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Carmaker ads increasingly pitched to buyers too young to drive

November 18, 2010

Automakers have long licensed their names to toy-car companies and designed some television commercials to attract kids. As the numbers have increased, so have the manufacturers’ methods of reaching kids, extending more product placements into nontraditional places where kids go to play.


A growing number of auto companies are wading in child-oriented areas such as gyms that cater to kids, social-networking sites where young people hang out and the Saturday-morning cartoons, the Wall Street Journal reported Nov. 9. 

A nationwide chain of franchise gyms for children between 3 months old and 13 years old is in talks with at least three carmakers to advertise in the gyms and incorporate miniature vehicles into classes.


On a Web site that draws 2 million kids ages 8 to 15, virtual Scion xBs are sold to those with enough "clams," the site’s monetary unit. Or the children can meet with Eric, a virtual Toyota Financial Services adviser, to finance an xB. 

And a ubiquitous hamburger chain included toy Hummers in its Happy Meals in August—the first time a manufacturer directly offered versions of its vehicles in the meals. A new Web site,, has games and printable coloring pages of H3 models.


The increased targeting of kids comes as evidence grows that today’s doting parentscan be nagged by their children into buying big-ticket items like cars—or at least take their kids into account when picking a brand. 

According to a May report from a publishing division of, about 37 percent of parents with children aged 3 to 11 say their children have a significant impact on the brands they choose. James McNeal, a child-marketing consultant, estimated that children under 14 last year influenced about 47 percent of household purchases.


As for cars, about 62 percent of parents said their children "actively participate" in car-buying decisions, according to a study by J.D. Power & Associates and the Nickelodeon television network. 

Advertising to children normally involves federal regulations and industry guidelines, but there are few guidelines for product placement in new advertising like virtual Web sites and video games. Company officials say the promotions are fun and in some cases educational.


Toyota Financial executives say their Web promotion helps teach kids about how financing works.