Soft-Selling to Kids the Right Way

Selling to kids doesn't have to be sleazy. Follow the examples these three companies have set to do it right.
Forbes Contributor: Makers, Inventors, Small Business, Forbes
January 02, 2012

Selling to children may seem objectionable or wrong. But if your heart is in the right place, it isn’t. Corporations sell to children and young people in advertising and marketing messages. Here are three companies that are doing it especially right.


In the spring of 2011, I was on the organizing team for a small, local maker faire called KitsapMaker to bring together families with children and the local Seattle maker community. Make magazine sells consumer-friendly kits that you can build yourself and it pushes a lifestyle that is growing in popularity.

Make’s mission is not overtly to serve children, but it is almost entirely about kids, young people and the kid in all of us. Make and its founders have fostered an increasing awareness of how important it is to integrate hands-on, do-it-yourself learning with traditional education.

The maker movement is about work-life integration and reconnecting with the things around us. You can read more about it in Made by Hand, Mark Frauenfelder’s book and on the Make blog. Or, you can buy a kit to build with your child from MakerShed.


The marketing world talks about “digital natives.” By that, we usually mean the kids who are between 10 and 20 years old. But I believe the digital native is the 2-year-old holding mom’s iPhone and deleting apps or photos (sorry Mom). These kids are even more “native” than the teens who grew up with gaming devices like the Nintendo DS or Gameboy.

Apple softly encourages products sales by running free youth workshops and camps for kids. They can build a photo album, compose a song in GarageBand or learn the ins and outs of building an iMovie. The Apple Retail Store offers ways for kids to engage with new technology and make something for themselves. These iOS devices have forever changed the world.


Toms is a pioneer in the One for One Movement. For every pair of shoes you purchase, the company donates a pair to someone in need, usually a child. What the company sells to children is a dream of education and how to make a difference.

Toms is having a far-reaching effect on the children and families who receive a pair of shoes for free. It also affects the young person who gets inspired to start a company that gives back to the local and global community. The company doesn’t target children to make shoe sales, it targets people who care about giving back.

Social enterprise is no longer a pipe dream. Many companies were inspired by Paul Newman, who started Newman’s Own, and others that focused on the triple bottom line: financial, social and environmental. Two Degrees is one company that was inspired. It donates a meal to a hungry child for every energy bar you purchase.

Other organizations have positive ways of engaging with children and young people. Home Depot has building clinics. IKEA has play areas, small carts and hidden paths for kids to explore. Trader Joe’s has stickers and stuffed animals hidden that kids can search for. All of these create an experience that’s fun and sometimes educational for children. Parents appreciate the intent and effort in these programs.

In 2012, you can engage children in a way that helps them learn, explore and appreciate the world around them. They’ll find that they, too, can make a difference, maybe by starting a company one day that serves others. You can focus on trying to get them to buy something. But in the long term, you’ll do better as a company if you open kids’ eyes to the opportunities to make or create something on their own.

Image credit: Ladyada on Flickr