Advertisers Need to Understand the Mindset of Preschoolers

Even though every person, at one point, was three years old, it's difficult to remember that specific mindset as an adult. Yet this viewpoint is an important consideration when marketing a product or introducing a TV series to this young age group, says Stacey Matthias of market research agency Insight Kids. "If they can't understand it, then they can't enjoy it, or their attention drifts."  According to Matthias, there are several key components that companies and brands must remember in order to effectively reach 3–5‑year-olds:

Simplicity: Preschoolers don't understand sarcasm or subtle humor. They also don't understand "film language," such as fade-​outs and fade-​ins as representing a passage of time.  Preschoolers tend to respond better visually than auditorially, though music in particular aids in recall, she says.

Relatable: Preschoolers tend to relate to one of three scenarios in entertainment programs and advertising:

  • Peer-​to-​peer: A friendship with someone
    at the same level of development.
  • Nurturer: They are being taken care of.
  • Nurtured: They are taking care of someone.

Preschoolers relate to all three situations, but the theme must remain constant. A series, for instance, can't shift from peer to being nurtured without confusing the child.Matthias also points out that the most successful preschool properties tend to have no more than three main characters. Again, it's about simplicity.

Beneficial: U.S. parents prefer the property or message provide some educational benefit. The educational value is less critical to those living outside the U.S.

Safe: With the majority of preschool efforts simultaneously reaching the parents as well, brands and marketers must also take the parent's needs into consideration. These "gatekeepers" tend to enact a "one strike and you're out policy" with anything reaching their preschooler, says Matthias. "If something turns mom off, she is likely to ban or avoid that [product] for a long time."

In order to remain in the gatekeeper's good graces, any references or images that can scare a child should be avoided, Mathias says.

Secondly, she advises companies avoid modeling dangerous behavior, even via animation. "Mom doesn't want to see someone jumping off a high building, because her kid will try that."

Lastly, Matthias says companies should avoid depicting characters with "fresh attitudes," such as characters using vulgar language, which can be easily mimicked. Even if it's integrated into a moral lesson, preschoolers tend only to remember the bad parts, she says.

However, while marketers need to consider the parent's protective nature, they shouldn't try to entertain them, says Anne Mullen of Nickelodeon.  To parents constantly telling her that they hate her shows, she replies that they should, since it's not for them.

[Source:  Understanding The Preschooler Mindset: How The Youngest Demo Connects With Marketing Pitches.  Youth Markets Alert. 1 Apr. 2010.  (via EPM Communications: Youth Markets Alert, Apr. 2010.)]