The problems with mass marketing aimed at children

| October 2, 2008 | 9 Replies

Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood recently revamped its website.  One of the new features includes a fact sheet that provides the following information regarding modern marketing aimed at children (with citations to primary sources):

  • Marketing directly to children is a factor in the childhood obesity epidemic.
  • Marketing also encourages eating disorders, precocious sexuality, youth violence and family stress and contributes to children’s diminished capability to play creatively.
  • As young children are developing their gender identities, they are flooded with ads for products promoting sexualized stereotypes. There are 40,000 Disney Princess items on the market today.
  • 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.
  • Children ages 2-11 see more than 25,000 advertisements a year on TV alone, a figure that does not include product placement. They are also targeted with advertising on the Internet, cell phones, mp3 players, video games, school buses, and in school.
  • Almost every major media program for children has a line of licensed merchandise including food, toys, clothing, and accessories.
  • Until the age of about 8 children do not understand advertising’s persuasive intent.

I’ve often written about these issues before (see the list of posts here).  The problem is not the enormous amount of money corporations are spending on their commercials.  Rather, it’s about the effect of those commercials on young minds.  In my opinion, modern advertising directed toward children is part of the thorough education the children are receiving in the need to be hyper-acquisitive. Through these incessant messages about the need to buy, modern American children learn that A) they “need” many things they don’t need; B) children who have expensive toys are socially superior to those that don’t; C) “playing” is about having single-purpose toys that stifle creativity; D) they need expensive toys to be happy; E) having the right toy is more important than developing meaningful friendships; F) being sexy in a shallow and glitzy way is important even at a young age.

Truly, children would be much better off to never view any commercial advertising.  There is absolutely nothing good that comes of it, and there are many potential dangers.

It is also my belief that the amount and intensity of these advertising messages are an important part of what is turning children into acquisitive adults with limited creativity.  I suspect that the education that Americans have been getting from advertisers is driving the perceived need of so many Americans to buy things they can’t afford (the average American family now saves a NEGATIVE one percent of its income each year).  I also wonder whether this commercial-driven “need to acquire” is responsible for people buying so much that they work too many hours at high stress jobs, thereby failing to tend to the things that they constantly claim are the “most important” things in their lives (children, marriage, and community-building).

In June, I had the opportunity to interview Josh Golin of CCFC about these issues.  It was a lively interview and Josh is a terrific spokesperson for these viewpoints.  If you haven’t seen this interview yet, I highly recommend it.

For previous DI posts regarding advertising, consumerism and over-acquisitiveness, see the extensive list at the bottom of this post.

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Category: American Culture, Consumerism, Education, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (9)

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  1. Erik Brewer says:

    We have an agreement on this issue. I hate tv and will keep my kids from watching it. The problem is they (kids) are attacked from everywhere with ads.

    [Admin: The reminder of this comment was deleted as being off-topic]

  2. Tim Hogan says:

    Erich, they're not turning into little mindless consuming robots! I tell them to go outside find a dirtpile and a stick and remember George Carlin. They don't stick around anymore for the lecture on "stuff" and a rant against power and the machine, they go get a stick and find a pile of dirt and play!

    Now, when I say; "Remember Carlin!" they just run away. They used to go over to a friend's house until we got organized and checked their clothes for dirt. Pretty soon, they'll probably just rub dirt on their jeans (Hogan family brand, "what's on sale [not at Wal*Mart]!"). Until then, I'll continue to tell them that TV generally saps your intelligence, makes you want things you don't need, and mostly tells lies-except whan an pro-Obama ad comes on!

  3. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    There is a much deep problem with marketing targeted at children. Much of the advertising aimed at young children actually discounts the parents as authority figures and role models, and teaches many children to accept commercial advertising as authority. Many of the food related advertising employs an underlying theme of the "smart kid – stupid adult" message which instills a disrespect of adults and authority, and increases anti-social attitude as the children grow into adults.

    An additional problem is that much of the children's programs are thinly veiled infomercials for toys, so specifically targeted at children that parents are most likely to set little johnny in front of the TV to watch Yugioh! (pretty much a serialized commercial for the trading card game) while Mom and Dad do their weekend chores.

    In the past, however, cartoons were targeted at the family. For example "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show" had the silly slapstick antics for the younger children, puns for the elementary-school crowd, situation humor for the teens and various subtle parodies for the adults.

  4. Mobius 1 says:

    I agree that TV has been reduced to complete shit for all parties involved. American Idol, the new Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, USA…The only shows I watch are History Channel, National Geographic, and…well, that's it.

    And don't get me started on commercials. Most of the ones I see are for Cialis, which I get enough offers in my junk folder, and for anti-depressants.

    There's no more ads for books, or music. Just a conglomeration of shit, depending on the season. And the most loathsome is coming shortly, no doubt the day after Thanksgiving it'll hit extremely hard like the hammer of Thor on the skull of some poor sap.

  5. Hank says:

    I do watch TV quite a bit but I like to mute the commercials – not only are they 10db louder than the actual programmes, but without the soundtracks they actually manage to look stupider!

    Erich, the Australian ABC channel has a great show called "The Gruen Transfer" (google it – well worth a look). It's a panel show which deals with all the methods used by advertisers in all media – the best part is that the panel is comprised of actual advertising execs who are more than happy to reveal the tricks of the trade! The best part is when the host challenges two execs to create a commercial each, promoting something utterly abhorrent, e.g. child labour or slavery or torture. The results have been pretty damn funny! TGF is another win for our ABC which is, ironically, the only commerical-free national TV channel in the country.

    I'm glad we don't yet have children to protect from commercial TV. I think even when we do have kids, there will be ample Attenborough DVDs & Google video documentaries to negate ever having to watch (rather, avoid) a tv commerical for anything. One of the perks of being raised by skeptical parents is a healthy distrust of commercialism in all its forms.

  6. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    On a DVD I recently bought, there was an advertising parody featuring popcicles filled with pieces of broke glass. it was a PSA (public Service Ad) with an anti smoking message. A shorter version played on during the Superbowl and <a href="http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4446240463054650678&ei=qSjmSPvDCJLAqAKT–XFBw&q=glass+popsicles&vt=lf&hl=en&quot; rel="nofollow">can be found on youtube.

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    Niklaus: that anti-smoking message is brilliant. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Wow. Great ad Niklaus!!

  9. sabrina12458 says:

    I completely agree with you about marketers aiming for children. Great article and provided ALOT of information. Thank you, Erich!!!!!!

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