A friend could not get over the shock of her school-going daughter asking for a Jansport bag priced at Rs 4,000. Jansport is the US bags, backpacks and outdoor gear brand set up in Washington in the 1960s. When the mother refused to spend the money, the class VIII student was inconsolable. That was three years ago.
Anviti, now 16, has got over the backpack fad she says was inspired by her peer group in school. Her friends, studying in a central Delhi school, are now drooling over the Spanish fashion brand Zara and Forever 21, the more recent entrant into the country. Forever 21, an American apparel and accessories brand, has opened its outlet in Gurgaon near Delhi. Anviti asserts she’s not brand-conscious (the mother promptly disagrees) but a couple of her friends wouldn’t be seen dead in unbranded clothing.
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According to consulting psychiatrist Sanjay Chugh, school-going children are definitely “fascinated” by, if not obsessed with, brands. And they wear them on their sleeves. Literally. At an overnight school camp some time ago, most children looked like ambassadors for various brands, Anviti insists.
How and why do children in urban India get hooked to brands? Is voluminous advertising, peer pressure or influence of the parents responsible for this phenomenon? Or is it linked to them maturing faster—the 9-year-olds going on 13?
For starters, children are behaving older than their age. With growing exposure to technology, media and entertainment, they are more informed and aware about the world. “This affects their mental and emotional development which gets reflected in their behaviour that appears to be beyond their chronological age,” says Chugh.
The role of all-pervasive advertising cannot be underplayed but other variables must be conducive for it to create an impact. Children are quick to pick up the language of brands from parents who may be discussing one sedan brand versus another luxury car or a 3-star versus a 5-star holiday. “How you measure yourself in the choices you make becomes their benchmark,” says Santosh Desai, brand expert and managing director and CEO at Future Brands, the private labels company of Future Group.
Parental values and influences can be transmitted to children in several subtle ways. One boy, who is just 11, obsesses about watches. He owns a Tag Heuer, the Swiss luxury watch, which he pushed his US-based uncle to part with. His action upset his father, a low-profile lobbyist, who believes such luxury is not for a boy of his age.
However, the father forgets that he fusses over his own Rolex Submariner that his son is not allowed to touch. The son has seen Sean Connery wear that Rolex in a James Bond movie and has been impressed ever since.
If parents measure themselves in terms of what they wear or own, the children tend to exaggerate it since, at their age, they have few other sources of identity, Desai says.
Other than parents, film and sports stars also draw children to various labels they endorse. Rahul Bhatia, a very articulate 15-year-old studying at The Valley School in Bangalore, says he got hooked to Adidas initially as it sponsors Chelsea, his favourite football club.
For him the transition from a Chelsea jersey to Adidas socks and deodorants was easy. For his classmates, the association between Reebok and Royal Challengers, the Indian Premier League cricket team owned by liquor baron Vijay Mallya, is effective.
In a class of 35 students, 15 are boys and 10 cheer the Royal Challengers. Of these, seven own Reebok jerseys. Besides, The Valley School is a big supporter of Manchester United. “There are enough jerseys to support a Nike store,” he says, adding that sports associations with apparel brands affect their purchase decisions.
While Rahul saves pocket money to invest in his favourite brands, the others simply get by with placing their demands before their time-deficient parents who often agree to the expenditure to buy peace with their children. For the young consumers, the focus is on appearing cool, superior and stylish and not on the cost.
Chugh, who has two daughters aged 14 and 16, says that buying branded stuff is not the problem, it is the attitude behind it that is important to focus on. Is the child’s need to wear branded clothes related to his need to appear superior to others and to falsely lift his or her confidence? Is it because it makes him/her feel cool and accepted by his peers? If the reasons are more externally driven, one needs to watch out and intervene immediately, he advises. “It is my duty as a parent to teach my children about age-appropriate, sensible buying,” he adds.
But does this consumer segment stick to these brands later? “Not unless it is a technology brand like Apple,” says Desai. Anviti says her friends engage with latest fashion. The school-goers are clearly experimenting and their stickiness to a label lasts till the next cult brand arrives.
Shuchi Bansal is marketing and media editor with Mint. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org