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Dr. Matt Lapierre, UNC Wilmington - Marketing to Kids

There's a wide array of kid's products and videos claiming to be educational.

Matt Lapierre, assistant professor of communications at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, examines the effectiveness of marketing in spite of the lack of observable results.

Matt Lapierre is an assistant professor of communication studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. His research focuses on how media affects the lives of young children and families with a particular focus on the role that marketing communication plays on children’s health and well-being. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania.

About Dr. Lapierre

UNCW Communication Studies Department

Dr. Matt Lapierre - Marketing to Kids

Chances are, if you or someone close to you has had a child in last decade, you are acquainted with ‘baby’ videos.  For those who are unfamiliar with them, they are often sold with brand names such as “Baby Einstein” or “Baby IQ”, with most recent estimates showing that nearly two-thirds of American homes with young children own at least one of them. Yet, there is little available evidence to suggest that children under 3 learn from watching these videos.

In particular, the makers of these videos have come under fire for the way that the videos are marketed. With their suggestive titles and vague product claims (for example, ‘this video will inspire language learning’), child advocates have claimed that these tactics unfairly play on the hopes of parents.

Working with my friend Sarah Vaala, we wanted to test whether certain types of marketing cues affected the average American parent. In our experiment, we asked parents to evaluate a brand new video. Specifically, we wanted to see if parents thought that the video would teach their infants or toddlers and if the parent would be interested in buying the video for their child. However, parents did not all see the same video cover.

In one of our experimental manipulations one half of the parents in the study saw a video with the brand name ‘Lil’ Genius’ while the other half saw a video named ‘Lil’ Munchkins. While nothing else about the packages were different, parents who saw the Lil’ Genius box were more likely to say that their child would learn from watching the video. 

Furthermore, we tested the specificity of the marketing claims used with the product as one half of parents saw a cover that said their child would learn versus another half who saw a claims stating that their child would be inspired. In fact, we found that parents were not careful readers of product claims, as parents who saw the less explicit claim were just as likely to think the product was educational as those who saw the explicit claim. 

Since this is the first study to investigate the impact these marketing strategies have on parents, more research is necessary. However, our research does suggest that parents are eager to see educational gains for their children when the research so far, has shown there are none.

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