KIDS are the biggest untapped market in the world. Part of me thinks it should remain that way: there’s a very fine line between exploiting kids and appreciating them.

Look at Nintendo, Barbie, the Tweenies even. All of them selling to kids,
playing on the peer pressure a bit, it must be said, but otherwise selling
fairly in my opinion.

However, a few friends and I have been witness to what I can only describe
as blatant exploitation of children at the hands of none other than The
Singing Kettle.  ‘Tis true! The multi-millionaire children’s entertainers
are very very good at it.

I’m not a fan, obviously, but my daughter and her friends are. To me, The
Singing Kettle is a bit like Fran and Anna, only worse – there’s four of
them. I can only remember one name, Arty, my daughter knows them all of
course.

Picture the scene: hundreds and hundreds of little kids – many of them
pre-school, P1 and P2 – all dressed up as clowns for the Singing Kettle
Silly Circus (it reminds parents on the tickets to dress the children but of
course, all the necessary clown regalia is on sale in the Singing Kettle
shop in the foyer). The stage directions, I would imagine, go something like
this:

Get lots of little children on the stage and make them join in songs.

Chat nicely to each of them: “what’s your name?”, “how old are you?”, all
very simple and friendly. But then comes the killer question: “Do you have
all the Singing Kettle videos?”

Answer “no”. Cue shocked look out into the audience at poor child’s parents
and say “tut, tut” very loudly while shaking head from side to side. Then a
subtle suggestion:”Well you’d better get mummy and daddy to take you to the
Singing Kettle shop in the foyer to stock up.” Try saying no to your little
one after that! Even having bought the video you can’t escape, there’s a
huge sales pitch at the end of each one.

What reminded me is the little girl I can see in the swimming pool of our
holiday hotel in Cyprus: she’s wearing a Singing Kettle T-shirt. It got me
thinking. The Scottish Kettle family of four – mum, dad, daughter and
son-in-law – are seriously smart, spotting the perfect opportunity to sell
the exorbitantly priced merchandise when the kids are hyper and there are
too many other people around to say no and risk your little angel causing
the tantrum scene from hell.

I certainly don’t grudge my daughter the fun she had at the Singing Kettle
Silly Circus, she had a ball. I didn’t grudge the (pounds)15 per adult or
whatever it was for the Tweenies show, although it becomes an expensive few
hours for a family of four or more when you are paying rock stadium prices
for children’s entertainment. The Tweenies stage set was impressive, the
performance well rehearsed and cleverly choreographed.

But a couple of out-sized plastic kettles, flats that have probably seen
better days in a Brownie stage production and an overly-made up family
intent on squeezing every last penny from their captive audiences rather
turned me off.

Is this business? The answer has to be yes. Is it an ethical, fair way to do
business? I wonder.

I think one of the golden rules in business is knowing your market (the
Singing Kettle certainly does that) and knowing how to sell to that market
fairly and with the knowledge that you are not exploiting – for your own
gains – an innocent element too young to understand market dynamics but
gullible enough to fall for the sales pitch.

During my travels I’ve noticed a huge difference between the ways in which
different countries target the children’s market. At home, we’re just
catching on to the fact that it’s important to offer good service for
children in the retail, entertainment and leisure industries.

In America they are, as you would imagine, way ahead of the game. The
attention to detail paid to customer service in the kid sector is
impressive: slick and polished, nothing forgotten. Because in the States
kids are a profitable market sector, there to be serviced.

In the Mediterranean, however, it’s somewhat different. The service certainly isn’t slick or polished, but kids are made to feel welcome,
nothing is too much trouble. The waiters and waitresses play with them,
treat them to extra scoops of ice cream, bring out toys belonging to their
own children.

The difference is that they don’t see children as a market, they care about
them. Perhaps we should take a leaf from their book!