Automakers agree, winning youth early key to future

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They may be too young to drive, but kids say they influence the kind of vehicle their parents buy, not to mention the color.

According to the 2001 "Marketing to Tweens" report by Children's Market Services Worldwide, 8% of the boys surveyed, ages 9 through 14, said they influence what kind of car their families buy. Only 5% of the girls said they did. A total of 300 youngsters in major markets across the U.S. were surveyed.

More kids say they exert their influence as they get older. "Once they get behind the wheel, they have more influence," says Selina Guber, president of the New York-based market research consultancy.

The influence trend started about 10 years ago and has been rising, she says. The consultancy surveys children as young as 6. "By 6, they know the names of cars," Ms. Guber says. "They see them on TV."

All three surveyed age groups, boys and girls, picked red, black and white as the most desirable colors for vehicles. "Forget tan as a car color," Ms. Guber says.

Auto consultancy Strategic Vision surveyed 16-to-24-year-olds about which brand they might buy and which they wouldn't even consider. American Honda Motor Co.'s Honda brand landed on top, with nearly 40% of those surveyed saying they'd "definitely consider" buying one. BMW of North America ranked second, with 37.5%; third was Toyota Motor Sales USA's Toyota brand, with 35.8%; and Toyota's upscale Lexus finished fourth with 33.4%.

Honda last summer sponsored youth-targeted concert tours.

Although concert attendees were as young as 12, Honda was targeting consumers from 16 to their early 30s, says Eric Conn, assistant VP-national advertising at the automaker. He explains Honda's goal is to keep the entry-level Civic youthful since the median age of buyers has been getting older and Honda would rather direct older consumers toward more expensive models. Toyota has a similar tour set for this year in association with its young-skewing Matrix model.

GOODIES AND GIVEAWAYS

At Honda, Civic's 2002 tour runs April 11 to July 3, featuring the band Incubus and the all-new, performance Civic Si model. Doug Hoffman, national advertising manager at Honda, says the band "appeals to the older college crowd." The sponsorship is similar to last year's, with a giveaway of six cars customized and autographed by Incubus, as well as local radio promotions.

Aiming younger is Ford Motor Co.'s Ford Division, which has a deal with Nickelodeon. The 2001 campaign included print ads from Ford Division's agency, WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit, coupled with ads featuring safety lessons in several magazines linking to a Web site. Last year's "Blue's Clues" program also allowed parents to bring their kids to Ford dealerships to record their fingerprints with authorities. Nearly 500,000 children participated, a spokeswoman says.

"Kids do influence their parents, and obviously you want to get to them young," says Francisco Codina, general marketing manager of Ford Division. But the Nickelodeon partnership is more about safety and less about selling vehicles, he adds.

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