For Kids, TV Takes A Backseat To Gaming

Editor’s note: Brian Fitzgerald is the president and co-founder of Evolve Media.

Move over, millennials, kids are once again the top priority for marketers. Thanks to a confluence of factors, children have become the most valuable consumer segment of all.

As a father, I can tell you that my kids dictate the majority of our household purchasing decisions. Since children influence how the family budget is spent, they’re prime targets for TV advertisers. But in the last couple of years we’ve seen a fundamental shift in children’s media consumption habits. Online gaming on tablets and smartphones have taken over as the ultimate first screen for connecting with kids.

Marketers need to start thinking differently about how to develop relationships with this critical young audience. They can start by looking to the independent publishers who create child-safe, rich media environments.

Today’s Kids and Tweens Are True Digital Natives

Kids nowadays will never experience life without smartphones and the Internet. Many of them become tech savvy before they can walk: 29 percent of children start using mobile devices as toddlers, with an impressive 70 percent mastering them completely by elementary school age.

Moreover, parents are more likely to own smart mobile devices. Nearly 70 percent of parents have a smartphone, while 44 percent have a tablet. Compare that with 47 percent of non-parents who own a smartphone and 29 percent who have a tablet. These figures probably don’t come as a surprise to parents, who often rely on tablets and smartphones to explore entertaining and educational content with their children.

Not only are these “digital natives” adept at using computers and mobile devices at a young age, but there is also a wealth of digital content geared especially toward them.

Kids are the Key to Long-Term Brand Loyalty

third of American parents believe their kids are “extremely influential” on household spending. Kids determine spending on everything from big-ticket items like vacations, to smaller things like personal care products and breakfast cereals.

Reaching kids can be more effective than marketing to teens and young adults, who tend to be more jaded. Children internalize brands early, so it’s not surprising that the brands we’re loyal to as adults are often the ones we developed an attachment to early in life.

Savvy marketers understand the power of “kidfluence,” but their tactics are outdated. Members of this coveted demographic – kids and tweens aged 6 to 12 – are no longer entranced by passive entertainment like TV.

When adults or teens live tweet while watching TV, their smartphones function as companion devices. But for kids, playing games is the ultimate first-screen activity; everything else is secondary. While there’s been a lot of talk of kids second-screening, there’s a misguided assumption that the television still reigns supreme.

The problem with television is that it’s a passive experience. Kids can pause it, mute it or simply ignore it. Compared to other options, children don’t find TV as compelling as they used to. When children consume content on multiple devices, TV is relegated to the second or third screen, so much of the advertising geared toward kids ends up as background noise.

Games, however, are dynamic and they require active participation, reducing the likelihood of multitasking. For kids and tweens who seek active entertainment (rather than reaching for the remote), online games are the most exciting content available today. Such a high level of engagement offers brands a desirable opportunity to integrate marketing into gameplay.

Video-based ads – whether they run pre-game, between levels or within the game – are seamlessly woven into this rich, interactive medium. With reward-based actions like downloading coupons to unlock additional levels, ads can also be integrated into the play itself. And unlike TV commercials, there is a focused audience waiting to play, so ads are always in view.

Protecting Quality Publishing for Children

The growth of online gaming will have positive impact for publishers, advertisers and the target audience.

It’s a boon to marketers because they don’t need to commit large chunks of their budgets to television-based, linear programming with the likes of Disney and Nickelodeon. With games, advertisers have an attentive, lean-in audience that is hungry for non-linear, interactive entertainment. And publishers producing child-friendly content are tapping into an undervalued demographic, shining a light once more on the importance of kids.

Of course, protecting children’s online privacy is a major concern, and today, ad inventory must be compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and the Children’s Advertising Review Unit to ensure that kids and tweens are gaming in safe environments.

Ultimately, online gaming is about more than marketing. Independent publishers are also helping to protect innovation in children’s media by creating content that the target audience truly enjoys. The more talented publishers we have, the richer and more diverse the content will be, giving children more to experience and discover.