What My Five-Year-Old Son Taught Me About Marketing

What My Five-Year-Old Son Taught Me About Marketing

Reader Comments (94)

  1. I read that toy retailers will run high-desire product commercials before Christmas but purposfully not stock these hot toys on the shelves until after Christmas.

    Kids see this and say, “I want that.” Parents reply, “sure you can have that,” and they rush to get the hot toys only to find them not available. They buy replacements at that time as to not leave empty-handed.

    In January (when toy sales are flat and kids are still upset about not getting the toys they really wanted), companies will stock the hot toys, and since parents value their word, they will buy them then (at a premium).

    Nanny, nanny, boo boo parents!

  2. Hey Johnny,

    The ultimate way to have someone consume your stuff is to have them WANT it.

    Not just think they need it. Or think it could help them. But pure, unfiltered desire. Their inner child jumps up and down, saying “gimme gimme gimme!”

    It could be a way of packaging your stuff, or the way you spell out the benefits of your value. Or, like the examples you mentioned, it could be a free prize inside (a bonus product) or an endorsement from a trustworthy person.

    Also, by giving people solutions rather than features, you do the work for them on deciding if they want it. If they saw features, they’d have to figure out if they want it themselves. But if you tell them, “this thing will give you ____” and the ____ is what they want, then they’re one step closer to getting your stuff.

    Of course, like you mentioned in one of your previous Copyblogger articles, you need to be ethical with the power of want. Don’t sell mediocre stuff with misleading prizes just for a sale. It’s like crappy cereal packaging a toy inside, but the picture on the box looks NOTHING like what the toy actually is.

    Great article on focusing on the inner child’s desire. Interesting observation on the social aspect of want too. This happens in bloggers too. Most of us use WordPress because everyone else also uses it. If Copyblogger uses WP, then I want it too. More and more people are probably signing up for the Thesis theme because more and more people are signing up for it. If Copyblogger uses Thesis, then I want it too.


  3. I don’t like anecdotal posts like this because people act on what YOU say is true. There may not be one whit of evidence to support your conclusions, but because YOU say it, people drink the sugar-flavored water.

    So here’s my anecdotal conclusion: aside from sportswear and associated merchandise, people don’t buy because of celebrity endorsement.

    So why the billions spent this way? Because the C-suite gang loves to hang with the cool kids and they buy their way in. The advertising that moves merchandise is done at the retail level – which almost never features celebrity endorsers.

  4. @GoingLikeSixty, I don’t agree. Local retail advertising rarely features celebrity endorsers because small businesspeople don’t think they can afford celebrity endorsement. But I’ve watched Dan Kennedy, for example, run all kinds of interesting campaigns with local celebrities.

    Many of the weight loss companies will get local DJs to lose some weight and talk about it on their shows. Martha Stewart & Rachael Ray put their names on products to very good effect. Here in Denver, celebrity quarterback John Elway put his name on a well-run restaurant–it’s packed every night. The advertising still has to hit the basics of good advertising, but I see many great examples of effective celebrity endorsement outside of sport-related products.

    Also, of course, the post is about a lot more than celebrity endorsement. It’s about creating positive associations by pairing your product with something people already like.

    I don’t think a celebrity necessarily will rescue an incompetent ad, but I think they can greatly enhance a good one.

  5. I remember when I was a child and I wanted a certain kind of cereal just because there was a toy I wanted if I got it. It works on adults also. Look at computer companies, they give you a free printer if you buy a computer. It makes the deals seem a lot better if you’re getting a little something free. And make someone say I want that especially since I get something free.

  6. This was a fun and insightful post. I do play kid’s games with all the zest and thrill as I did as a youngster. Then I look around a realize all the ‘grown-ups’ are stuck under the layers you spoke about and I stop playing and join in on whatever boring-ness we adults are suppose to partake in.

    I’m not big on brand purchasing, but I’d be fibbing if I said I never bought brand items. Commercials are quite influential and they are getting more and more creative with advertising these days. Who can resist? 🙂

  7. Gotta love the fact that we never grow out of our inner child. These basic marketing techniques will never grow old because we always get giddy over something that we want, and our inner child always squirms and points at something we see.

  8. I’ve been mulling over this post for the last couple hours and trying to figure out how to apply it to my business & blog.

    I think the spin on this with blogging is that you are (or can become) the celebrity giving the endorsement. For example, Brian Clark says Thesis is a super theme for a blog. Masses of bloggers (myself included) responded, “Sign me up!”

    (Of course, the whole thing only works when what you’re endorsing really is super.)

  9. The question for us to answer (someone help please!) is how to associate our blogs with something people need (or want). How does one move to that step. I’m now learning what the readers want, and I think I can start writing to that end, but how to associate it with something they need? Still working on that one.

  10. The interesting part comes in when your customer is a combination of parent and child. I had a case recently where a customer started an email with a glowing product endorsement from her two-year-old, then proceeded to tell me why she chose not to purchase more for him. Goes to show, there are many types of desires, and sometimes they may cancel each other out.

  11. @Mike, absolutely on all counts. “Celebrity” doesn’t have to mean George Clooney.

    @Dan, want is more important than need. Sometimes you have to sort of sneak “need” in. If your blog is too much broccoli and not enough ice cream, it usually won’t work as well.

    @Renee, and another interesting thing is when those two are the same person. So the inner child says Me want! Me want! But the grown-up side vetos, usually for some variation on “I’m going to regret that.” I’m a believer in making sure both get addressed.

  12. The only trouble I see with this is that you are holding the purse strings, and while Austin may want the plastic toys from McDonalds they’re maybe days when you, as the person with the money, are unwilling to submit!

    What happens then? Austin writes a proposal for the plastic toy, it goes to the board where everyone presents their opinion and it is discussed and then decided upon.

    See, it’s never as simple as all that.

  13. @Clair, definitely true. It works for McDonald’s because there are payoffs for the person who’s handing over the $4. (It’s cheap, it’s fast, it’s six minutes of silence, etc.)

  14. Johnny,

    Another great post, I really enjoy your writing style.

    Creating this kind of desire is something that long-form copywriters are great at. As hideous and obnoxious-looking as their sites may be, every time I read a good one, whether I need the product or not, I find myself thinking, “Holy crap, this sounds pretty amazing! I should really get this. Now.” It may take 15 paragraphs, but I often end up there.

    Appealing to adults’ wants is just as easy as appealing to kids’, it’s just a matter of what adults want. Usually, it’s stuff like: I want more money, I want more time with my family, I want to lose weight without having to try hard, etc.

    If you can get past adults’ skepticism and mental defenses, you’re right that good sellers and copywriters can tap right into that animalistic want that kids don’t bother trying to suppress.

  15. Great post Johnny. Does anyone know how many kids started eating their spinach because of “Popeye”? Amazing, the power of associative conditioning.
    Copyblogger is the only site on my daily rounds where I get to laugh a lot and then reflect, with very lively discussions in the comments section (I liked the Halloween post)

  16. What I really took away from this post is that our inner child never dies but is hidden under layers and layers of adulthood.

    Would that perhaps answer the call to riches that so many adults aspire to and are so suscipteble to the get rich quick promises which somehow never deliver. Once upon a time when we were still young and gullible and believed in the tooth fairy, prince charming and castles in the sky, we dreamed of the day that we would be in the starring roles of these “docu-dramas” … its pure desire. It can be achieved by all but only a few go for the brass ring and do what is required to grab it.

    Bravo for Austin … he is one smart kid!


  17. The inner child on Copyblogger?


    Omg I am all over this post. Thank you Johnny for such a refreshing take!

    With regards to associations, I take away that the new “celebrity” endorsement is a properly fed brand that nurtures its audience. The new “celebrity” culture includes a more diversified web, of brands.

  18. I’d have answered here earlier, but my own inner child was having a tantrum over internet connection issues. Interestingly, my actual inner child has no recollection of having played with the internet. So it’s all very confusing.

  19. Oh and EXCUSE ME BUT WHAT THE ****?!? As a proud Apple fan and Mac user, I’d like to point out that SONIA DID INDEED ADD THE JAB AT THE IPHONE. I didn’t write that… and didn’t notice the addition!

    Brian, let’s swap apps.

  20. Ha, poor Johnny. I didn’t say it was a bad phone, I just said people can’t actually talk on it. Clearly it has other sterling qualities.

  21. Don’t you just love the simplicity of a child!! They have a way of seeing through everything and when they want something badly enough then nothing…I mean nothing will get in their way.
    My children are now 21 and 25 but they still on occassions act like little kids when they want something really badly!!

  22. Good takeaway lesson in the reinforcement of providing what your customers actually want in the way they want to consume it.
    I’m definitely with you on one of your examples. My local Barnes & Noble is closer to my house, is better stocked, and has a much broader selection of books and magazines – and I rarely ever go there. Simply because the Border’s farther away has the atmosphere and staff that I prefer.

  23. Interesting post, and as I found myself buying a yo-yo yesterday for no other reason than remembering it was great as a kid I can empathise with the inner child.

    I guess the trick for bloggers is trying to eek out that excitement in their audience, have them coming back because of course your blog gives you what they need (broccoli) but it also gives you the stuff that gets your readers hooked for more (ice cream).

    Because, I’m also guessing that if Austin didn’t have to have lettuce or the other essential things that he needs, those MacDonalds would soon become pretty boring.

    Introducing: the balanced diet of blogging!

  24. So true! My sons eat twice as many sandwiches when I make them lionlike or funny face…

    And another thing in which children are invincible: sooner or later, they always get what they want. They keep on experimenting with different methods till they succeed in having their own way. They don’t even think about giving up.
    My second son had been begging for a spiderman for two years. Last week was his birthday. I bought it for him …

    (Sorry for my English…)

  25. Don’t have kids, yet.

    This article is awesome. It’s another post about the same thing we hear a thousand times over, but just pulls you in.

    There’s an interesting documentary I watched actually called “The century of self” (I think). It’s about how in post world war II, the US government used psychoanalysts to create a culture of “want” rather than “need”.

    This is where Sigmund Freud rose to power and influence. It’s really really interesting if your into marketing.

    It’s particularly prevelant in the US, moreso I would say than other countries in the world. I’m in sydney at the moment and it’s at the complete opposite end of the spectrum.

  26. So true! My favorite quote about this “associative” phenomenon is from Erma Bombeck: “My kids won’t eat anything they haven’t seen dance on TV.” The I-Want ritual during commercials is on super-drive at my house when the chocolate candy maker infomercial comes on. Every old direct response tactic in the book is at work here, and my son is like a bull before the red cape. Limited-time offer. “We have to call NOW, Mom!” Just two payments of $19.99. “What a great deal!!!!” Comes with bonus attachments. “Look how much we get!” I delight in watching this, knowing deep down in all the adult consumers my agency tries to reach is this little boy, bouncing on the couch cushions, brimming with product lust.

  27. I never thought about the Barnes and Noble versus Borders thing but you’re right. Borders definitely has a more welcoming atmosphere than Barnes and Noble. I’ve been in B&N twice in my whole life. I’ve been to Borders dozens of times. Same books, better store.
    Which is why I wonder why anyone goes into Ambercrombie and Fitch…just walking past that place’ll make you deaf!
    Awesome post!

  28. As a webdesigner I’m thinking what do customers reaallly want:
    easy to update sites?
    the ability to change their mind often?

    probably all of the above….
    …and a plastic toy that talks to you. oh wait! that is what iPhones and Kindles are for.

    @Malinda yes, but at least B&N is trying with the free internet (even though its usually slow or non-existent).

  29. This is the best post I’ve read in a while. And it’s so true. I too have a 5 year old (and the Bakugan reference was not lost on me). I want to explain that TV is coercing him into wanting crap toys (can we say Pixos from last Xmas) with their marketing. But I’m in marketing. So that would nullify what I do, wouldn’t it?

  30. The things you can learn from kids. My 5 year old neice has taught me a lot about living in the moment. Something all adults can learn from especially when it comes to marketing and basic human desires, to feel wanted, accepted and of course loved, even if it is through a relationship with a product.

  31. Just in time for the holidays, when “I want” is about every other word out of my kiddo’s mouth… Thanks, Johnny!

  32. It’s great to know that I’m not alone in thinking that the ‘guru’ marketers today have far overcomplicated the process of marketing, and that it truly is time to get back to basics.

    It’s also encouraging to read a post that can clearly distinguish between sales, and the process of marketing. Too often I read articles where there line between the marketing process becomes obscured by the focus on how to sell effectively.

    If you’ve built your marketing mix correctly, as this post clearly explains, then what you’ll end up with are people who want to buy your products or services, instead of you trying to sell it to them.

    And the most successful products are always the ones that people are ravenous for. This is because they are buying what they want, not being sold something they were never sure about.


  33. So true! I learned a huge lesson from my then 7 year old daughter one day. We are at the grocery store, and she it’s a constant barrage of “mamma can I have this, mamma can I have that”.

    Finally I got irritated and asked “what is UP with you?”

    She said, quite emphatically, “Mamma, if you don’t ask you won’t get it. If you DO ask, you might!”.

    Out of the mouths of babes.

  34. Hey JBT,

    Another great post…you have definitely made me “want that.” So how does one get a “5 year old” that you refer to? (ebay?)

    And Brian or Sonia does thesis have a Sponge Bob Square Pants skin? We can’t let macaroni and cheese run their damn monopoly I tell you.

  35. I think that I sometimes return to my childhood state of mind when surfing the web and agree that thinking like a kid can provide unique insight into how to snag new customers… Impact and first impressions really do matter!

    P.S. I found your blog on the BloggersChoiceAwards and think it is great. I voted for you.
    If you get time please vote for us in the Best Educational Blog category;

  36. @Richie, it’s an istock photo, and I know I used it in something on remarkable comm, but danged if I can remember what. 🙂

    @Jessica, different customers will want different stuff, but some common ones are: to be able to create/update their site without feeling like a dummy; to be able to get the vision they want without having to learn to talk/think like a designer; to get their site on time and without going over budget; to have a site that improves their relationship with customers instead of frustrating their customers and chasing them away; to have a site that improves sales conversions; to have a site that makes them feel proud of their business.

  37. “So here’s my anecdotal conclusion: aside from sportswear and associated merchandise, people don’t buy because of celebrity endorsement.” ~ If only that were the case. People ‘do’ buy because of celebrity endorsement. They always have and always will. It’s just a numbers game.

  38. @Sonia, incidentally, I’ve just received the bonus lesson yesterday.

    While I was reading the first paragraphs, I thought you wrote this. But then Johnny mentioned his wife…

    It’s funny, I associate you with the photos you use on your blog and emails. They’re just cute.

  39. Hi Johnny,

    What an awesome post. I have a 2 year old and reading this has just encouraged me to take more notice of what she is looking at and how.

    Thank you for reminding me of the simplicity of this if we are to think about our buying desires from the basic form.

    I look forward to learning more. 🙂

    Kind Regards

    Jacinta 😀
    (An Aussie mum trying to create a business online while her 2 year old sleeps! :P)

  40. Absolutely EXCELLENT article!! I absolutely LOVED the lessons you’ve taught us from observing your son’s completely honest and “pure” opinions 🙂

    I love the honesty that kids have like “Grandma smells bad” etc etc. What better way to do market research than with the most unbiased and honest opinions out there!

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention!

  41. Such a lovely written but extremely informative post, thank you Johnny. I have three year old nephew you is very much the same, so know exactly where you are coming from.
    However unlike yourself I didn’t connect the marketing techniques that can be learned from him which is so obvious now.

  42. What a great post and observation! My son turned 23 today… I must say he still sings to himself out loud, makes funny and silly noises, calls me strange names like Cynchia instead of “Cynthia” (instead of Mom) and generally still has the same personality he did at 4…. only then he was saying things like “applehead finch fries”…. (don’t ask) He is popular, funny, and alot of fun.

    It’s interesting to note too, that because he has a sense of himself and what he likes, we actually enjoyed helping to fulfill his desires. (demand and supply :)) rather than supply and demand).

    All that to say this: Thank you for the reminder and a good laugh, it was great!

  43. Another great post. Thanks.

    I have become deeply concerned as I’ve practised marketing over a 15 year career about what we are doing and whether it is right. We have created a multi-layered complex system of stimulus and response that conditions us all to consume and follow.

    My kids don’t watch that much TV. On average its about a couple of hours on a weekend and never during the week. And yet I came in on Sunday and saw my 3 year old son doing yoga as he followed characters on a TV programme. Not bad right? He is exercising and enjoying interacting. But there is something deeply concerning about this. Isn’t he being taught even at a subconscious level to follow the commands from the TV? That’s useful to marketers and advertisers as he grows up to be a consumer.

    What makes me worried about McDonalds and toys is the linking at a very young age when children are “sponges” to the vicarious pleasure of toys in order to condition them to like McDonalds food. To be clear I am not against McDonalds per se but am asking how we feel as a society to have a massive corporation with incredible resources using these techniques to stimulate demand and win.

    I wonder whether Wendy’s and other competitors have the resources of McDonalds to ensure media and product tie-ups with popular toys such as Bakugan or the latest movie? By divorcing the consumption from the core product, we give an advantage to the company that is best its marketing rather than the company that produces the best quality burgers.

    At least some of the “blankets” that cover our inner self are conditioned responses to marketing and advertising. As marketers we have created a system that makes it easier for all of us to switch off and just consume responding blindly to our pre-conditioned responses.

    What I think we need are consumers that have their critical faculties engaged processing good information to make good decisions about how to fulfill their needs and desires. And this starts with our children. They need to be taught to divorce the stimulus from the desired response so they are in control.

    This is all starting to sound a bit too conspiratorial I don’t mean to be – I like a Big Mac as much as the next man – but I’m concerned with how we use what are powerful psychological techniques in marketing especially on children.

  44. Glad everyone dug this. I didn’t realize it would strike a chord quite as much, inserted iJab notwithstanding.

    Incidentally (Richie), that’s the problem with guest posts. Half of the time, I think nobody reads closely enough to know who wrote them. The problem is FAR worse on Problogger. Every other comment says, “Hey Darren, great post.”

    Although I guess that’s better than, “Hey Darren, did you find this post in your ass?”

  45. Advertisers and marketers should be happy we have so many layers and that we get tangled into our own mental gymnastics:)

    Once a kid knows what he or she wants, they will make everything possible to have it. And with a bit of skill and a few drops of emotional blackmail – it’s very likely they’re going to get it.

    But a kid will completely forget your product, your brand, the satisfaction – when a better toy will come to their attention. Whatever you do afterwards, the battle is lost. Kids have infrared for “not the original”, “this is the same game as the the one in the cereal box”, “hey, this toy doesn’t do anything”.

    The kid knows. And you can’t fool him.

    But the adults, they CAN be fooled – many times they know they are being scammed and they accept it:)

  46. I’m really with you, Justin… I see what commercials and McDonald’s are “really doing,” and it does bother me some. But at the end of the day… hell, I like McDonald’s too, even though it’s terrible for me. And I like some of what’s on TV, too.

    So whatever, everything in moderation, I guess.

  47. Johnny, I’ve noticed this pattern with my own decision making. I’m aware that I want some product or service, but run this decision through a series of filters before making a purchase. If my desire is strong enough to the battle of the mind, I then justify my decision with left brain reasoning. Great post!

  48. @Sonia
    yes thank you for the great tips. especially about helping the customer not feel like a dummy. There are so many ways to differentiate oneself as web designers: excellent SEO, cheap websites, consulting through each step…etc.

    Thanks for focusing on the MAIN thing— helping us get to what people actually want!

    I’m also concerned about how much TV little ones. I’m really glad to hear that your kids don’t watch too much.
    We can never change the fact that parents are the most powerful influence on their children. If we keep teaching them the most important things and show them what our priorities are in life, they will learn and grow keeping those ‘other influences’ in balance.

    if only we could influence our customers like we could influence our children. 🙂

  49. What an excellent conversation going on here. I love it.

    I know it’s been touched on in numerous responses, but the associative marketing point was something that struck a chord, anecdotally or not.

    Figuring out a way to assocaiate a good feeling with your product seems to be fundamental, like a five year old.


  50. Love your wording “You don’t get an evolved, new mature being. You get Austin with fifteen blankets over his head.”

    I’ll quote that on my blog. I’ve been teaching for years that the subconscious is a bright nine year old child.

    Thanks for the wonderful image.

  51. It is a great article as it remind me of one thing: advertisement creates real value to people. You mentioned people buying Nike just because Lebron endorses them. Now, does that make us susceptible to advertising and being able to think for ourselves?

    Not really. Lebron endorsing those shoes adds value to us as a customer. If we are willing to pay more for Nike’s just because Lebron wears them, then it means they are worth that much to us.

    So is advertising wrong for creating value out of thin air? No, so long that we believe in it, we are actually getting what we wanted.


  52. Johnny, Sensational post. All of us are just like Austin, buried under layer of layer of reasons why we shouldn’t be.

    Grown-ups are grown-outs. The growing out consists of the layers of misinformation acquired from early age to adulthood. Deep down most people eventually act out on their inner child/True Self. Successful marketing is directing your campaign at the True Self, the one who knows exactly what they want and is willing to do whatever it takes to get it.

  53. Believe it or not but every one loves free stuff and I think that free stuff make that purchase more valuable and we like that free stuff more than main thing for which we paid the price.

    Interesting … isn’t ?

  54. Wonderful post. Great insights and fab writing too.

    Although personally, it’s getting to grips with those blankets that’s the really fun thing. Once you have those, you don’t want spongebob so much, you just want your macaroni cheese to taste good 🙂

  55. I am going to start a new company, I am going to use biodegradeable ink to print on lettuce. Hopefully I can license the Spongepants logo.
    Thanks great post

  56. Wow, lovely… it is really true that we all have the inner child. we really should tap into the inner desires of the customer to know what they really want. great post Johnny. thanks

  57. A great post!

    It was like I was hearing my own kids talking to me. Want that, not that, McDonald’s and Sponge Bob are daily terms in my house. I understand, my inner child likes to poke it’s head out from time to time.

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