'PARENTING LEADERS' PEDDLING INFLUENCE;QUALITY-HUNGRY GROUP FULL OF CONSUMER ADVICE

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Influential parents want quality and are willing to pay for it.

A new study for Parenting by Roper Starch Worldwide challenges the concept that price is more important than quality.

"Parenting leaders see the value equation from the standpoint of not only price, but what you are getting for the price," said Barbara Caplan, senior VP for Roper.

Parenting leaders are those parents who have at least one child 12 or under and who are most socially and politically active in their communities. These leaders are the "trend setters" and are "ahead of the curve in many ways," said Ms. Caplan.

For this study, Roper conducted 632 face-to-face interviews from August 1994 to April 1995 and found the parenting leaders make up 23% of all parents and 12 million adults.

This group is most concerned about the future and how it will affect their kids. Most adults seek out this group to get advice about issues like child rearing, politics and purchase decisions like buying a car or computer.

"These parents are committed to making sure their children have a future in a world that really is a troubled one," said Ms. Caplan. "There is a nagging uncertainty about the future, and these are the people that are most concerned."

Parenting leaders have tremendous influence over others. Fifty-nine percent were asked by other parents how to handle small children, 51% were asked opinions about restaurants, 45% gave cooking advice and 43% shared opinions about health problems.

Compared with the rest of parents, this influential group believes in paying top dollar for quality brands. With big ticket items, these people feel some makes are different or better and worth paying for. Items like washing machines, cars, refrigerators and personal computers belong to that list.

The same is true with package goods with products like toothpaste, ice cream, canned soup, skin lotion and bathroom cleaner.

Unlike others, parenting leaders are less satisfied with many products that target children. Those products include: fruit beverages, clothes, breakfast cereals, toys and snack foods. However, they are satisfied with books and sports equipment.

Parenting leaders were among the first parents to try new products and brands. By 1986, they were the first owners of microwave ovens (59% vs. 49% of other parents), VCRs (58% vs. 41%), food processors (42% vs. 26%) and home computers (30% vs. 14%).

"These influentials were early adaptors of products and even habits such as environmental conservation or recycling," said Ms. Caplan.

This group is more willing to pay for quality even though they are not the most affluent parents, with some having incomes under $40,000. (The average household income for the parenting leaders was $44,000.) And any attempt by marketers to try to create a status position for their products should be avoided.

"Target parents on the basis of their caring and concern about the future rather than empty promises," said Ms. Caplan. "Consumers used to aspire to a brand; now the brand has to aspire to the consumer."

Parenting leaders take a very moderate view of advertising as opposed to all other parents.

This group is less likely to view ads and commercials as "completely honest" or "basically honest even though they exaggerate some," with 28% agreeing with the statement as opposed to 37% of all other parents.

But this group of influentials doesn't believe that advertising is totally dishonest either with only 8% accepting that as true while 19% of other parents believed the statement.

Rather, 63% of parenting leaders chose to describe advertising as "technically honest or accurate, but deceptive or misleading in the impression they create." Only 38% of other parents took that same stance.

Finally, influential parents find ads in newspapers, magazines and on the radio more useful and informative than TV advertising.

"For this group, advertising has to inform," said Ms. Caplan. She pointed out that advertisers must grab the attention of this group because they are influencing and giving advice to many purchasers.

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