marketing: `Here, kiddie, kiddie!'
The Boston Globe
January 16, 2000
A study released recently by the Kaiser Family
Foundation shows that American children spend an
average of almost 40 hours a week - the equivalent of
a full-time job - consuming media outside of school. A
majority of those hours are devoted to television,
computers, and listening to the radio - electronic
media dominated by corporations trying to sell them
Children spend most of this time without adult
supervision: 32 percent of children between ages 2 and
7 have a TV in their rooms; 65 percent of children 8
and older have one in theirs.
This study is a wake-up call for parents and
professionals. As children watch television, surf the
Net, or listen to the radio, they are targeted by
billions of dollars worth of sophisticated corporate
Advertising executives make no secret of their aim to
capture a share of the youth market: Children directly
control $24.4 billion a year in potential corporate
revenue; they influence another $300 billion.
Concepts such as "owning" children and
"cradle-to-grave" brand loyalty are enthusiastically
described in advertising industry publications.
Parents should be especially outraged by advertisers
promoting the "nag factor" - an ad industry term for
children pestering parents to buy them things.
As part of the effort to get children and their
parents to part with their money, advertising agencies
routinely employ psychologists to improve the
effectiveness of their ads. The success of this
questionable partnership is evident in all aspects of
children's lives, including their health.
Is it any wonder that childhood obesity is a major
public health problem? McDonald's alone spends about
$570 million a year on advertising. The argument
supporting a link between advertising and junk food
consumption is made more compelling by the fact that
childhood obesity is particularly rampant among
African-Americans, who spend more time watching
television than any other group.
Cross-marketing, a growing phenomenon, has made media
advertising to children particularly insidious. For
instance, television programs geared toward "tweens"
and teens advertise heavily on their favorite radio
stations. And PG13 movies advertise during television
programs that children watch. Violent films, such as
"The Mummy" (PG13), market toys to children as young
Product placement, advertising seamlessly integrated
into movie or television productions, is a common way
of partially financing media projects. So is product
licensing, where television programs and movies are
vehicles for marketing products associated with them.
One only has to look at
Pokemon, the latest craze among children, to
understand how effective cross-marketing can be. Even
if children want to escape Pokemon, they can't. It is
a television program, a game dependent on collecting
trading cards, a computer game, a movie, and, thanks
to fast-food giveaways, a reason children eschew
McDonald's for Burger King.
The effects of such nonstop advertising are troubling.
Children are particularly vulnerable to media
manipulation and, unlike adults, they can't understand
the long-range implications of their decisions. In
other words, children are sitting ducks for
Their susceptibility in combination with the
overwhelming presence of advertising can strain even
the strongest nuclear families. Lifetime brand loyalty
- the brass ring of every advertising campaign -
requires that consumers make unquestioning decisions
about how to satisfy their needs and wants. Such blind
loyalty is antithetical to the critical thinking
skills that young people need.
The advertising onslaught is so pervasive that parents
can't cope with it alone. Institutions - civic,
educational, medical, and religious - should come to
their aid. We need legislation to regulate corporate
advertising to children, school curriculums to foster
critical thinking, and media-free after-school
programs. Families need to work together, through
schools or community groups, on the difficult tasks of
setting limits on media use and teaching children to
resist corporate persuasion.
Issues on all sides of the political spectrum, from
preserving the First Amendment to promoting the free
market, make it difficult for Americans to face
squarely the harmful effects that media advertising
has on children. We need to put aside our ideological
differences and work together to protect children from
the pressure of incessant marketing.
Susan Linn is the associate director of the media
center at the Judge Baker Children's Center.
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