Why Kids and Parents Now Aspire to the Same Brands

By Bridget Brennan

I had just chosen my nail color when it happened.

Please take a seat, said the manicurist, as she motioned to the small chair. It was rush hour at the salon, around 5:30 on a Thursday. As is my custom, I gave a head nod and brief eye contact to the client seated next to me. I hope my face didn't betray my surprise when I registered the fact that the customer sitting next to me was an 11-year-old girl.

Getting her nails done professionally.

On a Thursday.

I shouldn't have been surprised. Have you noticed? Kids are now engaged in adult activities and adult brands more than ever- the kind that you once had to grow up to get.

The Most Desired Brands In America

Like mother, like daughter?Like mother, like daughter?Perhaps you've witnessed this. Maybe you've found yourself standing behind the local high school swim team while waiting in line at Starbucks, or strolling past a five-year-old in Bose headphones in business class. When I'm out shopping, I routinely see mothers and daughters looking lovingly at the same Coach purses. It's almost impossible not to notice that we've entered a new era where parents and kids actively want and use the same adult products, brands and services. The launch this week of Diane von Furstenberg for GapKids and babyGap is just the latest example of this shift in brand preferences.

What's driving this phenomenon? When I was growing up, you were mortified by your parents' taste in just about anything. You would never wear their clothes or listen to their music, and you only reluctantly ate their food. What's driving this new reality is a major demographic trend: women are getting married later in life, which means they are often having children later in life. (Gentlemen, it should be noted that you too are getting married later in life, but since it is women who drive nearly 80% of all consumer spending and women who serve as the world's primary caregivers, it is they who are the focus of this story.)

According to a report commissioned for the White House Council on Women and Girls, the average college-educated woman now gets married for the first time at the ripe old age of 30. (That age is still young of course, but we are speaking in terms of human history.) This compares to a national average of about 26 for American women. Women are getting married later than ever before, and this has an impact on consumer spending.

The Financial Benefit Of Babies At Work

Mother and daughterMother and daughterHow? Let's imagine the scenario of a woman - we'll call her Jenny - who gets pregnant with her first child at the age of 34, an age that is no longer unusual for early motherhood. In fact, according to the March of Dimes, one in five women in the U.S. now has her first child after the age of 35. By the time she's 34, Jenny's had 12-16 years of establishing a lifestyle for herself before a baby enters the picture. By that time, she's been going to Starbucks for longer than she can remember; manicures have become a routine event, no longer reserved for weddings and special occasions; she earns air miles for frequent flying and credit card spending, and has long ago "traded up" to better brands than she could afford when she was in her early 20's.

Once she's had her baby, the child naturally becomes a part of her mother's world. As a result, Jenny's daughter has been going to Starbucks since she was in a stroller, and will not wait for her wedding day to get her first manicure. She's already had plenty of them, many of which have served as a treat for accompanying her mom to the nail salon. And since Jenny is a working mom (just like more than 70% of all women with kids under 18, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor), she is always looking for ways to spend free time in the company of her daughter.

Where Gen Y Will Shop in 2012

All of this presents a fascinating opportunity for established adult brands to age "down." In addition to Diane von Furstenberg's Gap initiative, think Baby Dior, Pottery Barn Kids, mommy-and-me style yoga classes and spas that play host to young girls' mani/pedi birthday parties, to name just a few examples. If you're in a consumer business, it's worth looking at the opportunity that could come from attracting the youngest consumers to your brand. Parents are more willing to spend adult-size money on their kids. Kids want the brands their parents use. And lest you think this trend is occurring only in the ultra-feminine worlds of nail salons and high fashion - or perhaps with any technology product that begins with an "i" - it's not. Look over there. See that teenage boy in his black Converse Chuck Taylor high-top sneakers? That's his 48-year-old father standing a few feet away, wearing the same ones.

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