Get Them While They Are Still Young

Let’s be realistic here, establishing trust takes time. You can promise all you want but only time will tell a customer whether your brand really lives up to its claims and promises. However, we have found several really effective ways to create instantaneous trust between your brand and your customers. We talked in detail about one way in our first book and provided some templates and pointers on how you can do. Here, we will talk more about some of the other strategies that you can use to create instantaneous trust. One of these strategies is to use brand ambassadors. Goh Kai Kui shared about why his company uses brand ambassadors. The concept of brand ambassadors is like borrowing the reputation of a trusted person in a community to sell your products and services to their community. That is why the selection of a brand ambassador is not one to be taken lightly.

You have to be sure that the person you choose to represent your brand truly exemplifies the qualities that your brand stands for. Companies that use brand ambassadors monitor their ambassadors’ images very closely because what they do will reflect directly on the brands. Do you remember the photo scandal of American swimmer Michael Phelps? After a photo of him smoking marijuana from a pipe surfaced in the media in January 2009, his image took a hit in the eyes of one of his sponsors. In the following month, Kellogg announced that they would not be renewing his endorsement deal when it expired at the end of that month. On their decision to do so, a Kellogg spokesperson commented, “Michael’s most recent behaviour is not consistent with the image of Kellogg.”

While a brand ambassador can go a long way in helping companies establish their brand, but as we have seen from the Michael Phelps incident and in other such celebrity-endorsement-gone-wrong cases, it can sometimes backfire on the brand. Furthermore, not many companies can afford to fork out the high fees for brand ambassadors. That is why some brands have taken another route in their branding strategy. This method has been proven to be quite effective in building brand loyalty and the best part is that it doesn’t involve too much money and your efforts will be rewarded for a long time. We are talking about cultivating the younger crowd. For some companies, younger may even mean starting from the day of their birth. This has become something of a marketing trend in the fashion retail market where parents have shown that they are more than willing to fork out premium prices for branded baby products. From baby prams like the Maclaren Buggys, which have been touted as “The Ferrari of Pushchairs”, to fine baby clothing from Petit Tresor, renowned for its Hollywood clientele; nothing is too expensive when it is a brand worth paying for. Look at those giant sportswear companies. Does it make sense for them to produce baby sports shoes when the intended customers can’t even stand up on their own? They do that because it is an investment in their future paying “brand ambassadors”. And because people do buy them and we have babies who wear those shoes as well, right?

Let’s look at one example in Singapore’s context to see how a leading food company grew a generation of loyal followers for their beverage brand. Many of us have very fond memories of our school’s Sports Day. Of course the cheering and the trophies were all great, but the one common experience that ties everyone together was queuing up to get our cup of ice-cold Milo. The sight of the green Milo van parked near the field was the one thing that all kids looked forward to seeing every Sports Day. At the end of the day, the free cup of Milo translated into tins of Milo sales because the kids would go back and ask their mums to “make some Milo” for them. Were you one of them? And are you still a Milo drinker? The same goes for other kinds of food and beverage products like cereal, milk, juices, et cetera. These companies spend millions of dollars to create cartoon mascots and advertisements to market their brand to children. As American humour columnist, Emma Bombeck, remarked, “In general, my children refused to eat anything that hadn’t danced on TV.” Although we grow up to become responsible adults and switch to adult-appropriate brands. But let’s admit it, there are times when you buy a box of cereal that you used you eat when you were a kid right? And if you have children, that would be the brand that you would choose for them or recommend them to try right?

Companies understand the consumers’ need for familiarity and that is why they are willing to spend money to engage the younger generation through their branding activities. Recently, we have seen an influx of comics-, cartoons- and toys-based movies, like Transformers, GI Joe, Spiderman, Batman. And it is no coincidence that these movies turn out to be blockbusters because they were built on familiar icons that adults remember from their childhood days. People grew up with these characters so movie producers know that they have a ready fan base that they can tap into. So they get to reach out to two different target markets in one fell swoop. Children who grow up with strong icons, experiences and impressions will most probably carry them into adulthood. And then they pass these on to the next generation. Children are impressionable. They take in everything that they observe about their environment and these impressions may emerge unconsciously when they become adults. One of the most controversial and often used examples to show how brand advertising has a powerful effect on children is the “Camel Joe” cigarette campaign.

In the late 1980s, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, introduced “Old Joe”, a cartoon caricature, as their mascot for the Camel brand of cigarettes. In 1991, a report published by the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) titled Brand Logo Recognition by Children Aged 3 to 6 Years: Mickey Mouse and Old Joe the Camel, was released. In their study of 229 children aged between 3 and 6 years, it found that Old Joe had the highest recognition rate among the tested cigarette logos. More than 50 percent of the children in the study group correctly identified Old Joe with a picture of a cigarette compared with the 18 to 32.8 per cent recognition rate for other cigarette logos. In another JAMA study released that same year titled RJR Nabisco’s Cartoon Camel Promotes Camel Cigarettes to Children, the researchers wrote down the following comment:


“Our data demonstrate that in just 3 years Camel’s Old Joe cartoon character had an astounding influence on children’s smoking behaviour. The proportion of smokers under 18 years of age who choose Camels has risen from 0.5% to 32.8%. Given that children under 18 years account for 3.3% of all cigarette sales, and given a national market share of 4.4% for Camel, we compute that Camel’s adult market share is actually 3.4%. Given a current average price of 153.3 cents per pack, the illegal sale of Camel cigarettes to children under 18 years of age is estimated to have risen from $6 million per year prior to the cartoon advertisements to $476 million per year now, accounting for one quarter of all Camel sales!”


However, R. J. Reynolds has maintained, right up until today, that their Joe Camel campaign was not targeted at children and that it had been researched only among adults and directed only at smokers of other brands. And in 1994, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)—a federal agency whose mission is to promote consumer protection and prevent and eliminate anti-competitive business practices—closed their investigation on whether the company had engaged in unfair practices through its use of the Joe Camel campaign. In a statement dismissing the case, the FTC commented, “Although it may seem intuitive to some that the Joe Camel advertising campaign would lead more children to smoke or lead children to smoke more, the evidence to support that intuition is not there.”

            We are highlighting these different branding case studies to show you the potential of this often ignored target market. However, we want to caution you against marketing aggressively to children only, especially if your products are not meant for them. And we certainly don’t condone companies whose products are not meant for children to be targeting children. But if your products and services can enhance the lives of children, then this is probably one target market that you may want to consider marketing to. As in all matters in life, you need to use good judgement and act with integrity.