"A growing number of companies are looking at children as potential adult customers," according to a 2000 edition of Youth Markets Alert, a marketing-industry newsletter. "Companies such as banks, car manufacturers, and hotels are hoping to build relationships with children that will continue throughout adulthood."
The realities of retail economics makes it difficult for marketers to hold back. Spending power among "tweens" (8- to 12-year-olds) has surged, as have the volume and variety of products being offered. With dozens of brands of jeans to choose from, for example, the peddlers of teen fashion are now directing their products to kids in middle school.
Many companies are aiming even younger. Several media groups publish kids' editions of their mainline magazines, including National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, and Time. In 1998, The Arts & Entertainment network launched a series of biographies for children about famous Americans to make kids familiar with the network's program, "Biography".
"What we're trying to do with the books is to get kids more aware of what 'Biography' is, ... to let them know the brand is out there," Jonathan Paisner, then-manager of consumer-product development, told KidScreen magazine.
Some companies, such as McDonalds, have for decades sought to turn kids into life-long customers. New studies about brand consciousness among preschoolers have prompted other firms across the spectrum of businesses to follow suit.
James McNeal, author of "The Kids Market," found that children first relate to brands in infancy. They recognize characters, colors, and symbols. Around age 2, most toddlers might begin asking for products by name.
One year later, children start to evaluate brands, deciding, for example, that one brand of peanut butter is better than another. By the time children enter first grade, they are aware of more than 200 brands, according to Mr. McNeal.