Magazine article Marketing

News Analysis: Back-Seat Drivers

Magazine article Marketing

News Analysis: Back-Seat Drivers

Article excerpt

Car manufacturers are responding to the growing influence of children on buying decisions. Ben Bold reports.

For parents who have taken long car journeys, the words 'Are we there yet?' are no doubt familiar. That such a seemingly innocuous question can result in a stress-filled box on wheels is testament to the need for the perfect family car.

To this end, Honda this month launched a brochure aimed at children, asking them what a perfect car would be able to do. The answer from 43% of the 400 responding kids was 'fly'.

Flying may still be some way off, but there is no doubt that family cars are being reinvented to reflect the demands of their smallest and most vocal passengers. The advent in the past decade of the people carrier, or multi-purpose vehicle (MPV), with flexible interiors and features such as DVD players and PlayStations, was a clear attempt by manufacturers to make the family car journey a more enjoyable experience.

The MPV sector is expanding rapidly - it has grown by 16.4% in the past 12 months, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders - and has become one of the most competitive sectors of the car market.

For this reason manufacturers have adopted a new marketing approach: communicating directly with children in the hope that they will influence their parents.

Ford's tie-up with this year's Thunderbirds film targeted kids, as well as adults who remembered the original series. Ford also invited families to Woburn Safari Park so that adults could test-drive the Focus C-MAX while their children were taken on rides.

Entertainment value

Honda has gone a step further, producing material that targets children specifically to promote the FR-V, its first MPV. As well as cinema ads before family films such as The Incredibles, the company produced a brochure featuring comic strips and a design-your-own Honda section to occupy children while their parents test-drive cars (Marketing, 8 December). Part of its website has also been designed to entertain children.

'The reality is that when parents walk into the showroom, their children are likely to make the decision,' says Honda marketing chief Simon Thompson.

He argues that their influence is usually negative: if they don't like the car or the showroom environment, they will say 'no'; if they say 'yes', they are confirming their parents' decision.

Volkswagen has also found ways to communicate with children. For last year's launch of the Touran MPV, the company devised a promotion encouraging children to crawl into vehicles in showrooms and find furry characters hidden in the model's 39 cubby-holes. …

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