Friday, February 8, 2008

Out Of The Mouths Of Children

If you have kids, you’ll know that they seem a lot more responsive to the big issues facing us on this planet than previous generations. Perhaps they feel time is running out, or more likely in my view, they get a lot better quality information in a far more engaging form. Look at some of the movies they watch. I’m thinking of documentaries like March of the Penguins, and so much of TV has animals in peril from a deteriorating environment as a storyline. Try watching a young kid’s TV show and you’ll start to see why they take the environment so seriously. It’s an education. Literally. Now we’re getting a positive cycle at work. As they get to know more and have more confident opinions, kids are becoming an increasing force to be reckoned with in the uptake of environmentally friendly products and brands. This is not twenty-somethings but young kids – kids in the single digits – with strong views they’re prepared to argue about. These kids are influencing their parents and their grandparents.

It’s well known that kids influence family decisions. The Economist calls them Trillion Dollar kids, but the gist is that kids under 14 influenced almost half of American household spending in 2005. That’s around $700 billion. Now imagine all that persuasive energy put behind sustainable enterprises and you’ve got a revolution underway. Next time you go buy a car, don’t be surprised if your youngest pushes for a hybrid Prius. Laurie David, producer of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, gets all this. She has written a beautifully illustrated book The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming with Cambria Gordon for just this group of young influencers and inspirers. The book has been attacked in the same way Gore’s efforts have on the detailed interpretation of data, but kids do need to understand the big issues of the day and global warming is certainly one of them. As for me, I have faith in the young. If we had made such a great job as custodians of the world, why do we need all these commissions and reports and committees now? It’s time to do some listening and you could do a lot worse than listen to a ten year-old.


Susan Plunkett said...

When I completed my Master's degree on student and teacher conceptions of specific environmental phenomena, the outcomes of my study (Australian) linked with several international studies in underscoring the essential importance of media as the pivotal instructor of sense making in this field.

David's book has been attacked for containing an incorrect set of data et al and I understand the publisher is going to spit out a new edition to correct the first error set, however, the book has undoubtedly generated a lot of in-home discussions which have led to family discussions about energy saving strategies etc.

But, why now? It's not that this information has been missing in the past or that this knowledge hasn't been broadcast before.

Has it come down to one or two power brokers with enough push and pull to generate activity beyond the rhetoric?

What hasn't been raised here is the information that emerged a decade ago that children were actually quite depressed about enviro issues. Think about it - how much 'good news' do we hear about the environment? When you hear scientists talking about repairing the ozone hole (for example) they can talk hundreds of years and not within a young child's lifetime. In fact, there are often dire predictions about what young children will have to face before the situation is reversed (if it is).

It worries me that, almost subconsciously, some adults may be resting on laurels assuming their children will be the saviours of the planet. It worries me that we are relying on kids being the role models and NOT the adults. It worries me because kids deserve to be assisted and 'held' through these issues - not pushed out to become saviours before their time.

Yet, I absolutely applaud issues to do with children becoming more aware and more responsive.

So, then, what sense making arises when we see plastic toys sold in plastic boxes sold in plastic bags et al and the market place PUSHES these sales and knows it will succeed because kids often ARE very influential on household spending in these domains.

Not too many kids will set about to ensure mum and dad buy a positive rating fridge - but they may push for the latest gadget that, by design, manufacture and packaging, flies in the face of enviro issues.

There are mixed messages here Kevin. On one hand there is a constant consumer push (isn't that the 'stuff' of your business?) and yet these oh-so-important enviro issues on the other hand.

I wonder if any ad agency would refuse to take on a campaign for a product that was clearly in defiance of 'greener' codes?

Kevin Roberts said...

Susan – I hear what you’re saying: Our job is to work with consumers, retailers and manufacturers to turn the tide; it’s never going to be something that can happen overnight. People will always need to buy stuff – it’s about buying the right stuff.