It's just a game

Dirk Ziems

It's just a game

How can brand research take the special forms of expression of children into account? Dirk Ziems explains how the Sceno Test helps analysing brands on a child-oriented depth-psychological level.

Children aged five to ten years are a very particular consumer group. Their behaviour and their wishes are mainly driven by impulses. They (still) experience their environment like a magical world. They are very close to their parents, who make purchase decisions, and their siblings and friends as their direct role models.

Ethics and marketing

Psychological market research with children faces ethical challenges. Market researchers support manufacturers of consumer goods in marketing their brands and products for children. They have to be aware of the great responsibility of their role, accept it and make sure they do not support products and marketing strategies that are potentially harmful to children. Nevertheless, we do not have to demonize market research for children - because many brands and products are a means to foster infantile growth and development. Psychological market research that is conducted in a sensible way can therefore help strengthening brands and products regarding this special role they have for children.

Child-oriented communication

Market research with children also poses a considerable methodological challenge: Children communicate in non-adult ways. They express themselves in symbolic acts, have an entirely different relation to verbal statements, and do not show a high ability of abstraction due to their level of psychological development. They behave in an “undisciplined” way – but what seems like “deviations” can often reveal the most important insights.

If you employ traditional market research methods like interviews or questionnaires with children without challenging these methods, experience has shown that you have to brace yourself regularly for massive distortions and misinterpretations. If children are asked to communicate in the structured way adults do, they tend to perceive the interview like a school exam. This often intimidates them or leads them to rationalisations.

Playful methods

It is however up to market research to leave room for infantile ways of expression. Creative and playful research methods have proven particularly successful in qualitative-psychological market research, such as drawing and painting characters and scenes connected to the brand, or kneading figurines representing brand characters.

Concept m has developed a special creative method for market research with children: Brand research with the Sceno Test. It is a tried and tested diagnostic method employed in child therapy. Children are asked to re-enact situations and conflicts from their own lives using tokens that they can freely pick from a standardized set. Psychodiagnostics allows the deduction of highly relevant insights from the opinions children subconsciously express while playing.

Sceno Test in market research

We have adjusted the diagnostic Sceno Test method to brand diagnostics and now use it routinely in market research with children. We have enlarged the selection of tokens that represent everyday objects (house, trees, car, fruits, etc.), attachment figures for children (father, mother, grandparents, siblings) and self-attributions and affects (animal tokens like lion, monkey, mouse), adding more objects like a small mobile phone and a TV. concept m usually initiates the Sceno Test method with one of the following game instructions:

  • Pick a token that represents brand XY, and pick other tokens with which it passes the day or goes on a great adventure.
  • Imagine there’s a new TV advertising spot for brand XY. What would happen in that spot? Re-enact the spot using the tokens.

How children perceive brands

Using brand examples, we can show how the Sceno Test reveals completely new horizons for understanding what brands trigger in children, in which development-psychological topics and conflict fields brands make mediation offers and which plot twists in children TV spots work - and which ones do not work well. We would like to illustrate this with the example of one case study on Punica and Hohes C, juice brands for children, that we have conducted employing the Sceno Test analysis. From a children’s point of view, the TV spots represent two fundamentally different psychological ways of positioning: Punica stands for autonomy and adventures, with the downside of potential insecurity and loss of support and orientation. Some brand spots reinforce the experience of this downside and have a counterproductive effect on the brand. Hohes C, on the other hand, represents the positioning field of protection, care and growth. The brand addresses mothers much more than Punica and suggests a protected and happy family environment. Children perceive the emotional security that the brand conveys as relatively attractive but quite unsuspenseful. The communication hints at pedagogical topics that rather tend to annoy children.

Deducting optimisation measures

Based on the results of Sceno Test play sessions we can extract the central brand drivers and offer concrete advice on targeted communication optimisation. A Punica spot tells children the adventure story of falling down a waterfall. A fruit hero falls down a waterfall, sitting on a Punica bottle. By opening the cap, the hero can use the magical Punica powers to escape from the danger zone. For children, this spot represents seductive jungle worlds full of promises where they can become heroes themselves. Implicit topics of the spot are detachment from the parents, experiencing new personality aspects and the supporting role of the peer group.

Heroes have to make sense

But re-enacting the spots in the Sceno Test points to grave problems of the effect the spot has: In the Sceno game, the children repeatedly show forms of helpless aggression. This is due to the fact that the spot shows a weak, helpless hero. The grape vine falling down the waterfall on the bottle does not offer identification potential as a hero. The vine is unable to free itself from the situation but depends on the commands of the other fruits. This way, Punica becomes a stupid hero, the Punica adventure world does not last. Everything gets destroyed. Alternative suggestions for spots, developed by children in the Sceno game, show that instead of an overwhelmed hero, they would rather see a team of fruits that gets through and adventure together.

Harmony convinces

A Hohes C spot shows how a boy finds his younger sister in a tree house. Much to his shock, she has painted the house girly pink. But the sister immediately removes the tension by offering her brother some Hohes C and by promising they will paint the house pirate black again together. The Sceno Test analysis shows that the spot does not trap children in their own fantasy worlds but hints at what the grown-ups always say: Don’t fight! Live in harmony! Accordingly, children re-enact very nice and harmonic worlds in the game scenes. Positioning Hohes C as a way to re-establish harmony however works really well with parents.

Published in: Research & Results 05/2017


For further information please contact:

Dirk Ziems
Co-Founder and Shareholder

Dirk Ziems
Dirk Ziems ist Experte für tiefenpsychologisches Marketing und berät auf Basis von Markt-, Medien- und Kulturforschung weltweit Unternehmen und Konzerne in zahlreichen Branchen und Ländern. Als Mitbegründer der Global Research Boutique Concept M und der Marketingberatung Flying Elephant begleitet er Themen wie die Adaption von Erfolgsprodukten in neuen kulturellen Kontexten, das tiefe Verständnis neuer Konsumgenerationen in China und USA, die Transformation der Werbekommunikation in der neuen digitalen Medienwelt oder die Neuorientierung der Brands in Post-Corona-Zeiten. Dirk Ziems ist auch als Gastdozent an verschiedenen Universitäten tätig.

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