Monday, December 01, 2008

Cradle to Grave Advertising to Children

I rarely seem to see children's television advertisements unless I'm flipping through the channels and decide to stop on Disney or Nickelodeon...or I happen to be a wake on Saturday morning to catch Saturday morning cartoons (which, btw, often happen not to actually be cartoons but CGI TV shows - but I digress)..

Every time I do see a children's TV commercial, I find myself struggling between two conflicting feelings:
1.) I feel nostalgic. I remember when those commercials were so enticing as a child. It made me want to new baby doll or board game so badly.
2.) I feel appalled. I can't believe they are marketing to 6 year olds!!!

I recently read some eye opening information from the website called Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood (whose efforts I just LOVE). I found a flyer with some very disturbing statistics. (To see them yourself, visit CCFC's Resources page and click "Facts Sheets")

According to CCFC, this generation of children is the most brand conscious ever. Teens between 13 and 17 have 145 conversations about brands per week, about twice as many as adults. And for good reason...these teens have been marketed to since they were babies.

Marketers target babies through licensed toys and accessories featuring media characters in order to establish brand loyalty and market their items. You can definitely see this on my kids' butt (since Huggies has to have a Disney character on each diaper...argh....). Also, if you go to the ToysRUs website, you can actually look up toys by characters. There are 151 Bratz branded items.

Advertisers spend almost 7X's what they spent back when we were kids in money to advertise and market to children. In 1989, they spent $6.1 billion dollars. Now, they annually spend $40 billion.

Advertisers target children, not only through TV commercials but through video games, school buses, in school (anybody remember Channel One?) and on the internet.

Most unsettling to me is how advertisers use branding to lure children to purchase their items. Advertisers love to send free stuff (posters, art supplies, books, etc) to day cares and preschools. They know this is when kids begin to recognize logos and characters.

And as more and more children (and babies!!) use the internet, advertisers are marketing to kids there. According to CCFC, "viral marketing techniques take advantage of children’s friendships by encouraging them to promote products to their peers."

An example of this is the virtual pet website called Neopets. It's like a kids-version of facebook as it's a place where advertisers have a captive audience (all children) through their Neopet website.

Another example of viral marketing are those darling Webkins. Children love the adorable stuffed animals. But the reason these items are hot (and the reasons advertisers like them most) is because children then log on online, each time giving another opportunity to which to be marketed.

Another way advertisers are using viral marketing to catch kids is through the thousands of brand websites with games just for kids. The kids think it's fun. The parents think they are safe games for kids to play. Advertisers think it's a fabulous way to build brand loyalty.

Check on the Lucky Charms website, the M&M website, Nickelodeon's website, even Fisher-Price and you'll find lots of "games" for children. Even the wholesome PBS website uses games and character branding on their website.

As a mom, it bothers me alot to think advertisers spends billions of dollars to "hook" my innocent and naive child on a brand so they can make more money. I see these people as predators...people seeking out my child in order to harm him.

Advertisers harm my child by teaching him to be only a consumer, convincing my child they cannot be happy and believing he or she should do what everyone else is doing.

Some of the ways I've considered trying to prevent brand marketing from influencing my child include:
* trying to keep all characters off clothing
* choosing not to buy brand character toys (such as Elmo, Tigger, etc.)
* keeping children's programming on TV off (use pre-approved DVD's instead)
* choose not to buy any kids meals at Fast Food restaurants because of the character branded toy
* keeping the computer off unless to play pre-approved games or for school research
* consider putting cereal in clear bins and throwing away cereal boxes with advertising

As I make this list I wonder - can I really beat this animal? Is it worth working so hard to keep my child away from advertisers? Am I keeping out all of the fun from my child's life? How did brand characters really negatively affect me as a child? Does all of this matter?

For now, I don't have terribly convincing answers to these questions. It's not that advertising is evil but advertising is covert. I am convinced. I want to give my children to make their own decisions, rather than have a selfish, insidious advertiser do it for them...and for me.

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