The power of youth

Ruth De Vere describes how young people are key to improving animal welfare now and in the future. Corporate marketing tells us why and how.

Education is crucial in helping children form and maintain positive attitudes to animals, and to help them grow into ethically conscious adults. The corporate world invests huge sums in appealing to a youth audience, but what can we take from this in our approach to engage young people with animal welfare?

It doesn’t matter who you talk to, few people disagree with the importance of educating young people. Every nation that is able to, invests in the schooling of their youngsters. It’s a huge cost but the cost of educating children is far outweighed by the cost of not educating them[1] because planning for the future by equipping each new generation with the skills to be active citizens that make a valuable contribution, makes sense for the economy and society at large.

Investing in youth is just as prevalent in the corporate world. The average 4-year-old can recognise brands[2], and almost every major media programme for children has a line of merchandise including food, toys, clothing and accessories in an effort to establish and promote nagging[3].  Pester power is a well-known phenomenon. Every parent understands the power of desire and want in children. Parents making purchasing decisions on behalf of or for children (from the weekly food shop, to family holidays to charitable donations), can be motivated by a spectrum of reasons from a need to quickly pacify, all the way through to a conscious desire to empower and teach their children about decision making and the value of money.

Marketing to children is a multi-billion-dollar global industry that is designed to create brand loyalty, but it extends far beyond the toy industry and those products that lose their significance once the children grow out of the ‘play years’. Fast food restaurants have child-specific menu choices and play-areas. Major brands produce iconic back-to-school stationery. Banks provide free accounts for minors – all at great cost to themselves and with little immediate return on investment – because once a child feels welcome and at home in familiar surroundings, or comfortable using trusted brands and products during the golden years of childhood while they are forming their deep-seated values and principles, then these brands and values will stay with them for life. 

Adults are fickle when they are introduced to new brands – how many store loyalty cards do you have on you right now? Are you really loyal to one store, or do you use the best deal at any one time and flip from one brand to another? But what about where you opened your first bank account? Did you have a bank account with them as an adult? A credit card? A mortgage? What about the food brands that saw you through childhood?  Affection and nostalgia has a big part to play too, but they don’t call them the ‘formative years’ for nothing. The corporate world knows that this is where they really start to see a return on their 20-year investment. And it is worth the wait.

Young people’s voice for animals

Young people have a hugely important role to play in improving animal welfare, now and in the future. With an innate sense of empathy for animals, very young children instinctively acknowledge the intrinsic value of animals, and ascribe sentience and cognitive abilities to them. Over time, formal schooling and societal norms chip away at this, leading to adults who think and behave very differently.

If children are reached with education on the subject of animal welfare, then this will reinforce their initial view of the world and prevent the loss of these principles as they grow into adults. But we don’t just have to wait for this long-term, generational change. Precisely because of their power in the household with regard to purchasing decisions, they can change the way families consume – ceasing the demand for entertainment in the form of animal attractions or fast food that relies on poor animal welfare in the supply chain, or using pester power to demand high-welfare food and entertainment for example. We simply need to provide young people with a call to action to drive this ‘upwards education’.

Education for and the inclusion of young people in initiatives for animal welfare are a necessary and progressive approach to ensuring that future generations don’t make the same mistakes as the past.  Taking a lesson from the marketing of corporates, despite their diminutive size and years, young people have enormous potential and are worth paying attention to. Children and young people are perfectly placed as voices of reason and agents of change.

[1] International Monetary Fund, (2004). Educating Children in poor countries 

[2] McNeal, J., U. (1992). Kids as Customers p10-11. Lexington Books, New York

[3] Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Marketing to Children Overview. 

* This is a personal blog. Any views or opinions represented in this blog belong solely to the blog owner and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of World Animal Protection.