Big Brands and Kids
How children respond to being asked their opinion
19th April, 2012
Long before co-creation became a recognised trend, researchers relied on setting up and observing scenarios that enabled them to delve more deeply into consumer behaviour. When you look back it seems so obvious that this need for observation, leading to a deeper understanding of behaviour, was only one part of a much bigger picture. At the time it seemed quite ground breaking. Of course, then we wanted to know much more about what the consumer thought of this product or that brand, but we did not expect them to come up with any ideas that would inspire marketers or brand managers to veer from a chosen course of action. There was a clear delineation between the role of the experts (the researchers, marketers, the product/brand developers and the designers) and that of the consumer.
Co-creation as we now know it is still being refined and re-defined. It still takes 'experts' to decide on the best ways to 'extract' insights of which the unsuspecting consumer may not be wholly aware. But we have certainly come a long way. More and more there is the acknowledgement that the consumer may also hit on a creative insight or idea that will best trigger brand developments.
Years ago, when we began to develop creative ways to work with children, we developed what is now called 'co-creation', but with a whole different objective. Our hypothesis was that kids would be able to hone in on gaps and opportunities in the market by giving them the time and tools to explore and create. This approach was sparked by the educational theories of Dr Maria Montessori (her philosophies are those of the Montessori schools movement, still prevalent throughout the world). Her key guiding principles of independence, observation, following the child (letting the child lead), prepared environment and absorbent mind were principles upon which we establish research projects. Our intent was to utilise kids' creativity to be able to dig deeper to uncover unmet needs. In the same way that a doctor may analyse physical output or a psychiatrist analyses artistic or written output, we analysed kids' creative output to uncover important themes of opportunity. Our by-product of the process - the consumer ideas - were sometimes used directly, or served as key inspiration for new product ideas that ultimately were designed for market.
The anecdotal story of a change to the Kleenex box is a perfect example of this. A group of children were evaluating, as the story goes, several types of tissues, with focus on different colours and texture. But one little girl made a comment that at first confused researchers: she asked for a man to be put in the box. On exploring this further they found she had an issue with the way the tissues were delivered. They either came out in a clump or tore. No one else had really thought about this aspect, yet on reflection it was an irritating trait people had learnt to put up with until the little girl voiced her thoughts on the matter. Kleenex effectively set about putting the next best thing to a man in the box. They created, developed and eventually patented the folded pleat system which we now would not be without. Now whether the story is true or not doesn't matter - the point of the story is true, though. Sometimes we make the decision that consumers aren't creative because they don't communicate ideas to us in a way that we can easily interpret. Our job, as partners in co-creation with consumers, is to find a way to put the metaphorical man in the box.
To a certain extent, our work with children has always been more about co-creation because we have found it is one of the best ways to explore brands and categories with kids. They are frequently less inhibited and as a consequence find it easier to be more creative than most adults. There is also an honesty and frankness in children which cuts through and often clearly highlights challenges adults hadn't really considered. Through our work with children we then develop ways to help adult consumers 'be more like kids' and help us in co-creation projects as well. Admittedly it takes a bit more warm-up and creative ideation techniques, but the results are successful nonetheless.
Brand or category stretch is probably where co-creation is at its most powerful. Consumers rarely hanker for (nor can they easily express) what they have never had. They are, though, in an ideal position to suggest improvements to a product or category they have used for years. Elicitative approaches with the intent to generate straight-forward suggestions that can immediately be put into action are usually unsuccessful and not often that insightful. Projective techniques as a tool to spark co-creation to help the consumer bring to life a new reality of a specific brand or category context have a much greater chance of providing the actionable answers that drive innovation.
Co-creation was one of the inspirations for Kellogg's Cereal Straws. In the mid-2000, when working in a classroom with kids in Spain, the idea of an edible straw was created by kids when exploring obstacles to enjoying cereal. We had asked the class of 9 and 10 year old kids to have fun, and draw ideas that solved one of the problems they have with cereal or the eating occasion in which they ate cereal (breakfast or 'la merienda' [afternoon snack]). Of course, a requirement of all ideas is that they would taste good and be enjoyable to consume. One small group within the classroom had trouble with the milk, and they thought milk was boring and something that their mums made them have. They indicated that drinking anything was always more fun with a straw - and how much fun would it be if you could then afterwards eat the straw! Then they talked about flavour and being able to have more control over which flavour and how crunchy. Though it came to market many years later, Cereal Straws was a result of kids' imaginations and problem-solving and adults' captive attention and delivery processes. A winning, co-creation team!
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