It’s hard to remember a time when video games and comic books were enjoyed almost exclusively by people under the age of 18. But that was the case a mere couple of decades ago, before both began featuring violence, profanity, sex, and other material not appropriate for young children. Along the same lines, in recent times many other things long associated with kids are now being marketed to adult consumers. Here are a dozen examples:
Gummy Vitamins. A string of studies indicating that vitamins appear to be largely a waste of money has resulted in flat sales for the once sizzling vitamin market. It looks like consumers are getting the messages spread by researchers in the field, who point out that while vitamin supplements are correlated with better health, there is little proof of causality because the people taking vitamins tend to healthier and take better care of themselves in the first place. But if consumers are dubious about the benefits of boring old-fashioned vitamins, they appear less skeptical about vitamins “disguised as candy,” a.k.a. gummy vitamins. Once popular only with children, colorful, chewable, sweet-tasting vitamins are now ubiquitous in stores’ adult vitamin sections, and makers of such adult vitamins say that the category has been enjoying “explosive growth” of late.
Walt Disney World. In some ways, Disney World has always been marketed to adults—who often say they enjoy “feeling like a kid” while touring the theme parks sans children. Some even wish Disney would host child-free days when adults could hit the rides without having to deal with the young whippersnappers clogging up the parks. While that’s highly unlikely to ever take place, Disney has taken several steps over the years to appeal to adult-only clientele, including the introduction of booze for sale at the Magic Kingdom, as well as special events like $35 “After Hours” party with alcohol and tasting menus, and, most recently, a $79 “Food & Wine Late Night” at EPCOT.
Pop Tarts. While interest in breakfast cereal has collapsed in recent years, sales of another kid favorite at the breakfast table, Pop Tarts, have risen each and every year for more than three decades straight. The Wall Street Journal noted that while Pop Tarts are most popular with teens and younger children, “adults reach for them as a retro snack.” It’s not just nostalgia that’s drawing adults to Pop Tarts, but that, “Shoppers increasingly want quick breakfasts they can eat with one hand on the go.” Over the years, Pop Tarts and its imitators have periodically tried out products more directly marketed to adults and foodies, such as “Toaster Pastries” in flavors like Cherry Pomegranate from Nature’s Path.
Happy Meals. McDonald’s briefly tried to market a “Go Active Happy Meal” for adults a decade ago, with a salad and an exercise booklet instead of chicken nuggets and a plastic toy. It obviously didn’t catch on—very few healthy fast food items are successful—but this fall, the Happy Meal for Adults concept is back, bizarrely, in the world of high fashion. Nordstrom is selling a series of pop culture-themed items from Moschino, including an iPhone case that looks like a McDonald’s French fry container ($85) and a Happy Meal lookalike shoulder bag that retails for over $1,000.
Backpacks. In what could be considered a sign that adults really don’t want to grow up, backpack sales are up dramatically among consumers ages 18 and up—including a 48% rise in backpack purchases by female adults over a recent time span. Valentino, Alexander McQueen, and Fendi are among the many fashion designers to feature posh leather and camouflage versions of the bag normally associated with high school and college kids, only theirs sometimes cost $2,000.
Lunchables. OK, so neither Kraft nor its Oscar Mayer brand actually markets Lunchables to adults. But the Adult Lunch Combos look eerily like Lunchables only without Oreos or Capri Sun, and everyone is referring to the new protein-packed prepared lunches as “Lunchables for Adults” even though the real name is the Portable Protein Pack.
Obstacle Courses. Kids have playgrounds in town parks and schools. What do adults have to help keep them in shape while also having fun? The gym doesn’t qualify because, for most people, working out is work, not fun. The exception is when the workout allows adults to swing, jump, get dirty, and challenge themselves on courses made specifically for them, like those on the popular TV show “American Ninja Warrior” and on Tough Mudder and other extreme obstacle course races. This fall, Las Vegas is even hosting an “Adult-Themed” course where the obstacles have names like the Dominatrix Dungeon and the Blue Balls Dash.
Sugary Cereals. A big reason that cereal sales have dropped is that fewer kids are eating them for breakfast. Yet as parents try to sub in healthier fare as a replacement for kid-favorite sugary cereals, the cereal giants appear to be having some success reaching a different audience—the parents themselves. Baby Boomers and Gen X, who grew up craving the sugar rush provided by a bowl of neon-colored goodies on Saturday mornings, are now being fed heaping doses of nostalgia, in the form of cartoon-character cereals brought back from the dead and other adult-focused marketing efforts. The fastest-growing consumers of Trix and Lucky Charms are, in fact, older adults.
Legos. “The Lego Movie” was certainly clever and entertaining enough to warrant an adult audience, especially among those who grew up building with the bricks. Lately, Lego has been making another appeal to adults. Several Legoland Discovery Centers—which normally attract families with children under the age of 10 or 12—have been offering special Adult Nights, where all visitors must be 18 or over.
Fruit Roll-Ups. Many adults would probably be embarrassed if they were caught eating Fruit Roll-Ups, delicious though they may be. How can you avoid being kidded about your preference for what is a quintessential kid snack? Easy. Call them something more adult-sounding, such as Fruit Strips or Fruit Leather.
Hot Pockets. Last year, Nestle attempted to broaden the Hot Pocket demographic—typically, teen boys and slacker college kids who don’t want to cook or even order pizza—by introducing gourmet versions featuring angus beef, hickory ham to appeal to adult foodies.
Halloween. October 31 used to be about children trick-or-treating door to door in their neighborhoods. Now it’s the centerpiece of a whole Halloween season where the kids are invited to enjoy only some—but by no means all—of the fun. A year ago, adults spent roughly $1.2 billion on costumes, compared to $1 billion spent on costumes for kids. Roughly 7 out of 10 college-aged adults plan on dressing up for Halloween, which explains the sales success of oddly “sexy” costumes of pizza slices or corn fields. Or sexy nuns. Adults also tend to spend more on their costumes than they do on Halloween outfits for kids. So that explains why companies are marketing the holiday to adults more and more. Still, it’s hard to come up with a good explanation for the existence of the Sexy Pizza Costume.