Measuring Marketing: Dear Santa

santaAs it’s almost Christmas (and it’s rather rare to have the chance to talk about a seasonal research method!), I thought I spend a few lines on researching effects of marketing to children. Children are somewhat problematic in terms of research: on the one side because they tend to require more creative research methods (as no doubt any researchers can easily find out by trying to get a six year old to fill out a questionnaire!) – and on the other side there are many ethical considerations for research involving children. A reason maybe why some people shy away from attempting research involving the “young segment”. Yet, children are an important market and marketers actively(-ish) target them – and they are a worthy and important research topic.

In terms of research, a child-centric methodology are “Dear Santa”-letters, or letters written by children to Father Christmas. In practice, this would involve researchers asking children to write letters to Santa and then interpreting what they have written: for example are they asking for branded goods? What type of goods? And then interpreting this data, for example by comparing it to advertising aimed at children. “Dear Santa, do you have my brand?” by O’Casse & Clarke (2006) is a sample of such a study. The technique has the great advantage that it is almost as good as observation, and can be used to elicit virtually natural responses. A potential negative is that it will be difficult to have representative samples: For example, it would probably be impossible to ask children from a non-christian background to participate. Further, some researchers have raised ethical concerns regarding informed consent – as evidently the children are not exactly told the true purpose of the study.

Despite these (fairly severe) limitations, it is a good example in my view of creating research that embraces children, makes them active participants and has the potential to explore some of the questions we have with regards to marketing to children (an area where there is often a lot of polemic, and little evidence!). In case you wondered: Children regognise brands, and ask for them in imaginative ways – but for the exact details, have a look at the article itself. Happy holidays!

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