Brand Recognition and Young Consumers

Margaret K. Hogg, Manchester School of Management
Margaret Bruce, Department of Textiles, UMIST
Alexander J. Hill, Manchester School of Management, UMIST
ABSTRACT - Although there has been some research into young consumers, for instance their approach to product categorization; their decision making strategies; and their role in family decision-making, considerable work remains to be done to understand how young consumers develop brand loyalty, brand preference and brand reliance. This paper reports the initial findings from an exploratory study which used collages to elicit the perceptions of branded clothing from over two hundred young consumers (aged 7-10); and to examine the impact of social influences on young consumers’ evaluations of branded clothing.
[ to cite ]:
Margaret K. Hogg, Margaret Bruce, and Alexander J. Hill (1999) ,"Brand Recognition and Young Consumers", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 671-674.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Pages 671-674

BRAND RECOGNITION AND YOUNG CONSUMERS

Margaret K. Hogg, Manchester School of Management

Margaret Bruce, Department of Textiles, UMIST

Alexander J. Hill, Manchester School of Management, UMIST

[Acknowledgement: The authors would like to thank Collette Blanchfieeld and Asda Superstores plc for their support for this study.]

ABSTRACT -

Although there has been some research into young consumers, for instance their approach to product categorization; their decision making strategies; and their role in family decision-making, considerable work remains to be done to understand how young consumers develop brand loyalty, brand preference and brand reliance. This paper reports the initial findings from an exploratory study which used collages to elicit the perceptions of branded clothing from over two hundred young consumers (aged 7-10); and to examine the impact of social influences on young consumers’ evaluations of branded clothing.

INTRODUCTION

Young consumers play an important part in the market place as they exert enormous influence over the allocation of spending power across a growing number of product categories (Gregan-Paxton and John 1995:567). However, extensive research on brand recognition, preference formation, choice processes, and symbolic consumption in adult consumers has not been paralleled by the same level of research among young consumers (Gregan-Paxton and John 1995:567; Hite and Hite 1994:185). Understanding the age at which brand names become important may provide 'the foundation to better predict the evaluative judgements and purchase decisions made and influenced by children, as well as the decisions made by those children when they become adults’ (Hite and Hite 1994:185). The purpose of this study is to investigate how the perception and evaluation of branded clothing develops among young consumers in the 7-10 age group; and how social influences (including advertising, celebrity endorsers, peer groups and family) affect young consumers’ perception and evaluation of brands.

Investigating young consumers

Hite and Hite (1994) employed individual interviews with young consumers (aged two to six) to explore the composition and perceptual attributes of two products. Earlier studies had examined the development of consumption symbolism among young consumers (Belk, Bahn and Mayer 1982; Belk, Mayer and Driscoll 1984). However, in pre-testing Belk et al (1984) identified difficulties with administering their paper and pencil task to school children below the fourth grade; and therefore the average age of the participants in their study of the development of consumption symbolism was 9.76 (4th grade) and 11.75 (6th grade) years respectively. For this study we used a projective technique (collages) allied with discussion groups to examine young consumers’ attitudes to branded clothing.

RESEARCH DESIGN

Research objectives

The research objectives were to examine the dimensions used by young consumers when comparing and evaluating brands; to identify the dominant product features (perceptual versus functional) used by young consumers in evaluating and choosing brands; and to explore how social influences (including advertising, celebrity endorsers, peer groups and family) affect young consumers’ perceptions and evaluation of brands.

Research methodology

A mixed-method approach was adopted for this study for the purposes of complementarity (Greene et al 1989) because our interest was in 'overlapping but also different facets of a phenomenon, yielding an enriched, elaborated understanding of that phenomenon" (Greene et al 1989:258), i.e. the development of attitudes towards brands among young consumers. Peracchio’s (1991) seven specific guidelines for designing experimental procedures that are congruent with a child’s cognitive capacity informed the design of this study. ["ensure that the knowledge domain your task is tapping is familiar to young children; provide the child with rich contextual support for encoding and retrieving information by employing familiar objects and pictures in your experimental task; include only those elements essential to your taks; minimise the complexity of the information you present to the child; employ language that conforms to the child's conversational norms; use language that highlights the important features of your task; employ a goal that will be readily apparent and meaningful to the child" (Peracchio, 1991).]

The research design involved a pre-test followed by the main data collection. Pre-testing was used to identify the most coveted items in these consumers’ wardrobes; the general attitudes towards and perceptions of clothing brands held by the target group; and the salient magazines/media sources to use in the collage exercise. The group exercises were piloted with a group of five children. The main part of the study consisted of a series of group exercises with young consumers aged between 7 and 10 which involved the use of products as visual rompts and stimulus material, and also projective techniques (collages). The group collage exercises were followed by group discussions.

Sample

Children aged between seven and ten years were drawn from a purposive sample [Drawn from the 1996/97 edition of the Guide for Parents issued by the City Council's Education Service.] of five school sites in a city in north eastern England. The schools were chosen, as far as possible, to represent the geographical and socio-economic characteristics of the city. 237 children from years three, four and five (representing the age groups of 7-8, 8-9 and 9-10 respectively) participated in the study. These age bands were chosen because they overlapped with a series of earlier studies of child consumers (Belk, Bahn and Mayer 1982; Belk, Mayer and Driscoll 1984; Roedder John and Sujan 1990; Roedder John and Lakshmi-Ratan 1992); because work in developmental and cognitive child psychology suggested that these age groups are capable of concrete operationalization, and would therefore be able to cope with the experimental tasks; and because these age groups would "be responsive to the presence of explicit cues" (Roedder John and Sujan 1990:455).

TABLE 1

PLAN

The study

Product items

Pre-testing established that the main wardrobe items included sweatshirts and T-shirts. These were chosen as the product category for the study because these were worn universally; they were familiar to all the respondents; and they spanned the categories of children’s fashion clothing and sportswear. Sweatshirts and T-shirts, in a variety of colours and designs, were selected from three major manufacturers of branded sporting goods; from two major high street outlets; and from a supermarket chain, as stimulus material for the study.

Procedure

237 children were divided into fifty-two small groups (with an average of 5 to 6 members). The size of groups was kept smaller than traditional focus groups in order to allow closer observation of group interaction; and to investigate social influences on brand choice, including peer pressure. Also smaller numbers made it easier to manage the group activity for this age group of participants and also ensured that participants’ attention was kept focused on the task in hand.

The sessions each lasted an average of ninety minutes; and were run fairly informally in order to encourage the children to freely express their feelings about the brands being used in the study. Table 1 outlines the session plan, showing the phase, the participants’ activity, and the moderator’s role.

The children were told that each group should produce a collage based on the product item/brand which they had been given. Children were allowed to choose their own sets of partners for the collage activity so that, wherever possible, they worked in friendship groups. Materials were provided (large white card, scissors, glue, stimulus magazine material) and participants were told that they could do what they liked with the card including: cutting out and sticking down pictures, images or words obtained from the magazine pages they had been given; drawing pictures, images and writing words of their own, as long as those pictures, images or words reminded them of the product item/brand which they had been given. The class was instructed that each group should work as a team, share the materials, and respect the opinion of everyone in the group. The participants were also told that should they find any pictures, images or words which they did not want in their collection, but which they felt that another group might use, then they could move around, and swop and exchange material.

Once the task of assembling the collages was underway, the moderator circulated among the groups and invited the participants to comment on the materials they were using, and the collages which they were creating. During the ourse of the exercise each group was questioned individually about their collage in order to determine the reasons behind the images which they have chosen to cut out for each particular brand. These discussions were all recorded on tape. During the discussion the participants were also asked about the relative degree of influence they felt that their parents, brothers, sisters, and friends had on the product and brand choice.

After all the groups in a class had completed their collages, then each collage was held up for the whole class to see, and the relevant group was invited to explain to the rest of the class the reasons for their choice of pictures, images and words, and to interpret their collage. This whole class discussion was also taped and transcribed.

FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION

65 collages were completed in all. All the groups completed at least one collage, and thirteen groups produced additional collages. All the group commentaries and the class discussions were taped, generating over 57 pages of transcript (approximately 8000 words). Content analysis was used to identify themes from the collages and the taped commentaries. The substantive findings are reported in full elsewhere(Hill 1997). The findings are summarized here and some observations about the method are offered.

Brand recognition

Brand recognition emerged clearly among all the age groups, notably for the sportswear manufacturers. The collages showed clear evidence of the recognition of brand names and logos; and the children used symbols and logos to represent the brands in their collages.

The young consumers’ perceptions of the brand imagery associated with sweatshirts from sportswear manufacturers was clearly represented in the collages. The association with prominent sportsmen was an important attribute which both the boys and the girls used in classifying and evaluating the different brands. However, the boys showed particular facility in interpreting the symbolic meanings attached to the sports brands which were associated with different sports stars (such as footballers, rugby players, athletes and tennis players) and with different sports (e.g. football and rugby). This confirms Mowen’s (1995) view of the role of celebrity endorsers in product promotion:

"When a celebrity endorses a product in an advertisement, associations are formed so that the culturally derived meanings may be transferred to the product" (Mowen 1995: 384)

The collages demonstrated clear links, for instance, between the boys’ support of their local football teams (in the Premier League and the First Division respectively) and certain football stars. Other stars, such as athletes and tennis players, also appeared in the collages associated with sportswear brands.

There was also evidence of more indirect associations between the product brands and the children’s perceptions. Some children used colours to represent their image of the brands, for instance white and red were associated with two sportswear companies.

There was also brand recognition for the sweaters from the high street stores and the supermarket. However the brand imagery was not always as pronounced for these store brands. One group of girls identified one of the high street stores with children’s wear, and carefully chose a range of 'nursery’ images to reflect their picture of this brand (including pictures of the 'Teletubbies’). In some cases, the imagery associated with the store brands was quite negative. For instance one young boy described a store product as 'pants’, ['pants' means 'bad', 'rubbish' for this age group.] and then went on to look in the magazines for a picture of a pair of men’s pants, which he cut out and stuck n the group collage.

Production of collages

In terms of the method, this study confirmed the considerable challenges which face researchers collecting data from young consumers. The older age groups produced collages which were richer in detail; and the older children were able to offer more extended commentary on their collages, and their reasons for the material which they had chosen in representing the brand images. The collages from the younger children tended to be less detailed; and the commentaries were more limited in scope. However, for all age groups their views of the brands tended to be established; and there were clear negative and positive aspects to their interpretation of the brands, and of the images which they associated with the brandsBand these were clearly demonstrated via the collages and the discussions.

The cognitive developmental stages of young consumers restrict their ability to understand and move beyond concrete to more abstract relationships in their environments, and therefore the methodology in the study design had to take into account the mental operational skills of this group. The projective technique of collages was specifically chosen to try and elicit brand imagery from younger consumers using creative, rather than pen and pencil, tasks. However, the collages clearly demonstrated the different levels of development (e.g. language and literacy, spatial, manipulative, and abstract reasoning) between the boys and girls, which suggests that gender differences in research can be as important for younger consumers as for older consumers.

There were some gender differences in the approach to the task; to the collation of material for the collage; and to the interpretation of the brand image both pictorially via the collages and verbally via the commentaries. The girls tended to produce more detailed collages, often covering the whole area with pictures, and overlapping the pictures to create the effect of a mosaic. The girls also tended to offer more varied insights when interpreting the collages. Whereas the boys tended to focus almost exclusively on the associations between sportsmen and women, and the general sporting theme, when creating and discussing their collages; girls tended to look more widely for, and drew on a larger range of, cues (e.g. association of a high street store with 'nursery themes’).

LIMITATIONS

Some of the limitations of the research surround the nature of the research design and sample. For instance the use of purposive sampling restricts the generalizabilityBthough not necessarily the applicabilityBof the findings. Future research could extend the range of items examined within the product category of clothing and fashion beyond sweatshirts and T-shirts; and could examine a wider number of brands. Finally, a more systematic approach to the different levels of ability and skills across both gender and age groups would have enhanced the research design, and would have helped in the analysis and interpretation of the findings.

CONCLUSION

This exploratory study examined the potential contribution of an innovative methodology using collages for identifying and exploring how young consumers (7-10) perceive and evaluate products and brands.

REFERENCES

Belk, R. W., K. D. Bahn and R. N. Mayer (1982) "Developmental Recognition of Consumption Symbolism" Journal of Consumer Research 9 (June) 4-17

Belk, R., R. Mayer and A. Driscoll (1984) "Children’s Recognition of Consumption Symbolism in Children’s Products" Journal of Consumer Research (10) March 386-397

Greene, Jennifer C., Caracelli Valerie J. and Graham, Wendy F. (1989) "Toward a Conceptual Framework for Mixed-Method Evaluation Designs" Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Fall 11 (3) 255-274

Gregan-Paxton, Jennifer and Deborah Roedder John (1995) "Are Children Adaptive Decision-Makers? A Study of Age Differences in Information Search Behavior" Journal of Consumer Research (21) 4 March 567-580

Hill, Alexander J. (1997) "An Exploration of Symbolic Consumption and Product/Brand Imagery Among Young Consumers", MSc (Marketing) dissertation, Manchester School of Management, UMIST

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Mowen, John (1995) Consumer Behavior 4th ed. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Peracchio, L. A., (1991), 'Designing Research to Assess Children’s Comprehension of Marketing Messages’, Advances in Consumer Research, 18:23.

Roedder John, D. and Lakshmi-Ratan, R. (1992) "Age Differences in Children’s Choice Behavior: The Impact of Available Alternatives" Journal of Marketing Research XXIX (May) 216-226

Roedder John, D. & Sujan, M., (1990), 'Age Differences in Product Categorization’, Journal of Consumer Research 16 (March) 452-460.

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