Three Of Five Parents Involve Kids In Car-Buying Decisions, Study

April 17, 2012

It may come as a shock to some automakers, and a few parents, but a new proprietary study from The Family Room finds that three of five parents (57 percent) today involve their kids in car-buying decisions.

The story, originally appearing in Advertising Age, caught our attention, and we wanted more details. In a telephone interview, George Carey, CEO of The Family Room, told FamilyCarGuide that things have changed rather dramatically since the last survey in 2009. At that time, just 38 percent of parents surveyed said they involved their children in the car-buying decision process.

The latest study, conducted in 2011, looked at a number of different categories including automotive, vacations, electronic purchases, and others. The result is a lot of  information about the relative purchase influence of kids vs. parents, how often parents are conferring with their kids on cars to buy and what cars not to buy, as well as what brands are most aspirational to kids and their parents.

2013 Ford Fusion NASCAR Sprint Cup race car

2013 Ford Fusion NASCAR Sprint Cup race car

Favorite brands – kids vs. parents

Any guess as to which brands are the favorites among kids and their parents? You might be surprised. Kids gravitate toward the Jeep brand as their number one choice, at 18 percent. That’s followed by Chevrolet and Ford, tied at 17 percent each, then Toyota and Honda in a tie at 16 percent, and Volkswagen at 13 percent. Dead last: Chrysler and Mazda, tied at just 2 percent each.

As for the parents, the choices were more clear-cut, involving no ties among the top five choices. Toyota came in at number one with 29 percent, followed by Honda (24 percent), Ford (21 percent), Chevy (19 percent), and Jeep (9 percent). At the bottom and tied at 3 percent each: Hyundai and Mazda.

One point worth noting is that the survey didn’t get model-specific, so there’s no breakdown as to which Jeep or Chevy or Ford or Toyota, for example, kids or their parents most preferred.

Carey did comment, however, that NASCAR, based on many metrics, is the most popular family sport in America today and, to the extent kids are getting information about new cars, this is one source. That may account somewhat for the high percentages for Chevy and Ford, at least where kids are concerned.

What’s changed?

Things have moved from a world where things were driven by what the father or mother wanted to what the family wants. This is a huge potential impact, which, for the most part, Carey said that the automotive industry hasn’t embraced.

Several factors account for the shift toward more parental involvement of their offspring in what type of vehicle the family will buy. Carey outlined four of the most prominent.

1)    Good parenting – Parents’ definition of what constitutes good parenting is shifting. One of the number one values and lessons parents are trying to pass on to their kids today is the skill of making the right choices on their own. One of the ways parents are doing that is giving their kids “more engagement and more responsibility rehearsals” in family decision-making. Parents are teaching their kids to make good choices and evaluate their options effectively while they’re still at home and under the parents’ protection.

2)    Information - Parents are realizing that their kids have more information in many categories than they do. Kids are incredibly aware of developments in technology and consumer products and parents are increasingly likely to turn to them for their authority, to the extent that it’s warranted.

3)    Style - Parents, who are as conscious of style as anyone else, are increasingly turning to their kids as arbiters of what constitutes great style. “For example, we’re seeing dramatic increases in the frequency with which a mother will take her 12-year-old daughter with her clothes shopping, not for her daughter’s clothes, but for her clothes, with the intent of getting the daughter’s opinion of what’s cool and what she’ll look good in. And that’s applying to other categories as well.”

4)    Guilt – Parents are increasingly not as present in their kids’ lives because they have to work two jobs, quite often. “The parents can’t be present the way they were 20 and 30 years ago. As our economic pressures increase, our time with our children decreases.  We feel a sense of guilt that comes from that and tend to give our children more power in the decision-making.”

Automakers can do a better job

There’s no doubt that automakers can sharpen up their marketing to families since, in conversations with The Family Room, automakers pretty much said that while they’re interested in families, their management hasn’t gotten their arms around this area yet.

“To a lot of people, the families are kind of viewed as stodgy, the backwater of marketing, nothing very exciting happens in families,” said Carey. “Where all the action is today is with the adults and boomers and [especially] teens. That’s where the trends emerge and the things that are driving cultural change come from.”

As a consequence, there’s very little “unabashed family marketing” development in automotive. When you see a print ad or TV commercial or a billboard, it does not look it was written with a family in mind.

Think about the potential market. There are 130 million Americans who are part of a family living in a household with a child under the age of 15.

Carey mentioned one automaker, Toyota, which had “a really nice effort”, in their “Swagger Wagon” commercial, touting the Sierra minivan. Other than that example, Carey sees very little evidence of the automotive industry getting inside the needs of families and creating solutions that work for the entire family.

Who knows? Maybe we’ll soon see car commercials more geared toward this all-important demographic. In the meantime, check out the official Toyota “Swagger Wagon” music video of the 2011 Sienna SE in the YouTube clip below.

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