Play test in market research with children - Publication Research&Results

Dirk Ziems

How can market research explore children’s particular forms of expression? Dirk Ziems explains how the Scenotest helps analyse brands at a depth-psychological level in a way that’s appropriate for children.

Children from 5-10 are a very special consumer group, very strongly driven by impulse in their behaviour and wishes. They (still) perceive their world as having a magical soul. They are closely associated with their parents as decision-makers in consumption, and with their siblings and friends as direct models.

Ethics and marketing

Psychological market research with children poses ethical challenges. While market researchers assist consumer goods suppliers in marketing their brands and products for children, they should very responsible in taking on this role, and not support products and marketing strategies which are damaging to children’s development. However, market research for children should not be dismissed out of hand, as many brands and products serve children as a means for growth and development. Sensibly conducted psychological market research can help strengthen brands and products for children in this role.

Communication suitable for children

Market research with children also faces a difficult methodological challenge: children communicate in non-adult ways. They express themselves in symbolic actions, have a totally different relationship with verbal statements and, for reasons of developmental psychology, do not have a high degree of abstraction ability. They also behave in an “undisciplined” way – although their apparent digressions frequently offer the greatest insights.

If you try market research techniques with children which were typically developed for adults, such as interviews or questionnaires without follow-up, experience shows that you can as a rule expect massive distortions and misinterpretations. The reason is that if children are called on to communicate in an organised adult way, they tend to perceive the interview as a school test – they are intimidated or tend to offer rationalisations.

Playful techniques

However, market research’s job should be to offer space for forms of expression suitable for children. In qualitative psychological market research, creative and playful methods have proved especially valuable as research techniques, for example drawing and painting characters and scenes in connection with the brand, and modelling figures who represent brand characteristics.

concept m has developed a particularly creative technique for market research with children – market research with the Scenotest. This is an established diagnostic technique from the field of child therapy. Children are asked to reenact scenes and conflicts from their own lifeworld with play figures which they can choose freely from a standardised set (fig. 1). What is unconsciously expressed in the play scenes, allows psychodiagnostics to draw very relevant conclusions.

Scenotest in market research

We have modified the diagnostic Scenotest technique for brand diagnostics, and use it routinely in market research with children. We have taken the play figures, which symbolise everyday objects (house, trees, car, fruit etc) and both attachment figures of the child’s world (father, mother, grandparents, siblings) and self-attributions and affects (animal figures, such as lion, monkey, mouse), and added further items, such as a small cellphone and a TV.

concept m mostly uses the Scenotest technique with one of the following directions for play.

Choose a figure that represents brand XY and pick other figures they spend a day or experience an exciting adventure with.

Imagine there was a new spot for brand XY: what would happen in the spot? Use the play figures to show this.

How children perceive brands

Using brand examples we can show how the Scenotest delivers entirely new horizons of understanding of what brands trigger in children, what development psychological themes and areas of conflict brands offer to mediate in, and which twists work in spots for children (and which don’t). An example here is a case study where we used Scenotest analysis for the children’s brands Punica and Hohes C. The TV spots for the two brands have fundamentally different psychological positioning, from the children’s point of view. Punica symbolises autonomy and adventure, with the downside of possible uncertainty and loss of security. Several brand spots reinforce perception of this downside and are counterproductive for the brand. By contrast, Hohes C stands for positioning in the area of protection, nourishment and growth. The brand is aimed much more strongly at the mother than Punica, and suggests a safe, protected family world. For children, the security the brand communicates is attractive, but relatively unexciting. Communication dwells on pedagogical themes which tend to irritate children.

Driving measures for optimisation

Based on the findings from the Scenotest play sessions, we can derive the central brand drivers, and offer concrete suggestions for goal-directed optimisation of communication. One Punica spot puts children in an adventure story of a plunge down a waterfall. A fruit hero rides a Punica bottle down a waterfall. By opening the closure, the hero catapults themselves out of the danger zone with magical Punica strength. For the children, the spot constitutes an invitation into promising jungle worlds where they can become their own hero. Implicit themes of the spot are being detached from the parents, trying out a sense of autonomy and the supporting role of the peer group.

Heroes have to make sense

However, the reenactment of the spot in the Scenotest reveals serious problems with the spot’s effect. In the test, the children regularly act out forms of helpless aggression. The reason for this is that the spot shows a weak and helpless hero. The grape falling with the bottle does not offer any potential for identifying with a hero. The grape is unable to escape from the situation by its own skills, and is dependent on the orders of the other fruits. This leaves Punica as a stupid hero, the Punica adventure world doesn’t hold up. Everything is destroyed (fig. 2). Alternative spot proposals which the children develop in the Scenotest show that instead of an outmatched hero they would prefer to see a team of fruits which come through adventures together.

Harmony is convincing

A Hohes C spot shows a boy who finds his younger sister in his treehouse. To his horror, she’s painted the treehouse a cissy pink. However, the little sister defuses the situation immediately by offering her brother Hohes C and promising that they’ll paint the house pirate black again together. The Scenotest analysis shows that the spot doesn’t carry children away into their own fantasy world, but points to adults’ demands: don’t fight, get along! The play scenes accordingly present particularly well-behaved and harmonious worlds. However, parents particularly welcome the positioning of Hohes C as a a bandaid for harmony.

This article has been published in the 5th Research&Results 2017.

For further information please contact dirk.ziems@test.local

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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