The Mechanics of Modern-Day Brand Affinity

Christine Birkner
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways
  • Research shows that children as young as 3 years old use brands as indicators of popularity or success, and 3- to 5-year-olds are able to identify logos and associate them with brands.
  • Ford is both keeping kids in mind when developing its marketing messaging now in an attempt to build brand affinity when they’re young and researching Gen Z’s preferences in order to prepare its business for the future of driving.
  • Ford invests research dollars into figuring out what future consumers might want out of their driving experience, and what the company can do to start targeting older Gen Z consumers now.
​​​​​​​Ford Motor Co. is taking an assembly-line approach to building brand affinity, starting by researching the habits and preferences of the next generation of drivers long before they get behind the wheel.

Research shows that brand preferences are shaped at a young age: Children as young as 3 years old use brands as indicators of popularity or success, and 3- to 5-year-olds are able to identify logos and associate them with brands, even brands that don’t directly target kids, according to “Children’s Brand Symbolism Understanding,” a study published in 2010 in the journal Psychology & Marketing.

“People like things that are familiar to them. The same is true for brands,” says Anna McAlister, co-author of the study, and an assistant professor of advertising and public relations at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich. “If you’ve seen a logo repeatedly as a child, you’ll be more likely to try it when you’re an adult. After years of being exposed to a brand and laughing at their ads or thinking their ads are cute, there will be a deep-seated preference for that brand.”    

Many marketers know, and leverage, the power of aiming TV ads at children as a way to influence their parents’ purchasing decisions—moms might hold the purse strings, but kids sure know how to pull at them—but some marketers also are adept at targeting kids now to make them brand-loyal customers in the future. The tactic isn’t new, but the efforts behind kid-focused research and targeting strategies are increasingly sophisticated. Marketers now aren’t just obsessed with understanding millennials. They’re looking beyond them and working to get a good grasp on Generation Z, aiming to create a continuous stream of brand loyalists in their pipelines.

“A lot of marketers in categories where brand preferences typically form at later ages are beginning to focus more on younger consumers,” says J. Walker Smith, a consumer trends expert and the executive chairman of London-based marketing consultancy The Futures Co., part of the Kantar Group of WPP plc, who also serves as a Marketing News columnist. “They’re doing so because they’re trying to establish brand visibility and brand attraction that will then be relevant to those consumers when they age into a life stage when the products are relevant.”

Adds McAlister: “As an adult, I’m probably not going to buy a car because of an ad I saw when I was 5 years old, but the idea is, if I have a preference for a particular brand already, when I do go through the process and the information search, I have, in my head, a default. I already like this brand. Every other brand has to match up and exceed that. Otherwise, I’ll go with the default.”     

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Author Bio:
Christine Birkner
Christine Birkner is the senior staff writer for Marketing News and Marketing News Weekly. E-mail her at

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