Babies and kids marketing

Making anxious first-time parents feel guilty is big business.
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01 .The parent trap


While there’s no doubt shopping for the new person in your life can be extremely enjoyable, among all the marketing hoopla how can an expectant parent determine what’s essential, what’s nice to have and what’s not needed?

So you’ve just had a baby or found out you’re having a baby. Either way there’s a lot to look forward to – first smiles, first steps and first words. What also comes with a baby is big change in lifestyle and your shopping habits too.

Australians spent $4.38 billion on baby products last year, and the segment is predicted to grow – concrete proof that expectant and new parents are fair game when it comes to the marketplace. 

Baby’s first steps – to the shops

Having a baby is an experience that can involve opening your wallet – a lot. After all, when there’s a new person joining your family they’ll need clothes, somewhere to sleep, maybe something to travel in and, as they get older, solid foods. But when does enough become enough?

A quick flick through pregnancy magazines or visit to one of the enormous babies and kids expos that tour the country shows the power of marketing when it comes to parenthood. 

The array of products available is mindboggling, from the basics, such as cots, strollers and clothes, to the extreme – knee pads for babies learning to crawl and crash helmets for those learning to walk, not to mention an array of surveillance devices to ensure your baby is under watch 24 hours a day. And then there are the products promising that with their purchase your baby will sleep, eat and/or develop better.

Consumer psychologist (and new dad) Adam Ferrier says that as a market segment, babies and kids has unique emotional qualities: status, safety and nurturing. “These are all very powerful things to build a brand on,” he says. 

“For parents there’s a genuine need for approval and to do the right thing. Because you are so inexperienced at being a parent, and there is a massive discrepancy between your actual and your ideal self, that’s something marketers can play into.”

However, Ferrier says that compared with similar markets overseas, the Australian market is still in its infancy. “It’s the tip of the iceberg, there’s a lot more to this market and what can be made of it.”

Robin Barker, registered midwife and early childhood nurse and author of acclaimed Australian baby-care book Babylove, says that while there are plenty of things on the market for babies (and kids) parents really don’t need, advertising and marketing like to imply otherwise. 

“It’s full-on for a first-time mother the first time she’s hit with all this stuff,” she says. “There’s so many different brands out there and they are all working hard to make you feel guilty.”

For more information about kids' health, see our Babies and kids section.


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You can't help but want to care for your child - you can't resist it - and marketers know that.
- Dr James Best

Dr James Best is a Sydney-based GP who specialises in babies and children and is the author of an upcoming book, Kidsense. He says that the levels of guilt and anxiety of parents he sees in his practice are on the rise, particularly when it comes to what they think they should be doing – and buying – for their children.

Best says that where once parents would have learned from “the village” and other parents, in modern life they tend to learn from marketing, the internet and advertising. “Many parents I see, particularly with their first child, are absolute sitting ducks for vulnerability in all kinds of respects. You can’t help but want to care for your child – you can’t resist it – and marketers know that. What the marketing implies is that you must be perfect you must do everything and tick every box.

“Your child must do every activity. What if they miss the chance to how learn to play the piano? The marketing implies you’d better do it or you’re a failure as a mother. You go into shops and see a vast array of guilt-driven messages thrown at parents. You get people being provided with so many choices that even if they’re smart and well-educated they’ll start making illogical choices.

“As an example, you’ll see parents tying themselves up in knots to provide their baby with perfect organic meals – when perhaps something out of a jar would be just fine. But then they’ll go and buy something such as an amber teething necklace, which is a choking hazard. It’s easy to lose perspective.”

The kiddie industrial complex

Lenore Skenazy, US-based author of the best-selling book Free-Range Kids, tours the world speaking about what she calls the “kiddie safety industrial complex” and modern parents’ obsession with safety and the stuff that we need to buy to supposedly protect them. “The market these days supports the idea that somehow our kids are too vulnerable, and that we are too inept, to keep them alive without a phalanx of stuff no other generation in history ever needed,” she says.

“There is a onesie (jumpsuit) that monitors your baby’s breathing and sends you a text. There are baby monitors that allow you to check on your baby via a special camera, helmets and harnesses to help them learn to walk. These are the kind of things that went from the special needs market to the normal children’s.

“The marketplace has taught us that the babies won’t ‘work’ on their own – that you need to buy ‘stuff’ to allow them to work. As soon as you implant that fear in a parent you can extract money from them.”

Baby-helmet-marketingProceed with caution

So how do parents avoid the marketing guff and work out what’s really necessary? Barker says there are a few basics that babies really need and beyond that, let common sense prevail. “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

Products promising to induce sleep or stop crying particularly irk Barker. “It’s a shame when a mother takes her child to a pharmacy and says that the baby is crying. But instead of being told ‘that’s what babies do’, the pharmacist will probably try to sell her some kind of product for colic or wind that we know won’t work.”

She is equally dismissive of the vast range of kid-specific food, drinks and personal care products available in most supermarkets. “A baby can eat full-strength yoghurt from the very beginning, so they don’t need special baby yoghurt. Equally, babies over the age of 12 months don’t need special toddler formula or milk – they can go straight onto regular cow’s milk.”

However, Barker does concede that the lure of the market is more than many can stand. “It’s full-on – and I’ll be the first to put my hand up and say I’m a willing and happy consumer too. But when it comes to baby products I really feel that less is more. You have to have your antenna up, and remember advertising is advertising.

When it comes to parenting, Dr James Best says parents need to know where to put their priorities.


What’s worth worrying about “Cars seats, bike helmets, protection from serious disease and illness. An awareness of the dangers such as falling from heights, drowning and burns.”

What’s not “Worrying excessively about household germs or child abduction and the products that promise to protect them from these things. This is where a parent’s anxiety can be totally misplaced.”


What’s worth worrying about Getting down on the floor and playing with your child, active listening, role playing. “They need your attention and time. This is how they learn, and the best person they can learn from is you.” Reading and talking is how children learn social skills, speech skills and how to interact.

What’s not Any kind of program, course or product that promises to do that. “Babies and children don’t need to do a course or use some product – they just need you.”

For more on what’s a must-have, a nice-to-have and what’s best avoided, take a look at our Babies and Kids section or download our free guide for expectant parents.

For practical safety advice without the hard sell, go to

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