The Hard Sell: Marketing To Kids
From Babies In Front Of The TV To Teens On Laptops, How The Advertising Industry Targets The Vulnerable
May 14, 2007
partnership looked good on paper: The U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services teaming up with Dreamworks animation to use the widely popular
movie character Shrek to get kids off the couch.
"The only thing they were getting was how to recognize characters," she says. "It's Dora. It's Elmo. The only other scenario in which they’re going to encounter these characters is in a scenario in which that character is trying to sell them something. Backpacks, Band-Aids, toothbrushes."
And as the kids grow up, they're hooked up — to technology that makes them even easier targets for marketers looking to tap the family checkbook.
"Increasingly, we're seeing kids influence family restaurants. Family vacations. We even have research that shows that more and more kids are influencing on the family car and the family home," says Paul Kurnit, a Pace University professor of marketing.
But isn't it up to parents to help their children become discriminating consumers?
"It's unfair and naïve to expect that parents, on their own, are gonna be able to do a great job of coping with this," Linn says. "They need help. They need help from the government."
Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin agrees. He's proposed a bill that would give the Federal Trade Commission the authority to restrict unfair advertising to children.
"Right now, the Federal Trade Commission has more authority to regulate advertising to a parent than it does a child," Harkin says. "That doesn’t make any sense."
What's at stake, child advocates say, is more than just money.
"Advertising and marketing is a factor in childhood obesity, in eating disorders, precocious, irresponsible sexuality, youth violence, underage drinking, underage tobacco use," Linn says.
Critics warn that as it's turning our kids into mini-shopoholics, it's also teaching them the wrong values — that it's not about who you are, but what you have.