What My Toddler Teaches Me about Advertising

Having an 18-month-old can be an eye-opening experience in many ways, but recently I realized that he’s reminded me of a few important rules when it comes to effectively reaching target audiences.

“What can you learn about marketing from someone who has a five-second attention span?” you might ask. The answer is in the question — toddlers aren’t the only ones with short attention spans these days. Getting (and keeping) the attention of any consumer is a challenge in this era of instant gratification and multitasking.

What works for a toddler might just work for the masses.

Here are five things I keep in mind when it comes to reaching target audiences, thanks to my one-and-a-half-year-old.

  1. Catch them in the right mood.
    Even if your messaging is spot-on and you have a campaign that’s steeped in great insights and perfectly tailored to reach your consumer, you will get nowhere if you try to share that message with a consumer who isn’t ready to receive it. Just as toddlers can’t handle “new messages” when they’re cranky, hungry or tired, consumers might not pay attention to new messages when they’re in certain moods. Timing is everything.
  2. Be immediately engaging.
    Toddlers can shift their gaze in a nanosecond, even if they were previously focused on something they love. Apparently, we don’t grow out of that as adults — our average attention span is currently 8 seconds (down from 12 seconds just a few years ago!). That means you have zero time for a warm-up when it comes to capturing your consumer. Getting your message to this hyper-edited version of the elevator pitch requires a great deal of focus on what drives your target audience. Months of research must get funneled into an insight that can be communicated over eight “Mississippi’s.”
  3. Don’t rely on logic.
    My toddler is all about crayons, but not coloring in the lines. He loves to drive trucks — and staplers. He doesn’t care that staplers don’t have wheels or engines. Or comfortable seating. What “makes sense” doesn’t always “make stimulation,” and when it comes to advertising, we’re trying to get our target audience to feel something. Before sharing your campaign, take a look at the components and ask yourself, “Am I putting this together in a way that will engage and excite my audience?”
  4. Try things more than once.
    My first attempt at getting my son to use a fork didn’t go well. He used the handle to smear banana on the dog, then threw it across the room, nearly hitting a glass picture frame. A week later, we tried again. The fork was a huge success, and nothing was dirty or broken. With toddlers, some attempts to try new things are premature — they need a little more time getting used to one thing before being introduced to another thing. Consumers are no different. Asking them to make the leap from one idea to another may seem like too far a jump, or a jump they’re just not willing to do the moment you propose it. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, it might just mean it’s an idea to try another time.
  5. Use language they understand.
    It seems simple, right? But in reality, we talk to consumers “the wrong way” all the time. It’s one of the reasons why account planning became such an effective role in the advertising world — it’s our job to listen to the Voice of Customer, not just to hear what they’re saying, but how they’re saying it. It goes beyond buzz words, vernacular and jargon… it’s about intonation, inflection and emotional texture. My son loves trucks, and refers to anything with four wheels as a “guck.” If I point out a vehicle to him and refer it to by the proper name (a red car), he has no reaction. If I say, “Look at that guck!” we’ll spend 10 minutes talking about it.

Remember — when it comes to good advertising, it’s about finding the fastest, most effective way to create stimulation with your target audience.