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Retailers targeting children with set collection promotions: the child’s perspective

Maree Thyne (Department of Marketing, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand)
Kirsten Robertson (Department of Marketing, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand)
Leah Watkins (Department of Marketing, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand)
Olly Casey (Department of Marketing, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand)

International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management

ISSN: 0959-0552

Article publication date: 7 January 2019

Issue publication date: 31 July 2019




Children are familiar with retail outlets (especially supermarkets) and the reality of shopping from an increasingly early age. In turn, retailers are actively engaging this young market, targeting them through various promotional strategies. One popular strategy adopted by grocery retailers is giveaway collectible set items. The purpose of this paper is to question the ethicality of such campaigns, within the framework of vulnerable consumers by examining children’s opinions of the campaigns and the supermarkets who run them, and the drivers of children’s involvement in the campaigns.


Qualitative focus groups were employed with 67 children aged five to ten years. Focus groups were made up of children in similar age groups to cluster responses by age and allow for comparisons. Thematic analysis was undertaken and responses were coded into themes.


Children were initially driven to collect through promotional advertising or because a third party offered them a collectible. The drivers for subsequent collecting differed between age groups, with younger children more focussed on themes around play and older children (seven and above) collecting through habit, because it was a craze amongst their peers and therefore the collections became items of social currency. Children’s perceptions of the supermarkets motivations also differed by age. Younger children thought supermarkets gave the collectibles away as “gifts” for altruistic reasons. The older children articulated a clear understanding of the economic motives of the organisation including: to attract children to their stores, to encourage pester power and to increase revenue by encouraging customers to buy more. The older children questioned the ethics of the collectible campaigns, referring to them as scams.

Research limitations/implications

The findings extend the important discussion on the nature of children’s vulnerability to advertising by showing that the children’s vulnerability stretches beyond their ability to understand advertising intent. Despite older children in the present study being cognisant of retailers’ intentions they were still vulnerable to the scheme; the embeddedness of the scheme in the social lives of the children meant they lacked agency to opt out of it. Further, the finding that the scheme transcended boundaries in the children’s lives, for instance, being associated with social currency at school, highlights the potential negative impact such schemes can have on the well-being of children.


Until now, research has investigated the motivations that children have to collect, but previous studies have focussed on collections which have been determined by the children. This paper presents the opinions and perceptions of the children who are directly targeted by commercial organisations to collect and raises concerns around the ethicality of such schemes.



Thyne, M., Robertson, K., Watkins, L. and Casey, O. (2019), "Retailers targeting children with set collection promotions: the child’s perspective", International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, Vol. 47 No. 6, pp. 643-658.



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