Expert Speak: The ethical & psychological quandary of featuring kidults in ads

Kidults in ads

After Flipkart, smallcase HQ is the recent brand to jump on the kidults bandwagon in India. We speak to communication experts & psychologists to find out what makes this format popular & the ethics behind it.

Imagine two friends talking about their day. They rant about not being paid enough, working overtime and travelling in Mumbai locals. They go on to chat about why there’s a gender pay gap in organisations. Now, imagine these two friends were kids but they were talking like adults. Suddenly, the problems seem solvable, minute and even cute. 

Marketers are well aware of the effect that kids have on consumers. So, to connect with adults, international and Indian brands have made kids act like adults time and again. 

Flipkart’s campaign with kidults was so popular for a decade, they were everywhere and kidults were soon recognised as Flipkart’s brand ambassadors. They spoke about various issues and sold products across categories that are available on the e-commerce platform. 

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Crossing borders, Mulberry had released a Christmas ad with kids talking about parties and affairs. This advertisement did not sit well with consumers in the US. 

The latest Indian brand to experiment with this creative device is smallcase HQ. With the use of kidults, the fintech platform appears to be establishing investing as child’s play. 

New Kid On The Block

What makes kidults popular across countries is their relatability, wit and humour. 

“Children doing kidult roles attract quick attention of audiences, and often are the reason for a smile in the audiences, and give the unexpected from an ad. For example, financial advice by kids is completely unexpected, and that itself generates interest,” said Chandramouli, CEO, TRA Research. 

According to a global study, adults appear to derive pleasure from viewing cute images or objects. Brain imaging scans revealed that when viewers saw pictures of the infants, brain activity occurred within a seventh of a second within the viewer’s medial orbitofrontal cortex, a part of the brain associated with responses to rewards. No such brain activity occurred when the viewers looked at pictures of adults.

Even smallcase’s new campaign is not just any other monotonous investment advertisement. It makes you stop scrolling or browsing and take notice. 

Sharing why kidults work as a creative device, Lloyd Mathias, Business Strategist and Angel Investor said, “Everyone sees their own personal behaviour in the way kids are behaving. It is always cute to see kids acting like adults. So, kidults is an interesting hook to get people’s attention. It is a smart device to make a point about parents’ behaviour. Parents tend to compare kid’s performances in school results and here in smallcase’s ad, the little kid is comparing his dad’s investment portfolio and it is not so good because he hasn’t downloaded the app. So, I think it is a smart creative technique that gets attention and manages to make a point. I don’t see any ethical issue.”

Puneet Chadha, one of smallcase’s creators, shared the objective behind using kidults as a creative device.  

“Financial behaviour is one aspect where most adults still haven’t grown up. We still repeat the same childish mistakes every year. To portray the same, we used the creative device of role reversal and offer smallcase as the solution,” said Chadha in a press release. 

Flipkart’s Kidults Grow Old

As far as Flipkart’s kidults are concerned, experts think the campaign has run its course.

“Flipkart’s kids-as-adults was conceived at a time when e-commerce was in its infancy in India. It served a specific purpose to convey that ‘e-commerce was as easy as child’s play’. But after more than a decade, and after that creative device has been uniquely associated with Flipkart, I believe that device has outlived its purpose and relevance. Now, when I see kids dressed as adults and talk about products like lipstick or attending weddings, I find it more creepy than cute,” said Karthik Srinivasan, an independent communications expert. 

Srinivasan also said that this technique has the danger of being linked to Flipkart if used by any other brand, and seems overused too.

“I believe this device has been already overused severely by Flipkart so the humour may either be residual or targetting a new set of internet users who have no context of Flipkart’s ads since it was more than a decade old,” he added. 

Mathias appreciated smallcase’s new ad but advised avoiding repetition. 

“It is good to see that other brands have taken on this route but the novelty will wear off soon. Now there’s still a little bit of freshness to the treatment. Flipkart has done it and now smallcase, which is a nice twist. The novelty will be effective for smallcase [this time] but beyond that, there will be a danger of repetition,” he told Social Samosa. 

Psychological Impressions

Children have been gracing television advertisements since the invention of the medium. Whether it is the Amul girl or Nirma’s mascot and Dhara’s Jalebi kid, kids have sold adults everything from detergent powder to edible oil. 

Children are known to be powerful tools of change. They define the future and when they have something to say, adults listen. This was exactly why technology brand HP’s Diwali advertisement from 2022 seem to work. It showed kids leading the way, teaching adults how to make the best use of technology to bring light into someone’s life. In the past, many brands have cast kids in ads to remind adults not to burst crackers during Diwali. 

As per a research study on how consumer purchase decision is influenced directly or indirectly by the presence of children in advertisements, demonstrative advertisements by children proved to be more effective as an advertising tool. For example, in the study, respondents referred to the Oreo commercial where two kids are demonstrating how to twist, turn and dunk the biscuit in a playful manner. 

Simultaneously, children’s effect on parents’ buying behaviour is also growing. Termed ‘kidfluence,’ it refers to the influence that children exert, both directly and indirectly, on the consumer decisions made by their parents. 

As per another study by Viacom, 3 in 4 kids influence a family’s purchase decision. 87% of kids remember TV commercials and 77% of parents said that their kids asked to buy products advertised on TV. 

However, using kids to attain materialistic goals such as selling beauty or luxurious brands, is not very ethical. 

For example, an advertisement by BigBasket released four months ago showed a kid selling their quick delivery service. While the advertisement has a kid in lead, it appears to be targeting adults who can use quick delivery apps. 

A research study on kids’ effect on buying behaviour found that the presence of children in advertisements having adult plots is strongly disliked. Parents are of the opinion that children should only endorse kids’ brands or products which are to be used or consumed by children, said the report

Dr Jyoti Kapoor, Founder Director of Manasthali, which provides mental health and wellness services, said, “I think there’s nothing wrong with kidults. What’s more important is what’s being conveyed. Kids acting as adults in ads catch your attention and it works in that way. However, if we portray reacting to an adult in a manner that is disrespectful, that definitely sends out a misleading message that it is acceptable. It is important to keep this in mind from a psychological perspective.”

The basic psychological concept behind kidults, said Clinical psychologist Dr Shweta Sharma, is reminding adults to keep the child inside them alive. 

Is There An Ethical Dilemma?

However, there are some ethical issues to keep in mind. 

“When you are portraying a child as an adult, which is often a game played by kids where they act as their parents, but in films, we are approving this behaviour. It sends the message that becoming an adult in your childhood is the right time. In a way, you are forcing them to behave like adults, which is not ethical and this is why many objections have been raised against such ads,” Dr. Sharma told Social Samosa. 

Kidults can also come under the Advertising Standard Council of India’s (ASCI) scanner, if not used ethically in campaigns. 

“ASCI could get interested if the kids acting as adults behave in ways that are antithetical to children’s themes and topics. Flipkart had started using kids dressed very visibly as adults with fake goatee, beards and in sarees and in situations like pyaar, etc. Those could be crossing the ASCI line. As long as brands stay in safer, harmless situations, this device could continue to work,” reminds Srinivasan. 

Chandramouli, on the other hand, said, “There is absolutely no ethical issue in involving kids to play these roles in ads, and is akin to kids as actors in movies.”

While kids are a treat to watch and certainly help a brand stand out in the clutter of celebrity endorsements, experts said that advertisers ponder should over the ethics of using kids as bait in advertising. 


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Karuna Sharma is the Head of Content at Social Samosa India, where she writes about the many manifestations of the social media world. She takes a closer look at how our daily lives are affected and shaped by the virtual world, pop culture, memes, new forms of communication, and ever-shifting social media trends. Previously, she has worked with Business Insider India, AdAge India and BestMediaInfo. When she is not working, she's mostly watching sitcoms on Netflix or petting stray cats.