What Marketers Should Know About How Covid-19 Is Changing Gen C as Consumers

The pandemic will subside, but deeper challenges, like ensuring kids’ privacy, are here to stay

Brands have not ignored the rising influence of kid consumers. Getty Images

Key insights:

Brands have a fresh chance to connect with “Generation C,” the emerging generation of kids and teens that has seen Covid-19 transform their lives.

That’s the upshot of a report from SuperAwesome, a kid-focused compliance firm that recently partnered with WPP, underscoring how the $1.7 billion kids digital ad market must evolve to meet the needs of a new cohort.

The report found several key shifts among young consumers. Since the onset of Covid-19, there has been a boom in kids’ digital entertainment consumption, with over 60% of children watching more YouTube and playing more video games than before the pandemic.

Although screen usage is expected to fall as lockdown measures ease, brands can still anticipate that other quarantine behaviors will persist, according to the report. Brands should prepare for a festive fall, as this year’s back-to-school season is likely to be a celebratory moment for the almost 90% of those under 16 looking forward to returning to classrooms.

Additionally, Generation C, which SuperAwesome defines as 6- to 16-year-olds, has more household purchasing influence than previous generations. For example, more than 60% of this generation of kids said they participate in online grocery shopping, according to the study.

Dylan Collins, SuperAwesome, CEO, told Adweek the Covid-19 lockdown has brought families closer together, and as a result, parents are treating kids 16 and younger much more as equals. “That’s then giving them much more influence over things like ecommerce and household purchasing decisions,” Collins added.

Brands capitalizing on shifting trends

Video-game marketers have been quick to respond. Even before Covid-19, in-game concerts hosted by the likes of Fortnite and Roblox attracted millions of viewers. Now, in lieu of school, games have gone from a pastime to a virtual playground.

“Roblox has been very aggressive in rolling out support for different social places within the game. … [Covid-19 has led to] an acceleration of that trend,” Collins said. For instance, in April, Fortnite’s concert with Travis Scott caught the attention of 12.3 million players.

Brands have not ignored the rising influence of kid consumers. “I think you would struggle to find a company, be they digital-centric or not, who isn’t thinking about engaging with the family on some sort of digital basis,” Collins said.

Even traditional brick-and-mortar retailers are experimenting with ways to reach families at home. As grocery ecommerce penetration has soared—jumping 72% during the pandemic—nearly 70% of parents report now involving their children in the task, according to SuperAwesome.

Drawing on research from his new book, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania marketing professor Jonah Berger said some pandemic-driven trends are here to stay.

“People have had to change their habits a lot lately,” Berger said. “In terms of which of those are going to stick around, a lot will depend on people wanting to do these things together and marketers creating ways for people to do those at home.”

Berger added that advertisers must adapt their practices along with families’ changing their consumption habits. “For example, we like to go to concerts with friends. If I’m going to do that at home, what’s that experience going to be like?” he said. “Am I going to invite other people over? The more marketers think through those details, the more successful they will be.”

Opportunity needs to be balanced by responsibility

Kids’ growing internet presence means that as brands expand their digital marketing efforts, protecting kids’ privacy is a must. Last year, Google was required to pay $170 million–the largest penalty to date under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act—in a settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission after YouTube allegedly collected information on underage users.

With enforcement of the California Consumer Privacy Act slated to begin July 1, the regulatory environment around privacy is set to tighten further. Last week, the FTC announced that children’s app developer HyperBeard must pay $150,000 in fines for violating COPPA.

The FTC found that HyperBeard allowed third-party advertisers to track users of its apps without obtaining parental consent. After collecting personal information from users, advertisers pushed targeted ads to players of HyperBeard games.

“Children make up 40% of new internet users and yet, the [digital advertising] infrastructure was not designed with children’s use in mind,” said Sanja Partalo, evp, global head of strategic development and partnerships at WPP.

When advertising to children, the IAB recommends collecting no data at all to avoid legal trouble.

“The emerging space around kids and family and privacy is being defined by all of these new privacy laws. This is where everything is going,” Collins said. “What is the best way we can stay in front of all of these privacy and compliance trends?”

Rachel Winicov is an intern with Adweek for the summer of 2020 focusing on digital media, ad tech and social media. She is a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studies classics. Rachel is from Philadelphia, Pa.
Ethan Wu is an intern on Adweek’s media team. He is also a rising senior studying economics at Cornell University.