How much is too much? Where do you draw the line? Kids, and parents, are navigating their way to new normals when it comes to privacy, consumption, and even how the family evolves after divorce.
Ziya dreams of being a supermodel. She walked the ramp at a fashion week in Mumbai this year, keeps up with the latest collections from her favourite brands, and recently gave up potato chips for the sake of her waistline.
Ziya is six years old.
In a perfect confluence of marketer and consumer, the show she modelled for this year was the fourth edition of India Kids Fashion Week, where children aged 4 to 14 walk the ramp modelling children’s wear.
Ziya is their ideal customer. At last count, she had 15 pairs of shoes, including one-inch heels. Her wardrobe contains net tops, dresses, gowns and six purses.
“She loves to shop for rings, earrings, hairclips and necklaces,” says her mother, Esther D’Souza, 32, laughing. “She has a big fetish for shoes and bags.”
“Today I’m wearing a Disney T-shirt, Zara shorts and Crocs,” Ziya adds, pointing to each item with glossy pink nails. “I love dressing up.”
Her parents, a DJ and an entrepreneur, spend 20 % of their monthly salary on branded clothes, shoes, bags and cosmetics for their daughter.
“We don’t like to say no when we can afford to buy her what she wants,” says Ziya’s father, Delon. “But we do say no if she demands adult make-up.”
It’s never been easy knowing when to say no, and each generation has wanted its children to grow up in greater comfort.
“That’s why children have always been a target segment,” says Ruppal W Sharma, associate professor of marketing at Delhi’s Indian Institute of Foreign Trade. “But over the past three to five years, the size of this segment has grown and so has the mix of products being offered. From snacks, books and toys, we now have cosmetics, debit cards and bank accounts, accessories, smartphones and tablet PCs, all being tailor-pitched to the brand-conscious child.”
In many cases, adds Sharma — who co-authored a 2009 research paper titled ‘Marketing to Children: A Planning Framework’ — adult offerings are being customised, trimmed and sold to children.
These include ‘child’ spa packages with extra-virgin oil massages, manicure and pedicure salon parties, junior bank accounts with debit cards, helicopter birthday parties, and air-conditioned play areas with kids’ cafés.
“It is good to empower children with the power of choice. To what extent, is totally in the hands of the parents,” argues Shahista Merchant, CEO of India Kids Fashion Week.
In an indication of how the scramble to capture this market is intensifying, 50 designers have registered for IKFW’s upcoming shows in Mumbai and Delhi in June 2016, up from 30 this year. Meanwhile, applications from parents of child ‘models’ have risen from 4,500 in 2015 to 7,000 in 2016. After auditions, a total of 2,000 children will be picked to walk the ramp.
“Because of social media, parents now know of national and international trends. A picture of Suri Cruz [daughter of Hollywood stars Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise; known for her extensive and exorbitant wardrobe] is discussed on Indian timelines, comments and feeds,” says Neha Sachar Mittal of apparel brand Kidology. “Add to this, discerning parents who want their children to look a certain way and are willing to spend.”
Pune-based family counsellor and author Gouri Dange is critical of this kind of aspiration and the selling of constant dissatisfaction, first to adults and now to children.
“The idea of aspiration shouldn’t be bound to ‘things’ alone,” she says, “or we’ll end up raising children who prize material possessions over people and relationships.”
SO HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?
Here’s another question: How young is too young for a debit card?
In less than three years since Kotak launched junior accounts for children — complete with debit cards for those over 10 — a total of 50,000 kids have been signed up.
“We introduced these accounts to tap into the kids segment as these will be our future bankers,” says senior executive vice-president Sumit Bali.
Such targeted marketing creates the kind of playground competition that saw Delhi-based freelance journalist Amina Azad and her family stop off in Mumbai on their way home from holiday — just so that her kids could finally say they had been to Kidzania.
Kidzania, incidentally, is a wildly popular entertainment centre where children play at doing jobs, earning ‘money’, and spending it at make-believe stores.
“There is a lot of park politics,” says Amina. “They brag to each other, come home and nag us. Kidzania is the buzzword now, so even though we do put our foot down now and then, this time we gave in.”
For Goa-based Nora Aguiar, 40, an administrator and mother of three, the lines are clearly drawn. “Whenever I feel my children are making an unreasonable demand, I ask if they would spend their own pocket money on that thing,” she says. “This often makes them rethink.”
A recent incident involving her nine-year-old son Lennan elucidates, however, just what the parents are up against. He won a junior spa voucher at a Goa resort, for a half-hour kiddie massage priced at Rs 2,400. This time, the price tag prompted the child to ask himself if it would have been worth the money.
“I felt very refreshed after the massage, but I would only go again if I were to win another voucher,” he says, laughing. “Not with my pocket money.”