. Sometimes this activity takes the form of brands utilising established independent social media sites and on other occasions brand owners have created their own social media sites. Evidence is reviewed about how these sites can influence children’s brand awareness and opinions and even their brand choices.

in Kids and branding in a digital world
Barrie Gunter

Brands have also become embedded on online game worlds and virtual reality settings. These computer-driven worlds have created parallel forms of existence alongside the offline world. Some are based on specific games and others are online social environments, similar to social media sites, but in simulated three-dimensional settings. As with social media sites, brands have entered pre-existing virtual game worlds and created their own. These deliberately brand virtual settings nevertheless appear in many ways to be ordinary online games. Closer inspection reveals that they are permeated by brand appearances. Moreover, brands are integrated into games rather than always being set apart from them. Consumers as ‘players’ are invited to manipulate objects on screen that are covered in brand labels and logos and therefore receive rapid-repeated brand exposures. This chapter examines what is known about these initiatives specifically in the context of computer game environments and how children respond to them.

in Kids and branding in a digital world
Barrie Gunter

This chapter turns attentions to the presence of brands in online virtual worlds that take the form of social communities rather than environments in which specific games are played out. While online games provide specific settings in which a particular narrative is played out, in virtual online worlds a parallel universe is created that the individual can enter and engage with multiple narratives. Within that setting, the individual can be confronted with many different brands just as in their everyday reality and might also be invited to engage with those brands as they would in their real world. We examine examples of this type of experience and what is known about the way children behave and respond towards brands in them. Once again there are important questions about the ways children respond to brand in virtual realities and whether they can use what they learned from their real world consumer socialisation in making judgments about brands they interact with in virtual realities. How relevant are models of children’s cognitive development might help us to explain better how they respond to brands in these different online settings?

in Kids and branding in a digital world
Barrie Gunter

The growing concern about children’s pre-occupation with brands has led to calls for tighter government-backed restrictions on brand owners’ marketing activities. The appeal of digital worlds to young consumers has not gone unmissed by professional marketers. The concerns of marketing regulators around the world has grown particularly acute with the emergence of more subtle forms of branding activity in online environments that often disguise their true purpose. Until they reach a level of psychological development that approaches adulthood, children are in any case susceptible to marketing appeals. This is true even with forms of advertising that stand apart from other media content or the physical setting in which they are presented. In digital worlds, brand promotions are frequently integrated with surrounding content and form part of it. This chapter examines these concerns and considers concepts of taste, freedom of choice and harm in debating what kinds of restrictions might be placed on different brand marketing activities where children are concerned.

in Kids and branding in a digital world