Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.1-10
Introduction: The Marketing Maelstrom
Notes from the Underground: Thirty-Six Hours at a Marketing Conference
A Consumer in the Family: The Nag Factor and Other Nightmares
Branded Babies: From Cradle to Consumer
Endangered Species: Play and Creativity
Students for Sale: Who Profits from Marketing in Schools?
Through Thick and Thin: The Weighty Problem of Food Marketing
Peace-Keeping Battle Stations and Smackdown!: Selling Kids on Violence
From Barbie and Ken to Britney, the Bratz, and Beyond: Sex As Commodity
Marketing, Media, and the First Amendment: What's Best for Children?
Joe Camel Is Dead, but Whassup with Those Budweiser Frogs?: Hooking Kids on Alcohol and Tobacco
If Values Are Right, What's Left?: Life Lessons from Marketing
Ending the Marketing Maelstrom: You're Not Alone
The Marketing Maelstrom
My daughter is a popular kid these days. Taco Bell wants her, and so does Burger King. Abercrombie and Fitch has a whole store devoted to her. Pert Plus has a shampoo she'll love. Ethan Allen is creating bedroom sets she can't live without. Alpo even wants to sell her dog food.
With a single-minded competitiveness reminiscent of the California gold rush, corporations are racing to stake their claim on the consumer group formerly known as children. What was once the purview of a few entertainment and toy companies has escalated into a gargantuan, multi-tentacled enterprise with a combined marketing budget estimated at over $15 billion annually—about 2.5 times more than what was spent in 1992. Children are the darlings of corporate America. They're targets for marketers of everything from hamburgers to minivans. And it's not good for them.
Even while I, like all American parents, am held responsible for the behavior of my child and for safeguarding her future, corporations bombard her with messages that undermine my efforts. One advertisement for a violent movie, a few sexual innuendos to get her to buy a certain brand of jeans, or a couple of commercials urging her to eat junk food are not going to harm my daughter. But kids today are growing up in a marketing maelstrom. That children influence more than $600 billion in spending a year has not been lost on corporate America, which seeks to establish "cradle to grave" brand loyalty among the purchasers of its goods and services. Every aspect of children's lives—their physical and mental health, their education, their creativity, and their values—is negatively affected by their involuntary status as consumers in the marketplace.
There's no doubt that advertising works. Its success stories are told and retold within the industry. At mid century the phrase "A Diamond Is Forever" succeeded so well in bolstering a faltering diamond market that by 1951, 80 percent of American marriages began with a diamond engagement ring. In the mid-1950s only 7 percent of American women dyed their hair; six years after Clairol introduced their "Does she or doesn't she?" campaign, one study reported that 70 percent of all women were coloring their hair. In 1970, just before McDonald's began telling moms that they "deserve a break today," annual sales were at $587 million; by 1974, after four years of that catchy little jingle, annual sales jumped to $1.9 billion.
So what's the big deal? What's wrong (leaving aside for the moment the questions of where those diamonds come from, and whether hair dye and fast food enhance your well-being or physical health) with trying to get people to buy a diamond engagement ring, or dye their hair, or indulge in the occasional Big Mac with fries? Well, all of these legendary campaigns were aimed at adults, who presumably can bring a certain amount of information and judgment to their decisions about what's good for them. Because children are unable to employ such judgment, they are more vulnerable to marketing.
Preschool children, for instance, have trouble differentiating between commercials and regular programming on television. Slightly older children can make the distinction, but they are concrete thinkers, tending to believe what they see in a fifteen-second commercial for cookies or a toy. Until the age of about eight, children can't really understand the concept of persuasive intent—that every aspect of an ad is selected to make a product appealing and to convince people to buy it. Older kids and teens might be more cynical about advertising, but their skepticism doesn't seem to affect their tendency to want or buy the products they see so glowingly portrayed all around them.
I recently sat with a group of elementary school kids who all told me that commercials do not tell the truth, yet when asked, they all had strong opinions about which was the "best" brand of sneaker. Their opinions were based not on their own experience but on what they'd seen on TV and in magazine ads. Advertising appeals to emotions, not to intellect, and it affects children even more profoundly than it does adults.
Unfortunately, marketing is so ingrained in the fabric of American life that it's hard to generate much concern about its effects on kids. Most of us have fond memories of advertising: those Burma Shave signs whizzing by on the highway, Arthur Godfrey winking at us in black-and-white as he sipped his cup of Lipton Tea, Clara Peller growling "Where's the beef?" for Wendy's in the 1980s, and little Mikey gobbling up Life cereal to the amazement of his older siblings. We all have favorite commercials, and it's significant that many of these favorites are ads we remember from childhood.
That I'm both a parent and a psychologist contributes to my sense of urgency and personal outrage about the extent to which corporate interests subsume modern childhood. As the mother of a teenager whose growing up has coincided with an increasing intensity and sophistication of marketing efforts targeted at children, I struggle on a personal level to cope with its harmful effects. As a therapist working with young children, I see its impact on other people's children as well.
My concerns about kids and commercialism, the foundations of which date from my own childhood, have always influenced my professional choices. From the mid-1930s on, my parents were actively involved in struggles for social justice. My mother was a pioneer in the early childhood education movement. As an adult, carving out my own work with children, I took from her and her colleagues a sense of wonder about childhood—not a naive, romantic perception of blissful early years, but rather a recognition of the amazing possibilities inherent in each child. Creativity, originality, and integrity deserve to be nurtured, and all adults have an ongoing obligation to keep children's best interests at heart.
At the age of six I developed an admittedly eccentric, but enduring, fascination with ventriloquism that blossomed into a career. By my early twenties, I was earning my living with my puppets—through live and televised performances, by creating video programs about difficult issues for kids, and eventually as a puppet therapist at Boston Children's Hospital. Along the way, I earned a doctorate in psychology. I was fortunate to be able to work with the late Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, appearing on his program early in my career. With Family Communications, Inc., the company he founded, I have been writing and performing in video programs ranging in topics from helping children with cancer go back to school, to racism, prejudice, and diversity.
My stepson, Josh, was born in 1971. My daughter, Sasha, was born in 1987. Josh's daughter, Marley, was born in 2002. I can't help but contrast the commercial pressures affecting their experience of growing up. When Josh was a child, public television really was commercial-free. It is no longer. Nor did most of his friends have TVs in their rooms. While he did have to cope with sugar cereal ads on Saturday morning television, he did not have to deal with a barrage of soda and junk food marketing in school, unlike Sasha. And, when riding in a grocery cart neither Josh nor Sasha (unlike Marley) had to face aisle after aisle jammed with alluring, brightly colored packages containing edible, high-calorie renditions of his favorite cartoon characters, or candy in the shape of superheroes. The first video games came into being when Josh was a teenager, but the technological capacity for depicting media violence in graphic, gory detail did not develop until he was almost an adult. He listened to the radio, but while Sasha's music is interrupted with incessant ads for violent and sexually explicit television programs and movies, his was not.
As my daughter progressed through elementary school, the press of commercialism was escalating at breakneck speed. Like all parents, I was coping with the effects of marketing at home. In 1996, as part of my work, I began to track its escalation in a broader sense as well. As the associate director of the Media Center of the Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston, Massachusetts, my mission was and is to work with media to promote the health and well-being of children and to mitigate the media's negative effects. I began to assess the growing body of research and reports documenting the impact of marketing on children. I immersed myself in the myriad books, journals, and newspapers written for and by people responsible for creating commercials and advertising campaigns that target children. I began talking to parent groups—and to children—about the effect of marketing on their lives. In recent years, a significant portion of my time has also been devoted to writing, speaking, and advocating on behalf of children in the marketplace.
Most parents struggle in one way or another to keep corporate culture at bay. In doing so they often feel beleaguered and quite alone. But I see their stories in the context of a large, cohesive, and frightening picture. The most common complaints about marketing to children center on specific products such as violent media, alcohol, tobacco, and, most recently, junk food. Yet to focus only on products is to underestimate the magnitude of the problem. Of equal concern are the sheer volume of advertising to which children are exposed, the values embedded in the marketing messages, and the behaviors those messages inspire.
Children have been targets for some kinds of advertising for a long, long time—from carnival barkers hawking freak shows to ads in comic books and, since their early days, radio and television. But it's not the same today. Comparing the advertising of two or three decades ago to the commercialism that permeates our children's world is like comparing a BB gun to a smart bomb. The explosion of marketing aimed at kids today is precisely targeted, refined by scientific method, and honed by child psychologists—in short, it is more pervasive and intrusive than ever before.
Today's children are assaulted by advertising everywhere—at home, in school, on sports fields, in playgrounds, and on the street. They spend almost forty hours a week engaged with the media—radio, television, movies, magazines, the Internet—most of which are commercially driven. The average child sees about about 40,000 commercials a year on television alone. Many, if not most, children's television programs, including those produced by the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), are funded through licensing, a practice that allows companies to market toys, clothing, and accessories based on characters or logos associated with a program.
Children, including very young children, often watch television by themselves, meaning that no adult is present to help them process marketing messages. Poor children, a population in which children of color are disproportionately represented, watch even more television than their middle- and upper-class counterparts. However, regardless of class, African American and Latino children watch more TV than Caucasian children.
While television remains the major medium through which advertisers target children, it's no longer the only medium. In the 1970s, people concerned about marketing to children worried mainly about the effects of TV commercials on Saturday mornings. Now the average American child lives in a home with three television sets, two CD players, three radios, a video game console, and a computer. Two-thirds of children between the ages of eight and eighteen have televisions in their bedrooms, as do 32 percent of two- to seven-year-olds, and 26 percent of children under two. Electronic media continues to proliferate while, as a nation, our willingness to embrace technology constantly outpaces our understanding of its cultural, social, and ethical implications.
The escalation of graphic violence in movies and television, for example, has occurred in part simply because the technology became available—just as the invention of the scroll saw enabled all that curlicue furniture of the Victorian era. It is now possible to graphically recreate a disembowelment or melt an eyeball on the screen—and so we do.
When the Reagan Administration deregulated advertising on children's television in 1984, programs could be created for the purpose of selling children toys. Within a year of deregulation, all ten of the bestselling toys were linked to media programs. Meanwhile, laws that might prevent the formation of media conglomerations grow ever more lax, and today, megacompanies such as Viacom, Disney, or Time Warner are likely to own several television stations, radio stations, Internet service providers, theme parks, record companies, and/or publishing houses—all of which cross-advertise each other as well as food, toys, books, clothing, and accessories. A few giant corporations control much of what children eat, drink, wear, read, and play with each day.
Through endorsements and licensing agreements, cartoon characters, pop singers, sports heroes, and movie stars are now icons for junk food, toys, clothing, and every imaginable accessory. There's also the fast-growing phenomenon of product placement: embedding product ads as plot points, scenery, or props within the content of movies and TV programs.
Marketing to children is not limited to electronic media; even traditional venues for spreading what used to be legitimately called popular culture—word of mouth, for instance—have been co-opted by corporations. Corporations engage in "guerrilla" marketing: ads and posters now get plastered on buildings and bus stops in a kind of corporate graffiti. There's also "viral" marketing, a term originally used to describe what happens when marketers invade Internet chat rooms and pose as ordinary kids to promote their products. Viral marketing also applies to the practice of handing out free samples of products such as CDs, for instance, to kids identified by other kids as "cool." Marketing companies actually comb neighborhoods to find what they refer to as trendsetters, knowing that when a trendsetter uses a product, other kids will want to use it. Of course, there have always been trendsetters—what's new is that they don't have to create a new look or discover a new band themselves. Now, adults may do much of the creating for them, paying the kids to set the trends.
What my colleague, psychologist Allen Kanner, first dubbed "the commercialization of childhood" got a boost from the political climate of the 1980s, which saw the beginning of a steady erosion of government support for public institutions and a glorification of the marketplace as the solution to and/or a model for solving social ills. Corporate support, however, usually comes with a price. Sometimes entire public and nonprofit institutions sell naming rights to corporations. If your child has had trouble in school, he or she might attend a Burger King Academy. Children who used to delight in Philadelphia's Please Touch Museum now visit the Please Touch Museum Presented by McDonald's. Also common are social campaigns born of odd marriages, such as the American Library Association's partnership with the World Wrestling Federation (now called World Wrestling Entertainment) to promote literacy.
Public schools, particularly, were urged by the Reagan administration to look to corporate America for rescue. Historically, public school budgets tend to increase over the years because of rising student populations, although recent years seem to be the exception. In any case, a large portion of any budget increase is designated to cover specific government-mandated programs from special education to competency-based testing. School administrators therefore routinely cite inadequate funding for general operations as justification for buying into such corporate intrusions in education as sponsored newscasts beamed into classrooms and a host of other marketing schemes that exploit our mandatory schooling laws. No wonder Consumer Union called their wonderful treatise on commercialism in schools Captive Kids!
The 1990s continued the assault on public funding for public institutions. When the Corporation for Public Broadcasting survived the near-fatal attack on its funding by congressional Republicans in 1995, PBS officials, facing immediate cutbacks in federal funds and the likelihood of even less government funding in the future, decided to seek other sources of revenue. They redefined corporate underwriting of programs to include the sale of actual commercial time for specific products, like Juicy Juice, as sponsors of children's programming. Now it's virtually impossible to get a children's television program produced on public television without licensing agreements. Without regard for children's health, programs like Teletubbies and Clifford the Big Red Dog31 engage in promotions with fast-food companies like Burger King, McDonald's, Wendy's, and Chuck E. Cheese.
My colleagues—health-care professionals, educators, and advocates for children—are also worried about the more generalized and insidious messages implicit in this deluge of advertising. "Ten years ago, when I asked kids how they saw their future, they talked about what kinds of professions they wanted to have," a psychologist from California told me. "But now when I ask them those questions I find myself listening to a litany of things that they want to own! It's like the substance of their lives has been replaced by the externals." As a character from the movie High Fidelity says, "What matters is what you like, not what you are like."
According to a recent poll, 90 percent of parents think that marketing in media contributes to their children becoming too materialistic. A survey of parents conducted by the Center for a New American Dream showed that 63 percent believed that their children define their self-worth in terms of what they own; 78 percent thought that marketing puts too much pressure on children to buy things that are too expensive, unhealthy, or unnecessary; and 70 percent expressed the belief that commercialism has a negative effect on children's values and worldviews.
Parents have cause for alarm. People who highly value material goods (an orientation reinforced by consumer marketing) are likely to be more unhappy and have a lower quality of life than those who value more internal or nonmaterial rewards such as creativity, competence, and contributing to the community.
As corporations vie more and more aggressively for young consumers, popular culture—which traditionally evolves from creative self-expression that captures and informs shared experience—is being smothered by commercial culture relentlessly sold to children by people who value them for their consumption, not their creativity. Consumerism as a value is marketed to children even in their toys. For the 2003 holiday season, Mattel produced at least seven Barbie Play Sets with a shopping theme. In addition to the one featured on the cover of this book, Let's Grocery Shop! Barbie, were Toy Store Barbie, Sweet Shoppin' Barbie, Shop & Style Fashion Barbie, Beauty Parlor Barbie, Chic Shoe Store Barbie, and Donut Shop Barbie.
In the long run, our children's immersion in this commercial culture has implications that go far beyond what they buy or don't buy. Marketing is designed to influence more than food preferences and choice of clothing. It aims to affect core values such as lifestyle choices: how we define happiness and how we measure our self-worth. Meanwhile, the very traits that today's marketing encourages—materialism, impulsivity, entitlement, and unexamined brand loyalty—are antithetical to those qualities necessary in a healthy democratic citizenry. Instead of being a mainstay of American life, intensive advertising to children may be eroding its foundations.
A reporter recently asked me what I see as the most destructive aspect or effect of marketing to children as practiced in the United States today. I responded that marketing succeeds by purposely exploiting children's vulnerabilities. Therefore, what you see as its "worst" effect will depend on your child's weaknesses or predilections. For example, if your child is vulnerable to overeating and poor nutrition habits, then marketing of unhealthy foods (linked to childhood obesity) seems the worst. If your child is vulnerable to eating disorders, then body-image marketing is what gets your attention. If your child is susceptible to violent messages, then you might see marketing of violent media and toys (linked to violent behavior) as the worst potential effect of marketing to children. The same is true for materialism, decreased creativity, family stress, and so on. Is obesity worse than bulimia? Is violence worse than preteen sexual precocity?
The advertising industry's spin is that parents—not corporations—are responsible for preventing the negative effects of media offerings and media marketing on children. Certainly there are things parents can do. For one thing, we can take televisions and computers out of our children's bedrooms. We can turn the television off during meals. We can monitor our own consumerism and talk with children about the meanings embedded in marketing messages. But parents can't do it alone. One family is hard-pressed to successfully combat a $15 billion industry. Parents and children need our help—as citizens, professionals, advocates, and activists.
The impact of corporate marketing on children's lives is breathtaking in its depth and reach and is expanding around the world virtually unchecked. This summer I sat in a restaurant in Santiago, Chile, surrounded by both Chilean families and posters of Barbie saying "Welcome" in a variety of languages. A few years ago, when my work took me to Tblisi, in the Republic of Georgia, I arrived during the grand opening of their second McDonald's. In the course of my research, I've come across studies of the buying habits of Chinese children and the impact of advertising on kids in India. I receive daily e-mails from colleagues around the country detailing marketing efforts ranging from the subtle (Coca Cola's million-dollar grant to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, for instance) to the blatant (the summer "camp" program that Toys "R" Us now runs in its stores).
Because marketing to children is so pervasive and affects so many aspect of their lives, my major struggle in writing about it has been in selecting topics and, of necessity, eliminating others. While marketing to children is an international problem, I have chosen to focus my attention on its impact on children and families in the United States because that's what I know best. Other books center specifically, and in detail, on single topics such as commercialism in the schools, for instance, or selling violence to children, or the effects of advertising on young girls. Instead, I've chosen to write about marketing from the perspective of what early childhood educators call "whole child development," taking the position that children are multifaceted beings whose physical, psychological, social, emotional, and spiritual development are all threatened when their value as consumers trumps their value as people.
While trying to find a home for this book, I encountered a lot of initial interest that rapidly diminished. Most publishers wanted me to write a "how to" book for parents. They envisioned a book entitled something like Empowering Families: A Twelve-Step Program for Raising Advertising-Resistant Children. That was not the book I had in mind, and so it was a relief when André Schiffrin at The New Press called and said, "I'm concerned that your book proposal is a bit too prescriptive."
Given that, I recognize that it's unfair to describe in gory detail the depth and breadth of how marketing affects children without offering some specific suggestions for what to do about it in both the short and the long terms. There are steps we can take as parents, as members of a larger community, and as citizens to stop the commercial exploitation of children. I outline these in chapter 12. I've also included a list of resources for public action. Throughout, I refer to the people taking care of children at home as parents. I mean that term to include grandparents, guardians, and anyone who has primary responsibility for raising a child.
I've never heard anyone, aside from an occasional marketing executive, say that advertising to children is good for them. And there's mounting evidence that it's harmful. Its motivating force is greed, just as surely as greed is the motivation for those corporate executives who cannibalize their own companies, create sweatshops, and artificially inflate consumer energy costs.
While children and their parents are most immediately affected, the transformation of childhood into a marketing demographic affects us all. It's a fact of life but not immutable. I believe that working together across political leanings, disciplines, professions, race, and class is the key to stopping the commercial exploitation of children. It is in hopes of helping to build such a coalition that I've written this book.
(Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.1-10)
Joanne Loria assures us several times that she doesn’t want South Park to be associated with children’s products, and that she has always turned down deals for toys or candy. The reason? Selling such children’s products could lead to “bad press.” On the other hand, South Park clothing and accessories are routinely sold in the Juniors department of major retailers, for instance. And who frequents the Juniors department? Kids at least as young as eleven or twelve, in addition to teens. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.13)
As I pour my coffee I’m approached by a tall, slim man with thining hair, a rather sad smile, and a faint Canadian accent. “Are you from the Judge Baker Children’s Center?” he asks. I can feel a rush of adrenaline-my second day at APK is not going to go according to plan either, and to calm myself down I chant my mantra: “Be quit, Be quit, Be quit.” Still, I’m not about to deny my affiliation.
“Yes, I am,” I answer, smiling politely.
“I’m from Brunico,” the man offers. In fact, he’s the company’s president. A well-trained spy would probably have walked away at this point or contrived to spill her coffee. I, on the other hand, am cursed with a perverse sense of the absurd. I’m dying to see what’s going to happen next. So I wait.
“How did you find yesterday’s workshop?” he asks. I know the right answer to that one. They were very interesting,” I reply, offering silent thanks to whoever invented the word “interesting,” which has seen me through years of difficult “what did you think of” challenges. But Mr. Brunico, as I have come to know him, is not going to let me off that easy. “In a positive way?” he asks. “Or a negative way? I’ve been outed.
I stare at him blankly for a moment. Clearly, there’s not much point in pretending any longer. “Well,” I answer, “we have some serious philosophical differences.” He nods. “You know,” I continue, this is the only conference about children that I’ve ever been to where nobody questions whether the work they are doing is good for kids or not.” For better or worse this is a conversation stopper.
Perhaps Mr. Brunico is thinking that it’s not the job of advertisers or marketers to think about the welfare of the children they target. If so, we disagree. Shouldn’t we all be concerned about children’s welfare? Instead of responding to my comment, after what I remember as a very long pause, he mentions that his own children are doing fine. This time it’s my turn to be silent. He’s not the first person I’ve heard point to their own well-functioning children as icons of why it’s okay to market to kids. It’s a comment I find puzzling. What about how other people’s kids are doing? Is he suggesting that his children are immune to advertising, and, by extension, that advertising doesn’t work? As I struggle in silence over whether to ask any of these questions, he departs with a courtly nod. A few hours later, at lunchtime, he stops by my table to ask if I’m “gathering good ammunition.”
“Actually I am,” I reply.
For the next two days, this conference continues to trouble me with its loud absence of moral/ethical context for marketing to children.
During a break, I chat with an elegantly dressed young woman. After a while, she shares some of her concerns about her work. “I draw the line at schools,” she says. “I don’t think we should market in schools. We had a project in a school, and I was really uncomfortable.” But she loves her job. “I love kids,” she says. “Where else would I get to play with kids all day? I talk to my friends who’ve gone on to clinical psychology programs, and they say that most of their work is managing-or working with parents. I get to play all day. Sometimes I think I should be doing something that’s more useful. Maybe this is rationalization, but you know, I did a project with McDonald’s-not about selling hamburgers, but about Ronald McDonald. And Ronald McDonald is about having fun and making kids happy. He doesn’t sell anything.” Her voice trails off and she looks at me sideways. “Maybe that’s a rationalization.” (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.20-2)
…..I don’t know the reason for this switch, but I like to think it has something to do with a growing public concern about psychologists and their role in marketing to children. In 1999 Gary Ruskin, of the advocacy group Commercial Alert, and psychologist Allen Kanner wrote a letter to the American Psychological Association signed by sixty psychologists urging the APA to take a stand regarding psychologists who use their professional expertise to help corporations target children with marketing. The letter generated a great deal of press, and as a result, the APA assigned a task force to look into this matter and into marketing to children in general.
The 1992 Ethical Principles of the American Psychological Association include one titled “Social Responsibility,” which stated, among other things, that psychologists should “apply and make public their knowledge of psychology in order to contribute to human welfare.” I was dismayed, however, to discover that in the new version of the principles, effective June 2003, the APA eliminated that sentence-and the entire Social Responsibility Principle_ from the document. Unfortunately, there are many from the ranks of our profession who help companies market successfully to children by routinely employing the principles and practices of child psychology-from development theory to diagnostic techniques. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.23-4)
Challenging ethics of marketing to children by Miriam H. Zoll at progress.org
"Consuming Kids: the Commercialization of Childhood" 2008 transcript of all star discussion at Media Education Foundation PDF
Watch out for children: a mothers statement to advertisers PDF
The following is the clause cited by Susan Linn from APA
Principle F: Social responsibility
Psychologists are aware of their professional and scientific responsibilities to the community and the society in which they work and live. They apply and make public their knowledge of psychology in order to contribute to human welfare. Psychologists are concerned about and work to mitigate the causes of human suffering. When undertaking research, they strive to advance human welfare and the science of psychology. Psychologists try to avoid misuse of their work. Psychologists comply with the law and encourage the development of law and social policy that serve the interests of their patients and clients and the public. They are encouraged to contribute a portion of their professional time for little or no personal advantage. The 1992 Ethical Principles of the American Psychological Association
The American Psychological Association’s Council of Representatives adopted this version of the APA Ethics Code during its meeting on August 21, 2002. The Code became effective on June 1, 2003. The 2003 Ethical Principles of the American Psychological Association
Marketing agencies are as relentless in their quest for knowledge about children as any academic institution-and they are certainly better funded than most universities. In fact, to the dismay of many in the traditional bastions of the social sciences, a great deal of the research currently being done by and for the corporate world; as Paul Kurnit, president of an agency specializing in marketing to children, states, “We’ve probably done more recent original research on kids, life stages and recognition of brands than anybody.” What’s missing, however, in reports of data collected for market research, or how those data are used, are the questions that should be central to all psychological research conducted with children: Am I using this information to make children’s lives better? How will this application of developmental psychology benefit children?
None of the articles quotes earlier questions the ethics, let alone the psychological impact, of inundating teens and preteens with images and messages designed to foster insecurity as the primary motivation for action, nor do most of the hundreds of articles and books I’ve read in the course of my research. It seems that no one in the advertising industry, whatever their private concerns might be, publicly questions either the ethics or the effects of marketing messages that play’s to a child’s vulnerabilities. In fact, for years most marketers have maintained that public concern about the impact of marketing on children is overblown. In a 1997 article in Business Week, tom Kalinske, former chief executive officer of Sega of America and Mattel, Inc., said, “I have a high regard for the intelligence of kids.” The article went on to explain that “Kalinske and others in the industry believe that kids today are more sophisticated consumers than the generations that preceded them, well able to recognize hype and impervious to crude manipulation.” Mr. Kurnit expanded on this point of view in KidScreen, explaining that “It’s a point of fact that today’s child is more savvy than ever before about wehat it’s like to live in a commercial society….And what parents are telling us is that kids are requesting brands and are brand-aware almost as soon as their verbal skills set in.”
By championing children’s “intelligence” and “sophistication” as a rationale for the escalating onslaught of child-targeted commercials, marketing experts reveal that their love affair with psychology is as superficial and deceptive as the ads they create.
Children’s alleged sophistication about media and marketing is also used as justification for product placement-the growing trend of embedding products as props and backgrounds in movies, television shows, and video games. Product placement has even led to such spin-offs as books for babies that look just like a Froot Loops box or a package of M&Ms. Commenting on the latter, Julie Halpin, CEO of the Geppetto Group, portrays such books as a marketing tactic with benefits for all: “For the marketer it’s creating affinity for the brand. For parents, the kid is learning to count. There’s no down side.”
Really? When childhood obesity is a major public health problem, it’s hard to see that inculcating babies with an affection for candy, or sugared cereal, is so benign. And while there ae laws prohibiting product placement on television programs directly targeted to children, there are no similar laws regarding films for young audiences, which is why, for example, the popular 2001 film Spy Kids contained an advertisement for McDonald’s disguised as a plot point. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.26-7)
I don't absolve parents of responsibility for their children's well being in a commercially driven world, but most of the parents I talk to are doing their best in what often feels like an unending and overwhelming struggle. In the face of well-funded, brilliantly strategized, and relentless commercial assaults on their children, parents are expected to be unyielding gatekeepers and their children's sole protectors.
"I think it's all the parents' fault," an older woman comments during a call-in radio show about marketing to kids. "They are too indulgent these days. They need to learn to say no." I often hear comments like this when I talk about children and the marketplace. I don't agree. After years of exploring advertising and advertising practices as they affect children, I've come to the conclusion that telling parents to "just say no" to every marketing-related request that they feel is unsafe, unaffordable, unreasonable, or contrary to family values is about as simplistic as telling a drug addict to "just say no" to drugs.
The phrase "It takes a village to raise a child" may have been overused during the past decade, but it's still an evocative metaphor for the argument that caring for our children is a collective effort that has to extend beyond the immediate family. It also reminds us that children's experiences beyond their own households—in the neighborhood, in school, or in the larger community -- can have a powerful impact on their growth and development.
As I listen to parents and think about my own experiences, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a colleague of mine who works with families in a neighborhood saturated with gangs. He talked about the anguish of parents who find that -- despite their best efforts -- they can't compete with the seductive offerings of a toxic street culture. The culture of marketing that pervades all our communities, from the poorest to the richest, is similar in that it competes with parental values for children's hearts, minds, and souls. These days, the village raising our children has been transformed by electronic media, a ubiquitous, commercially driven force in all our lives. What this means is that children are bombarded from morning to night by messages designed not to make their lives better but to sell them something.
Most of the studies on media marketing to children have focused on the products advertised, not the process of the marketing or the consequences of that process. But there are consequences, and among the most insidious of these is marketing's effect on family life. Parents may hold the line and refuse to buy, they may overindulge children by acquiescing to every request, or they may strain their finances by buying more than they can really afford. Conflict about stuff marketed to kids is a cause of stress in families,1 and marketers are well aware of that fact. Advertising clearly influences the things children ask for -- if it didn't, of course, companies wouldn't be spending so much money doing it.
A 1999 article in Advertising Age begins, "Mothers are known for instructing children not to play with their food. But increasingly marketers are encouraging them to." On grocery and toy store shelves, this has translated into a rash of such nutritional "necessities" as green catsup, chocolate-flavored French fries, and battery-operated lollipop holders that twirl around by themselves. In chapter 6, I discuss marketing's impact on nutrition, obesity, and eating disorders; here I want to explore the attitudes and philosophies behind the creation of such products and the campaigns to sell them, as well as the impact of those attitudes and philosophies on families.
Starting with the simple example cited from Advertising Age, it's certainly true that children like to play with food. For babies, being able to eat with their fingers and explore the textures of food is a valuable tactile experience, but the fact that children like playing with food is not enough justification for encouraging them to continue to do so long after babyhood and against their parents' wishes.
Our job as parents, in addition to nurturing and protecting our children, is to help them learn to live in a civil society by transmitting positive values and standards of behavior. One of the more relentless aspects of this task is to sort out, sometimes on a daily or hourly basis, those things that are harmless or even beneficial to children from those things they like to do that may cause them harm, cause harm to others, or cross our own personal threshold for irritating behavior.
In the grand scheme of things, playing with food against a parent’s wishes seems like a small transgression. In and of itself, it is, though that’s not the point. By targeting children with ads designed to entice them to play with food, marketers are willfully encouraging children to do something that they acknowledge is contrary to most parents’ expectations and values. In fact, the marketing industry purposely comes between children and parents in many instances, potentially wreaking all sorts of havoc in family life. One of the most egregious examples of evidence that they do this comes from a 1998 study on nagging. Conducted not to help parents prevent nagging but rather to help retailers exploit nagging to boost sales, the study, called "The Nag Factor," was conducted by Western Media International (now Initiative Media Worldwide) and Lieberman Research Worldwide.
According to a press release from Western Media International headlined "The Fine Art of Whining: Why Nagging Is a Kid's Best Friend," the study identifies which kinds of parents are most likely to give in to nagging. Not surprisingly, divorced parents and those with teenagers or very young children ranked highest. The study identifies some things children often nag for, estimating for each how often nagging was successful: in four out of ten trips to "entertainment establishments like the Discovery Zone and Chuck E. Cheese," in one out of every three trips to a fast-food restaurant, and in three out of every ten home video sales.
Since research conducted by marketing companies is proprietary, which means that researchers' methods are not usually made available to the public, these firms sell their reports for a great deal of money. I don't know how much the Nag Factor study sold for, but in 2003, for instance, a publication called The U.S. Market for Infant, Toddler and Preschool Products: Vols. 1–3, second edition, cost $6,000.
Perhaps because it found that "the impact of children's nagging is assessed as up to 46 percent of sales in key business that target children," the Nag Factor study attracted a great deal of attention in the marketing world, and several publications described the study and how it was conducted in various amounts of detail. In a story headlined "The Old Nagging Game Can Pay Off for Marketers," Selling to Kids (a marketing newsletter, not an advocacy group) reported that in the study, researchers asked 150 mothers of children aged three to eight to keep a diary recording their kids' purchase requests over a period of two weeks. The moms reported a total of 10,000 nags—an average of about 66 nags per mother, or about 4.7 nags per day. The study identified two different kinds of nagging. The first was "persistence nagging," or repeated requests for a product. The second was "importance nagging," when kids gave a reason for why they wanted a product. To use the example cited by Western Media executives: "Mommy, I need the Barbie Dreamhouse so Barbie and Ken can live together and have children and have their own family."
The persistence with which children nag seems to increase as they get older. A recent survey of 750 kids between the ages of twelve and seventeen produced the finding that, on average, they may ask nine times before their parents give in and let them have what they want. Nagging seems to peak in early adolescence. Of the twelve- and thirteen-year-olds surveyed, 11 percent reported nagging parents more than fifty times for one specific product or another -- and all of these were products they had seen advertised.
To help corporations fine-tune their strategies for encouraging nagging, the researchers at Western International Media divided parents into different categories:
"Indulgers" are parents who basically give in to their kids' every whim.
"Kids' Pals" are parents who want to have fun, too, just like their kids.
"Conflicted" describes single and/or divorced parents, whose purchasing behavior is often influenced by guilt.
"Bare Necessities" are parents who seem able to fend off their kids' pleas and ultimately make all of the purchasing decisions on their own.
"Marketers need to understand," the Selling to Kids article reminds them, "that a single marketing or advertising message may not resonate with different kinds of families." (I've added the italics.)
And who are the "Bare Necessities," the parents who cope so well with nagging? According to the people who did the survey, they are the parents whose lives are the least stressed -- they are the most affluent and the least likely to have babies or toddlers in the house.
We might hope that "The Nag Factor" was an aberration. It's alarming to think that people would actually want to wreak havoc in families just to make a buck, but exploiting the nag factor -- or "pester power," as it is also called in the industry -- continues to be a perfectly acceptable tool from the marketers' point of view. Kelly Stitt, senior brands manager for Heinz's catsup division, had this to say in The Wall Street Journal: "All our advertising is targeted to kids. You want that nag factor so that seven-year-old Sarah is nagging Mom in the grocery store to buy Funky Purple. We're not sure Mom would reach out for it on her own."
(Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.31-5)
For Toddlers, a World Laden with Advertising by Kim Masters includes excerpts from Susan Linn "Consuming Kids"
For those of us who free-associate, the metaphor of “mining” family relationships is particularly and painfully evocative. Families are perceived as a repository (the mine) containing valuables that are there for the extracting-and exploiting. I often wonder whether the 150 mothers who participated in the “whining” study, or those who might have participated in a company’s “mining” survey’s are made aware of what the research is being used for.
Academic research is regulated by something called a human subjects review, which requires informing subjects about the research, especially about any risks that they might be harmed by it. Market research, at least in the United States, is subject to no such regulation. Suppose a researcher approached you and said, “I’m conducting research whose results will make your life more stressful because your children will be better able to nag you to buy them things,” or, “I want to mine your family relationships to better understand how to get you to agree to buy your kids things you don’t really want to buy them.” Would you participate? (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.36)
The prospect of spending a month saying no 2,160 times to a child you love is enough to drive any parent crazy. Suppose some of your child’s requests are reasonable? Is our goal to cure children of asking for what they want? By encouraging children to nag, and by bombarding them with messages that material goods are the key to happiness, the marketing industry is taking advantage of parents’ innate desire for their children to be happy.
Marketing experts and others point to single-parent families, two-career families, lack of adequate day care, and all sorts of other reasons for stress between parents and children. I agree that many of these issues are major concerns. I also believe that the marketing industry (or anyone else) has no right to take advantage of children whose parents are unable to provide them with ideal care.
At least some people in the marketing industry don’t agree. When Lucy Hughes, director of initiative and strategy for Initiative Media, was interviewed in a film called The Corporation, she justified the Nag Factor study this way: “If we understand what motivates a parent to buy a product ….if we could develop a creative commercial-you know, a thirty-second commercial that encourages the child to whine…. That the child understands and is able to reiterate to the parents, then we’re successful.” As for the ethics of such tactics, she said, “Is it ethical? I don’t know. But…our role at initiative is to move products. And if we know you move products with a certain creative execution placed in a certain type of media vehicle then we’ve done our job.”
By encouraging children to nag, one aspect of “doing our job” is to foment family stress. For advertisers, another aspect of doing their job is to insure that the products children nag for are the brands their companies represent. With an emphisis on the “cradle” aspect of cultivating “cradle to grave” brand loyalty, the seeds of consumerism are now sown quite early. Even babies are targets for marketing. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.39-40)
MARKETING TO KIDS > A Measure Of Success Lucy Hughes
slide show at campaign for a commercial free childhood
Harry Tormey’s blog
Jordy Sullivan’s blog Raving Tomato
As I am sitting on the floor of a hospital playroom with Annie, who has just turned seven, she reaches for a box of Lincoln Logs and dumps them on the floor. In addition to the logs themselves, the set contains one plastic roof, one doorway, three window frames, and a set of instructions detailing exactly how to build three different structures. The original Lincoln Logs sets, from the 1930’scontained only logs-novice builders just left openings for windows and doors. At that point the kits did not come with reconstructed accoutrements, so children could place the openings anywhere. Like modern versions of Legos, today’s Lincoln Logs offerings come with instructions rather than a few suggestive pictures of multiple possibilities.
Keeping a rather anxious look at the pictures, Annie tries to duplicate one of the detailed models on the page. Before she has it exactly right she places a plastic roof on top. It doesn’t fit. We have not built the structure exactly to specification. Dismissing my suggestion that we build something of our own, she tries again to get it rights. In fact, it’s not clear to me that we could have created a structure much different from the three models. A building set that allows for creativity should contain lots of different-sized pieces: this kit contains only enough logs in just the right numbers to build only those structures depicted in the instructions.
Tiring of the logs, Annie pulls out a plastic container of dinosaurs. These come with plastic palm trees, rocks, and even a volcano. They also come with a plastic floor plan showing exactly where every tree and rock should go. “The trees go there,” she says pointing to the palm fronds depicted on the plastic. I place a tree frond in an unmarked piece of land. “No!” she says, moving it. “They have to go here.” The volcano and even the rocks have to go on their designated spots.
She takes out a dinosaur and hands me another one. “These have to fight,” she says. I begin making my dinosaur talk. “No! she insists. “They can’t talk.” “Why can’t they talk?” I asked, puzzled. ”It’s like in the movie,” she explains impatiently. “You know! They fight and they can’t talk.” (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.70-1)
Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.74-93 PDF file
I didn’t know it then, but the Disneyfication of my daughter’s musical education was just a small sign of the times. It occurred only a year ago or so before Ed Winter, an enthusiasts for marketing in schools who would have a profound effect on its nature, told Business Week, “Marketers have come to realize that all roads eventually lead to the schools.”
In-school advertising began escalating in earnest in 1990. It now includes (but isn’t limited to) corporate-sponsored newscasts, field trips, classroom materials, vending machines, gymnasiums, walls, and whole buildings. Have you visited your child’s school lately? Perhaps she’s learning about energy production and consumption through the lens of companies like Exxon Mobil or professional associations like the American Coal Foundation (“Unlocking Coal’s Potential through Education”). Her inspiration for reading may be coming from Pizza Hut-complete with coupons to be redeemed at your local franchise. She may be attending mandatory assemblies where she can learn about job interviewing from McDonalds. If she lives in Washington, D.C., and wants to go into the hotel business, she might be attending the Marriot Hospitality Charter School. If she’s a kid in trouble, she could attend a Burger King Academy.
If she’s on a school athletic team, her shoes may come from Nike or Adidas. Her school’s scoreboard could owe its presence to the countless bottles of Coke or Pepsi she’s bought from school vending machines and a sport company logo. Access to her opinions and ideas may have been sold to a market research company. Her only exposure to current events might be brought to her courtesy of the aforementioned Ed Winter. He’s the guy who thought of Channel One, the twelve-minute news program that includes two minutes of commercials that her school is obligated to show daily for 90 percent of the school days each year. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.75-6)
Commercialization and Technology Partnerships With Business in US Schools: Some Guidelines For District Policy Makers
Contemporary youth culture: an international encyclopedia, Volume 2 By Shirley R. Steinberg, Priya Parmar, Birgit Richard
Raising Children in a Consumer Culture religion-online.org
‘Schools Discovering "Free" Ad-Based Services Come With Price’ Albion Monitor
Education World – apologists?
Alliance for the Separation of School & State- "I favor ending government involvement in education." Right wing
For corporations, of course, there is no downside. Because they are “contributing” education, they look like good corporate citizens. They get to place their brand in the faces of students, who because of mandatory schooling laws, can’t escape from it. To quote Joel Babbit, former president of Channel One, the commercially based news program mentioned earlier, “The advertiser gets kids who cannot go to the bathroom, cannot change the station, who cannot listed to their mother yell in the background, who cannot play Nintendo, who cannot have their headsets on.”
The notion that marketing in schools is a reflection of good corporate citizenship is debatable. Since when do acts of good citizenship necessitate a quid pro quo? If you believe, as I do, that all of us-including corporate executives-benefit from a well-educated populace, the following questions come to mind: Why should your child’s education be tied to someone else’s monetary gain? Don’t we all have an obligation to support public schools?
Those in the education trenches who allow, if not embrace corporate marketing in their schools-superintendents, principals, teachers, and school board members-don’t justify it on philosophical, political or educational grounds, nor do they suggest that it is in the best interest of children to use the school as a marketplace. For them, it comes down to money.
In 2003, my own state of Massachusetts raised its school budget only 1 percent as opposed to the annual increase of 10 percent that had become the common. During the same legislative session in which this miniscule increase was passed, legislators also passed a law allowing schools to sell the sides of school buses to advertisers. According to one legislator, “We saw it as a way of getting a few more dollars in the door.” Massachusetts is not the exception. When school personnel look to commercialize their students’ school experience, they almost always plead poverty.
In 2001, when the Brooklawn, New Jersey, high school announced that it would call its new gymnasium “Shop Rite” after the local supermarket chain agreed to put up $100,000 ($5,000 a year for twenty years) to help pay for it, the school board hadn’t asked for a tax increase for thirty years. Almost half of Brooklawn residents are senior citizens. “We don’t want to bankrupt our seniors,” the school board president explained, but the school superintendent added, “It’s the privatization of public responsibility…We’ll be the first school district to be branded with a corporate logo. You hope children can become sophisticated e4nough to deal with it. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.77-8)
“Changing the channel” by Russ Baker features Dobson verses Ralph Reed
Let's Keep Advertising -- and Market Research -- Out of the Classroom By Gary Ruskin at Commercial Alert
Throwing kids to the Wolves blogspot
“The Commercialization of Childhood” Peggy Robertson co-op of smart woman midchix and madhens
Before the current cuts, money that might have gone for equipment, maintenance, and classroom materials was already being spent for other things. Now the situation is even more dire. Wealthier communities might pass tax overrides to raise money for school buildings or to maintain certain programs. But poorer communities, or wealthy communities that don’t make education a priority, are in a terrible bind. Schools with poorer students already receive less state and local aid than other schools.
For corporations competing to sell children products, the current budget crunch is a gift. “Tight budgets open doors,” enthused a writer for Promo this year. Quoting an executive from the youth division of Alloy-a teen clothing catalogue-cum-web portal/magazine publisher- the article explained that administrators “are becoming more open to commercialism and thinking about how they can reduce budgetary problems.” As a result, “brands are learning to create curriculum-based programs when possible or appropriate, bring mobile tours to schools, infiltrate locker rooms and sports fields, and sample, sample, sample. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.79)
In 1929, the National Education Association’s position that corporate control of school curriculum was based on the fact that presentation of such material bypassed review by the school board members elected from the community. More recently, others have expressed, and some continue to express, concerns about that content.
The only goal for creating classrooms materials should be furthering the education of students using that material. Once a goal becomes imprinting brands into students’ consciousness, or creating a positive association to a product, education is likely to take a back seat. Is, for instance, a corporation likely to be unbiased in its presentation of subjects in which it has a vested interest? According to Consumer Union’s 1995 review of seventy-seven corporate-sponsored classroom kits that claimed to be educational, the answer is “no.” Nearly 80 percent were found to be biased or incomplete, “promoting a viewpoint that favors consumption of the sponsor’s product or service or a position that favors the company or its economic agenda. A few contained significant inaccuracies.” Materials from energy companies and professional organizations such as Exxon (now Exxon Mobil) or the American Coal Foundation, for instance, were found to be biased in their presentations of the pros and cons of reliance on fossil fuel. Through the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industries produce classroom materials about energy. These can be downloaded at a site called classroom-energy.org. In addition to the Institute’s own materials, the site includes links to science lessons produced by oil and gas companies. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.81)
In his eloquent essay, “How to Be Stupid: The Lessons of Channel One,” New York University professor Mark Crispin Miller makes the point that the news as seen on channel one is “even more compressed and superficial than the stuff the networks give us: big accidents and major snowstorms, non-stories about the Super Bowl, horse-race coverage of domestic politics, bloody images of foreign terrorism, the occasional nerve-wracking and largely unenlightening visit to some scary place like Haiti or Tibet, and features-either grim or inspirational-on teens suffering from various high-profile torments (cancer, AIDS, addiction).”
A 1997 study analyzed thirty-six Channel One programs and found that only 20 percent of the programs featured stories about recent political, social, or cultural events. The other 80 percent was devoted to sports, weather, natural disasters, features and profiles, and self promotion of Channel One. In 1998, Channel One hired an education director. A review in the Columbia Journalism Review two years later suggested that the news quality had improved somewhat. At this point, there is no eduction director listed in the company’s web site, and when I called the company, the person I spoke to said there is was no such position.
In any case, discussions about the quality of Channel One’s news are distracting. Even aside from the commercials, Channel One represents a corporate intrusion into the lives of children-taking a total of five instructional days’ worth of school time over the course of the year- in which one corporation dictates the content of “lessons” for eight million students without review from the teachers, principals, superintendents, or school boards. Teachers are allowed to preview programs and can opt not to show them-but the number of programs they can reject is limited to 10 percent of the whole.
While the effectiveness of the news content is debatable, the commercial seem to be a great success. To Quote Dr. Miller again:
“The ads on Channel One would seem to be especially powerful, however, because they thrive by contrast not just with the news before and after them, but with the whole boring, regimented context of the school itself.
Imagine, or remember, what it's like to have to sit there at your desk, listening to your teacher droning on, with hours to go until you can get out of there, your mind rebelling and your hormones raging. It must be a relief when Channel One takes over, so you can lose yourself in its really cool graphics and its tantalizing bursts of rock music-and in the advertisers' mind-blowing little fantasies of power: power through Pepsi, Taco Bell, McDonald's, Fruit-A-Burst and/or Gatorade ("Life Is a Sport. Drink It Up!"), power through Head 'n' Shoulders, Oxy-10 and/or Pantene Pro-V Mousse (". . . a stronger sense of style!"), power through Donkey Kong and/or Killer Instinct ("PLAY IT LOUD!") and/or power through Reebok ("This is my planet!").”
The effectiveness of advertising on Channel One has been documented in qualitative and quantitative studies. When University of Missouri professor Ray Fox studied 200 students who viewed Channel One newscast on a daily basis, he found, not surprisingly, that students clearly remembered the ads. He also found that the ads entered the fabric of their lives. Students incorporated Channel One into their creative writing and even reported dreaming about some of the ads.
A study that compared two schools that were matched in every way except for the presence of Channel One found that kids who watched Channel One in school showed more of a preference for products on it than kids in schools that didn’t show the program. Of even more concern is that students exposed to Channel One showed more inclination to materialistic values than those who weren’t exposed. The study found that regular viewers of Channel One were more likely to agree that: money is everything; a nice car is more important than school; designer labels make a difference; wealthier people are happier than poor people.
These findings run counter to the argument of proponents of Channel One, and of any marketing in schools, that in-school advertising has little impact on children because they are exposed to advertising in all aspects of their lives. This study suggests that the ads on Channel One (and presumably other advertising in schools) have more of an impact-not just on brand preferences but also on students’ values-because they are seen in the classroom at the behest of school officials and are integrated into the whole gestalt of “school” and what is taught there. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.83-4)
David Korten “The Post Corporate World: Life After Capitalism” Scribd
several related articles including “How to Be Stupid: The Lessons of Channel One”
News and advertisements in schools: First broadcast of Channel One The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)
The problem with sending all of these vending machines to school is nicely summed up in a 2001 U.S. Department of Agriculture report to Congress titled, “Food Sold in competition with USDA Meal Programs.” The report says, “When children are taught in the classroom about good nutrition and the value of healthy food choices but are surrounded by vending machines, snack bars, school stores, and a la carte sales offering low nutrient density options, they receive the message that good nutrition is merely an academic exercise that is not supported by the school administration and is therefore not important to their health or education.”
In 2001, Coca Cola announced that it was responding to public concern about obesity and changing its exclusive contracts with some schools. However, Coke has continued to negotiate exclusive deals with schools. Bolstering Coke’s presence in the public education system, the company’s biggest bottler, Coca Cola Enterprises, is now an official sponsor of the national Parent-Teacher Association. One of its executives sits on the PTA’s board of directors. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.87)
Pouring-rights contracts can also have an impact on aspects of children’s lives other than obesity. I recently received the following e-mail from an understandably irate father whose daughter was prevented from Pepsico from embarking on a fund-raising endeavor that involved selling bottled water named after her school teams:
My name is Gary K. Boyes Sr. I am the father of Andrea Boyes, the cheerleader whose fund-raising intentions with custom labeled bottled water have been banned from the public school grounds by Pepsi. We are in Salam Oregon. She is allowed to market her Titan water anywhere but where it was designed for…
My daughter was asked for a fund-raising idea. She worked out almost the whole thing herself. She chose a healthy consumable as the product for repeat sales. She designed the label and made all the arrangements for production of the new West Salem Titan water. All I did was pick up the first order when completed. She essentially set up a small business to continually provide funding. In addition to this planned legacy from the first cheerleading squad at the new school, she had an as yet unpublished private goal that she kept under wraps until seeing the sales rates. She was hopeful that it could support a scholarship program so that a student that wanted to be a cheerleader could try out without regard to their parents’ ability to cover the high cost of making the squad. Many are forced to forgo even trying, and she wanted it to become possible for everyone based on their skills. At 15, she worked one day a week through the summer as an office manager for a local construction company and paid all her cheerleading costs herself. She didn’t have to, she wanted to.
I have been getting a quick education on what I was generally apathetic about before. I can tell you I’m pretty ticked off with what I’ve found out.
The Salem Keiser school district where Mr. Boyes’s daughter is a student has an exclusive ten-year, $5-million dollar contract with Pepsi. The district also has exclusive contracts with food service, furniture, athletic equipment, and computer dealers. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.88)
Given that children spend more time engaged with media than they do engaged in any activity other than sleeping, it’s hard to see how they could escape being affected by the content of media’s advertising and programming. In addition to the study cited above, there is plenty of research to back this-especially about violence. I’m sure that it would be easier for everyone if media violence had no negative impact on children’s attitudes and behavior. It does. And given that it does, it would be convenient if media violence were the sole cause for children’s violent behavior. It isn’t.
On July, 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Medical Association, the American Association of Family Physicians, and the American Psychiatric Association issued a joint statement on media violence. After reviewing more than a thousand studies conducted over thirty years, they reported a consensus in the public health community that “viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behavior, particularly in children.”
While acknowledging that the effects of entertainment violence on children are complicated and may vary from child to child, the statement identifies several measurable effects:
• Children who see a lot of violence are more likely to view violence as an effective way of settling conflicts. Children exposed to violence are more likely to assume that acts of violence are acceptable behavior.
• Viewing violence can lead to emotional desensitization towards violence in real life. It can decrease the likelihood that one will take action on behalf of a victim when violence occurs.
• Entertainment violence feeds a perception that the world is a violent and mean place. Viewing violence increases fear of becoming a victim of violence, with a resultant increase in self-protective behaviors and a mistrust of others.
• Viewing violence may lead to real life violence. Children exposed to violent programming at a young age have a higher tendency for violent and aggressive behavior later in life than children who are not so exposed. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.117-8)
Joint Statement on the Impact of Entertainment Violence on Children Congressional Public Health Summit July 26, 2000
Pediatrics - Volume 104, Number 2 - August 1999, pp 341-343 Media Education (RE9911) - AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS Screenblock.com
“Children and Media Violence” study scribd
“Trends in Media Use” Author(s): Donald F. Roberts and Ulla G. Foehr scribd
First and foremost, Tiffany Eunice’s death from violence at the age of six is a heartbreaking tragedy. So is the fact that a twelve-year-old killed her. I’m of the opinion that it’s also heartbreaking for Lionel Tate to be serving a life sentence for something he did as a child. Whether or not you agree with me, this case can be seen as a mirror reflecting all sorts of social ills, from poverty and flaws in our delivery of social services to problems in the criminal justice and juvenile justice systems. Predictably, the case also triggered a civil lawsuit and a minor media circus, both of which embody much of what’s wrong with our national dialogue on the impact of marketing violence to children-simultaneously trivializing, sensationalizing, and politicizing the inquiry into the relationship between media violence and children’s behavior.
In the trial’s aftermath, an organization called Parents Television Council, described variously as a “watchdog group,” a “conservative watchdog group,” and an “extremist group,” was sued by the WWE for making a fundraising video that blamed WWE for Tiffany’s murder. In its suit, the WWE claimed that the PTC was responsible for convincing several corporations to pull their sponsorship from the WWE television programs. The boy’s lawyer, Jim Lewis, was also named in the suit. Eventually, WWE won a judgement against the defense attorney and $3.5 million from the Parents Television Council. As part of the settlement, Brent Bozell, a politically conservative columnist and CEO of the Parents Television Council, wrote a retraction letter stating, “Neither ‘wrestling’ ingeneral, nor WWE specifically, had anything to do with [Lionel Tate’s actions]. Of that I am certain.”
Unlike Mr. Bozell, Lionel Tate’s lawyer refused to recant. According to an Associated Press report, Lewis wrote in his own court-ordered letter of apology to the WWE that he “still believe[s] that television violence influenced Lionel Tate to be insensitive to the physical harm and tragic death of his playmate, Tiffany Eunice.” Meanwhile, the WWE declared a victory fro wrestling and for the First Amendment.
I don’t know whether watching wrestling on television influenced Lionel Tate or not. Nor do I understand how Brent Bozell could be so certain at one point that it had “caused” Tiffany’s murder and then be so certain that it didn’t. But I do this: the boys that I’ve seen for play therepy at the day-care center where I work, ranging in age from four to eight, bring World Wrestling Entertainment moves into our sessions. They all watch WWE programs-at least they used to. The problem of WWE-inspired play at the center was so severe that the director sent a letter home to parents asking that kids be kept from watching it. Last year, Haikim, a slight, friendly four-year-old, confided in me that he didn’t like his older brother. “He always wants to play wrestling,” he complained. “So we do. And then I start crying.” (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.119-20)
Marketing mavens describe them (tweens) as easier targets than teenagers because they are more “benign and not cynical” and are “very accessible and very open to new ideas.” These characteristics, plus the fact that they evidently “get their way more with parents than little kids” mean that they are, as one cable television executive enthused, “a ripe audience to exploit.” (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.130)
In 2002, according to Woman’s Wear Daily, a marketing research firm called Teen Research Unlimited found that in their study of 2,000 teens and tweens, “Aspirational age is dipping down into the tween market.” (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.132)
Many factors, both environmental and biological, determine attitudes toward violence and violent behavior. There’s enough evidence (see the one thousand studies over thirty years cited in the public health community’s Joint Statement on the Impact of Entertainment Violence) that media violence is one of those factors, although there’s no evidence that it’s ever the sole factor. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.154)
Those animated, adorable, and croaking shills, the Budweiser frogs, are beloved by children. While Budweiser states in no uncertain terms that the ads do not target children, they could have been created from a how-to manual for marketing to kids. Gurus in the world of marketing to children routinely suggest that ads targeting children include cartoon characters and/or animals in their ads because children immediately recognize cartoon messages as intended for them. Dan Acuff, in What Kids Buy and Why, talks about the “strong affinity very young children have to animals and animal characters.” (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.164)
At the federal level, regulation of alcohol advertising falls under three separate government agencies: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and explosives; the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; and the Federal Trade Commission. However, none of these agencies focus on marketing to children. At the state level, less than half the states have any laws that address marketing to underage drinkers, and they tend to look to the federal government to regulate advertising and alcohol industry practices.
Therefore, when it comes to marketing to kids, the alcohol industry is largely self-regulated. In 1999, an investigation by the Office of the Healt6h and Human Services Inspector General found that the alcohol industry’s regulations were to vague to be enforceable, or too narrowly cast to do any good. The industry is not rigorously enforcing its own rules either. For instance, regulation in the beer industry don’t allow beer advertising to suggest that any alcohol laws are being broken. It seems to me that the Sam Adams commercial I described earlier could only be at a party with at least some underage drinkers. Why else would the young man hide his can of beer from the police? There’s no law against having a party filled with legal drinkers! (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.167)
The cigarette companies may have changed the ways they do it, but they are still marketing to children. A look at some of the internal documents generated by the tobacco industry from before the settlement explains why, in the words of tobacco executives. A memo from Phillip Morris (now Altria) says, “Today’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential customers…the smoking patterns of teenagers are particularly important to Phillip Morris.” According to an executive from R.J. Reynolds, “Evidence is now available to indicate that the 14-18-year-old group is an increasing segment of the smoking population. RJR-T must soon establish a successful new brand in this market if our position in the industry is to be maintained in the long term.” Perhaps it’s the executive from Lorillard who summed it up best: “[T]he base of our business is the high school student.” In other words, if tobacco companies stop marketing to kids, the industry goes up in smoke. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.169)
At the height of Joe Camel’s popularity, more than 90 percent of six-year-olds could identify his image as being associated with cigarettes-making him as recognizable as Mickey Mouse. He was quite popular with teens as well. During his first three years of life, Camels went from being a brand smoked by less than 1 percent of the under-eighteen market to a brand smoke by almost one-third of smokers under eighteen, which represented an annual increase of $470 million in sales for R.J. Reynolds. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.170)
The brands most popular with black adolescents are still heavily advertised in magazines favored by African American youth. Actually, the brands that teenagers smoke are the brands that spend the most on advertising in any venue. Cigarette advertising is extremely effective, and its effectiveness is so well documented that when the National Cancer Institute reviewed it’s rese4arch, they came to the conclusion that there is a causal relationship between advertising and first use of cigarettes.
Teenagers are three times more susceptible to cigarette advertising than adults. In fact, tobacco advertising appears to have more influence on kids’ decisions to smoke than exposure to family members or friends who are smokers. It is even effective to influencing kids who are neither smokers nor susceptible to smoking to experiment with tobacco.
What’s really alarming-although not surprising- is that cigarette marketing can even trump good parenting. In a refrain commonly sung by advertising executives, the tobacco industry has long claimed that good parents can prevail over the industry’s zillion-dollar efforts to ensnare children and keep their kids from smoking. In fact, the tobacco industry has paid for public service announcements on television implying that being actively involved with your children’s lives is an antidote to smoking.
For some kids that seems to be right. For a significant number of others, that is not true. A new longitudinal study show’s that what’s called “authoritative” parenting-defined in the instance as an active involvement in your child’s life and maintaining a good balance between support and firmness-can cut your child’s chances of smoking in half, but for the kids who start smoking despite there parent’s best efforts, advertising is the major reason they begin.
This study has ramifications well beyond tobacco advertising. At the time of the baseline research, Joe Camel was still around and was quite popular with teens and preteens. Researchers refer to tobacco industry documents revealing that the goal of that campaign was to associate Camels with themes of independence, coolness, imagination, sex, reality-based success (such as a date or a good party), excitement (living to the limit, or at least imagining so), taking risks, and living on the edge.
Of course, these traits, yearnings, and interests (or some combination of them) that are so tied up with normal adolescent interests and predilections are also what beer clothing, music, and even food advertisers use to market their wares to teens and preteens. It seem to me-and given the industry memos, it appears that this view is shared by marketing experts-that kids vulnerable to those messages would also be more likely to use products associated with the traits or characteristics they communicate.
Oh, and guess who the industry rag Media Week named Advertiser of the year in 2001? Budweiser. Why? Because, “If there was one campaign this year that cut through the increasingly dense media clutter and became a fixture in playgrounds, offices and pbars around the country, it was the Budweiser series of ads. (The italics are mine.)
The alcohol and tobacco industries’ pursuit of children threatens more than their health. It encourages them to break, or at least circumvent, the law. In that sense, it is obviously antisocial and differs from the practice of marketing other products to kids. They it’s a mistake to set them completely apart. Once we divorce advertising from the products being sold, we find much of it’s embedded with anti social messages-subtle and not so subtle. All advertising-regardless of product-transmits lessons about values. When it targets children, these values are often antithetical to the lessons we want them to learn. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.173-4)
An article in the New York Times recently described a video game created for Hezbollah, a militant Middle East group that is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, the purpose of which is to shoot down representations of Israeli buildings and targets. According to a member of the game’s design team, ”Special Force” is designed to disseminate Hezbollah’s values, concepts and ideas.” When the white-power group, the National Alliance, released a game called “Ethnic Cleansing,” a spokesman for the organization said, “We want to reach young people, and this is the medium that will do that…. We have an obligation to use [video games] to spread our message.” I condemn the hatred and violence fomented by these groups and their games, but I give them credit for being honest about their use of media to influence children’s values and attitudes.
The U.S. Army has created a wildly popular computer game designed as a recruitment tool for teenagers. It was presented to the public as career education, but I’ve seen no official recognition that it also promotes values. Aside from glamorizing violence, the game propagates the characterization of Arabs as Enemy with a capital “E.” The cyber-terrorists pursued by young gamers are mostly dark-skinned and Semitic-looking. Their camps are situated in the desert, and described as located in a high desert with rolling sand dunes and wadis.
Currently the army issues a simulated game to teach urban warfare to its troops. It has been released in a commercial version called “Full Spectrum Warrior.” The urban landscape in which the fighting takes place is designed to look like an Arab city. One of the game’s creators explained that they shifted the locale from a Bosnian-looking setting to one that looked more like an Arab city as the game developed because “We can’t ignore the fact that we are in Afghanistan. We are in Iraq.”
If the villains children encounter in the media look like Arabs, aren’t we sending them the message that the Arabs are villains? This is the complaint that African Americans and Latinos have had for years about how they are portrayed on television….. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.176-7)
With the proliferation of electronic media, however, our children’s lives are shaped profoundly by people who do not know our children, and are accountable only to their co-workers, bosses, and clients. Because we don’t encounter the people responsible for marketing campaigns directed at our children, it’s unlikely that we spend much time thinking about their values. Clearly, the values that motivate their personal lives-how they treat their families, colleagues, and friends-are none of our business. But because marketing executives have so much influence over our children, I think that the values informing their work are our business. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.178)
It turns out things do not make us happy. In studies conducted across the globe, researcher find that relationships and job satisfaction are what brings us the most happiness. Not only that, people with predominantly materialistic values-those who believe happiness rests in the next car, CD, toy, or pair of shoes-are actually less happy than their neighbors. People who live in countries where disasters-natural or otherwise-have left them bereft of food, medical care and adequate shelter, are significantly less happy than those who live in countries with a comfortable standard of living; but researchers have found no difference in the (collective) happiness of people in wealthy countries and of people of less wealthy countries where basic needs are being met. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.184)
In the context of marketing to children, the “object” in commercialism certainly refers to the things that are advertised to children. However, it’s important to remember that in the world of marketing, children themselves are commodities. In their role as audience for television programs, for instance, they are sold to corporations who buy advertising based on the number of viewers an ad can reach. (Of course adults are sold as an audience as well, but since I am writing about marketing to children I am going to refer only to them.) Advertising agencies are paid for their capacity to deliver children for “ownership” by a particular brand, hopefully for life. As Mike Serles, then president of Kids “R” Us, puts in the late 1980’s “…if you own this child at an early age you can own this child for years to come….Companies are saying ‘Hey, I want to own the kid younger and younger and younger.’ Psychologists are paid by advertising agencies and corporate marketing departments because they possess the tools to deliver the minds of children for ownership. “Share of mind” is the phrase used in the industry to describe what corporations want from children.
When children are unprotected in the marketplace, they become commodities to be bought, sold or traded to facilitate profit. Unfettered commercialism strips children of their value and their values. In that sense it is as much a threat to religion and democracy as Soviet-style communism ever was.
I doubt that any of the above-living or dead-ever spent a lot of time perusing marketing literature, but I wish I could hear what they had to say about an article I came across recently in the British publication Brand Strategy. Headlined “Brands: The New Religion,” it begins solemnly, “Identity and belongings are key issues for humanity today.” The next paragraph observes that "What used to be trusted, reliable, and consistent sources of support and direction (education, government, religion, and royalty) are now objects of a great degree of cynicism and rejection. So what’s left to hold on to? In each human being there is a basic capital of trust, respect and love which needs to be invested into something or somebody. The trouble is that it’s becoming increasingly hard to find eligible objects for this investment.” So far, so good. But then comes the following. "Could brands take over the role that religions and philosophical movements used to own?" I certainly hope not. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.185-7)
Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" Rocky Mountain News review
Susan Linn "Sages for Sale" 2009 Tikkun Magazine
Because advertising agencies and corporations who market to children routinely hire child psychologist to help them shape their messages, the thinking behind their campaigns is rooted in psychological theory, but it is psychological theory run amok. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.189)
While the lessons children learn from commercial messages undermine religious teachings and family values, they are a disaster for democracy. A government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” requires a population characterized by certain attributes, including the capacity for critical thinking, cooperation, generosity, and nonviolent conflict resolution. Democracy depends on a populace that grasps the importance of checks and balances, and the delicate balance between individual rights and the greater good. They must see the value of diversity and eschew violence as a means of solving problems.
We are a population so saturated in consumerism that, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, we were exhorted by our government to go shopping as an expression of patriotism. Evoking patriotism as a justification for buying something certainly beats the normal reasons kids might give when they nag: “But Mom, everyone will think we’re unpatriotic if you don’t take me to the mall.” In September 2002, when President Bush’s chief of staff was asked by a New York Times reporter why the administration waited until the fall to launch its campaign for a war with Iraq, his answer was, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” However you felt, or feel, about that particular war, do you want your children to equate war with a new brand of sneakers? Do you consider war a product?
Being a good citizen is not the same thing as being a good customer. Citizenship in a democracy requires absorbing and adhering to a set of attributes and behaviors that can be learned beginning in early childhood. Cooperation, activism, critical thinking, peaceful resolution of confli9ct, and altruism are just a few of those qualities and behaviors essential in democratic populace. Children may learn these at home, at school, or on the playground. They do not learn them in the marketplace. On the contrary, the attributes and behaviors corporate marketers want to instill in children are mostly antithetical to democracy.
Take brand loyalty, which has been described as the “Holy Grail” for marketers. According to James McNeal, “We have living proof of the long-lasting quality of early brand loyalties in the Cradle-to-grave marketing at McDonald’s, and how well it works…. We start taking children in for their first and second birthdays, and on and on, and eventually they have a great deal of preference for that brand. Children can carry that with them through a lifetime."
As brand loyalty increases, customers are less sensitive to changes in how much that brand costs. They are also less likely to notice or be susceptible to competitive promotions sponsored by other companies. This allows companies to raise prices without a lot of complaint, and drives down the amount that companies have to spend on marketing. Brand loyalty means that a person might keep buying a brand even if their original reasons for purchasing it-such as costs-may no longer be valid, and even if it is actually in their best interest to buy the same kind of product from a different company. Brand loyalty is beneficial to a company, but not necessarily good for a customer.
By the same token, unthinking loyalty to a politician or a political party is extremely beneficial to elected officials and established political parties because it chills a voter’s inclination to make comparisons with other candidates and to examine voting records.
The Habit of impulse buying, or making purchaces based on the emotional appeal of a commercial without thinking through a decision, is another customer behavior that benefits companies and not consumers. If we look at most commercials these days, especially children’s commercials (and especially children’s commercials about food), they don’t contain much useful information about the product. McDonald’s commercials, such as the ones based on Ronald McDonald, don’t even bother mentioning food. A healthy democracy depends on citizens who look beyond a candidate’s surface promices and packaging to what they actually do and say. The slogan “Just do it,” which has served Nike well for many years, implies that it’s better not to think too much. Don’t think about buying these sneakers. Just do it. Don’t think about voting for this candidate or the issues he or she represents. Just do it.
Even going beyond brand loyalty and impulse buying, the messages in commercials undermine democracy. Commercials that show kids relying on a product or a magical being to solve their problems promote passivity, which is adaptive in a dictatorship but terrible for a democracy. When passivity is combined with the kind of “me first” messages found especially in commercials aimed at teenagers, the overlaying message is that there’s no point in doing anything unless I benefit directly. Doesn’t democracy rely on activism, cooperation, at least a modicum of altruism and citizens who understand the need for a balance between individual and majority rights? I do know young people who are passionate about activism, but isn’t there a connection between the onslaught of marketing messages and the fact that eighteen-to twenty-four –year-olds who grew up during the intensification of marketing are notoriously apathetic about voting? A healthy democracy relies on a population with a capacity for peaceful conflict resolution. Yet themes of violence and some kind of deceptive behavior are often found in children’s commercials. In 1994, a study of 92 food commercials showed that 62 percent featured violent theme. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.190-2)
The Truth about McDonald's and Children by Morgan Spurlock Common Dreams
Tinfoil Hat – Cradle to Grave
Ronald McDonald to retire? At friendseats.com includes link to PDF file
“Childhood lost: how American culture is failing our kids” By Sharna Olfman
“Get 'em While They're Young : With Kid Flavors, Bright Colors and Commercials That Make Children Masters of Their Universe, Advertisers Build Brand Loyalty That Will Last a Lifetime” LA Times 8/15/93
Google to James McNeal quote
When it comes to mitigating the harms to children caused by advertising, the easiest solution is to blame the parents. It’s certainly what the industry loves to do. Yet how can one family, alone, protect their children from an industry spending $15 billion annually to manipulate them? It’s a struggle made more difficult because one of the primary techniques marketers use to manipulate children is to denigrate adults and undermine parental authority.
Advertising to children is out of control. It is unchecked, and escalating, as are the harms associated with it. That children are relentlessly targeted as consumers is both a social and health problem whose roots and solution lie primarily in public policy. Parents cannot solve this problem alone. Therefore, with a nod to the pot, even as we choose to act creatively, we need to act collaboratively as well.
Before we begin to argue about what’s feasible or not in terms of policy, let’s talk about what’s best for kids. From that perspective, the answer is simple. Let’s stop marketing to children. There is no evidence that it’s beneficial. There’s not even evidence that it’s neutral. There’s a growing and compelling body of evidence that it’s harmful to their physical, mental, social, and emotional health. Let’s stop marketing to children. It’s not good for them. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.195)
Andrew Tuck, co-founder of Applied Research and Consulting, a consulting firm specializing in psychologically based market research with children and adults whose clients have included Channel One and the WWE, explains his work this way: “We try to understand what drives people’s anxieties and aspirations-that’s what influences their buying habits.” (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.198)
What Professionals Who work with children and families can do
…. A letter to the American Psychological Association signed by sixty psychologists working with Commercial Alert served as an impetus for the organization to appoint a task force on advertising to children, most likely because it garnered a great deal of media attention.
Work to prevent corporate sponsorship of, or corporate partner-ships with, your professional organization if they create a conflict of interest for working on behalf of children. Coca-Cola’s current sponsorship of the PTA is an example. It’s clearly beneficial for Coke in that it undermines the ability of local parent teacher associations to convince school boards not to sign soft drink contracts. It is also likely to ensure that the PTA will not participate in any efforts to effect any government policies that mi8ght hinder the Coca-Cola company’s ability to market to schools-Coca-Cola’s million-dolalr research grant to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry is equally questionable. (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.213-4)
The following is the perspective of a marketing executive cited on page 39.
MARKETING TO KIDS > A Measure Of Success Lucy Hughes
V P, Initiative Media, world’s largest media-buying corporation
MARKETING TO KIDS > A Measure Of Success
If we understand what motivates a parent to buy a product, that if we could develop a creative commercial, you know a 30 second commercial that encourages the child to whine or show some sort of importance in it that the child understands and is able to reiterate to the parents, then we’re successful. … With the nag study we were really looking at moms with children between the ages of three and eight. Because the primary focus or recipient of the study their key target was children between those ages. So that’s why we focused with that. You know it would be fun to go back out in the field and stretch that a little bit to go from three to eight to like include nine to twelve year olds and thirteen to seventeen year olds.
MARKETING TO KIDS > Kids: An Influencer Market
Children today get a lot of allowance so they have a lot of money coming into them from their parents and grandparents and friends that they can spend. They represent a huge influencer market and this is what the nag study really looks at the amount of influence that they exert over what their parents are buying. And I just read an article that said that today’s generation of consumers are about thirty times more powerful than the baby boom generation.
But you’re starting to see you know more expensive products now being targeted at children because you know they do have an influence on their parents purchasing behaviour. More high end luxury items whether it’s a cruise line, a cruise vacation. A trip you know, going to the theme park, cars, PCs. Yeah with cars it was very interesting. We worked with a radio station and the radio station was targeted towards children primarily it was kids’ music.
But obviously when children or children listen to the radio they’re often listening with their mom when they’re in a car. And so we had a car manufacturer who thought what a great opportunity. I can talk to the mom and to the child at the same time. There are many, many features in a car that really do appeal to kids.
You know when we bought our car you know, we had to buy one that was big enough so that they had enough arm space cause they wanted to be able to watch their DVDs. You know that was a factor though in the type of car that we ultimately bought. So children do have a lot of influence now.
MARKETING TO KIDS > It Helps When My Kids Nag Me
I, I appreciate it if the kids nag me because I am the indulger, I’m the indulger parent because I’m working full time and I don’t have enough time to figure out what are those ten products my children really, really want for Christmas or for their birthdays. So having them nag me and then I can understand through their nagging what’s really important to them and what they’re just you know, a flimsy little wish. So to me it makes my life easier. Maybe, maybe I’m different I don’t know, but that certainly helps my life.
MARKETING TO KIDS > Response To Critics
So there are critics of the nag study but what we have to remember is that children’s advertising is highly regulated in North America. As well corporations for the most part are socially responsible. We also have to remember that the role the parents’ play. As a parent myself I know that there are certain networks on television that my children are allowed to watch and certain networks and day parks they aren’t allowed to watch. I have to be involved in their media experience to safeguard them against any exploitations that might occur.
MARKETING TO KIDS > What’s Next?
We’d like to take the nag study to Europe next to understand if we find the same type of parents. Do we still find the four segments of the kid’s pals, the indulgers, the conflicted and the bare necessities? And do children nag the same way either with persistence or with importance? We tend to think that nagging is universal and that we will find the same characteristics regardless of the country.
Additional material from Susan Linn MARKETING TO KIDS at Hellocoolworld.com
The Drool Factor > Dr. Susan Linn, Prof. Of Psychiatry, Baker Children’s Center, Harvard
Today corporations are marketing to infants. If you read advertising magazines or trade journals, people talk about cradle to grave brand loyalty. You know if you don’t get a child by two or by six you won’t have them at all. Or if you get a child by six you’ll have them for life. So all of a sudden infants are now fair game. And it’s been discovered that six months old, children as young as six months actually respond to brands and recognize brands. And so it’s like the drool factor. The little logo right here and the baby looks down and sees it. So they are now being targeted by marketers.
… Marketing to children has just escalated in the past ten years. It doubled from 1992 to 1997 the amount of money the corporations were spending on marketing to children. Well during that time childhood obesity has become a major public health problem in North America. The largest advertisers on television are foods high in fat and high in sugar and high in calories. Well is there a connection? I think so.
… Corporations have found because babies can be imprinted with brands, that they can do things like create board books for babies based on food characters. So there’s the Cheerio’s play book, or the M&M play book that are published by reputable publishing companies. And are given to babies. So babies are in their early years having this experience of cuddling with caretakers, or parents. And being read to, which is really important experience of childhood. And they’re associating those warm cuddly wonderful feelings with candy. Or with breakfast cereal. I mean that’s from the very beginning.
There’s evidence that the frontal cortex isn’t developed until, fully developed I think until 16. So children’s brains are still forming even as adolescents. Adolescents may look like adults but they’re not adults. They don’t think real clearly. They tend to be overwhelmed by their hormones and their emotions. And they’re very vulnerable and so they’re vulnerable to manipulation. I think it’s wrong for corporations to exploit their vulnerabilities to make a profit.
The Key To Happiness > Dr. Susan Linn, Prof. Of Psychiatry, Baker Children’s Center, Harvard
The corporate message that children are being implanted with is that buying things will make you happy. Things will make you happy. And in fact the research shows that that’s not true. What makes people happy is challenges at work. And good relationships. It’s not what you own. But that’s what children are being taught over and over and over again.
And children are bombarded with corporate messages from the moment they wake up in the morning to the moment that they go to bed at night. And even in school. And they can’t escape them they’re everywhere.
The Use Of Psychologists > Dr. Susan Linn, Prof. Of Psychiatry, Baker Children’s Center, Harvard
The use of psychologists in helping corporations market to children is very troubling. Psychologists are supposed to do good. They’re supposed to help people and marketing to children doesn’t help them. It’s not helpful to them. And that’s trouble and it’s something that professional organizations are actually starting to take up. And psychologists are useful to marketers in all sorts of ways.
For one thing they have a good handle on child development which corporations can exploit. So psychologists know a lot about teenagers. And know about teenagers being rebellious and, for instance. And can help corporations plan strategies that will exploit that rebelliousness. You know exploit developmental vulnerabilities. So that’s one thing, that’s one way.
They can also help corporations understand what children like and don’t like. And they can also conduct market research and focus groups. And help corporations understand the results of focus groups. But it’s a real twist on what all those skills are, are supposedly for.
The Battle For Kids’ Minds > Dr. Susan Linn, Prof. Of Psychiatry, Baker Children’s Center, Harvard
If parents limit television, well what about the Internet? Well what about music? Well what about videos, what about movies? I mean you would be fighting with your child from morning till night all the time. If you really were doing your job protecting children from marketing. And then there’s all the marketing that’s going on in schools where corporations have a, essentially a captive audience.
So schools are desperate for money because there’s not enough federal funding for schools. And they’re turning to corporations because they feel like when they get these computers they’re free. Well you know they’re not free, the children pay for them because of the advertising. Children pay for advertising. They pay with their health. They pay with their sense of well-being. It’s wrong.
I happen to feel very strongly about freedom of speech and about the First Amendment here in the United States. And I will defend the First Amendment up, down and backwards. But a corporation is not a person. And marketing is not free speech.
Merchandising > Dr. Susan Linn, Prof. Of Psychiatry, Baker Children’s Center, Harvard
You know Raffi left the Vancouver, you know this, Vancouver International Children’s Festival because there was too much corporate sponsorship. And corporate marketing. I mean Raffi is an example of somebody who does wonderful work to children. But I don’t see Raffi pajamas. And I don’t see Raffi sheets. And I don’t see babies being imprinted with Raffi. I don’t see Raffi computer games. Raffi is not like Pokeman. He’s a person who does wonderful singing for children and creates wonderful things for children.
It’s Ok If It Doesn’t Work > Joe Badaracco, Prof. Of Business Ethics,
Harvard Business School
Well on the question of advertising to young kids I’m inclined to say that it’s fine so long as it doesn’t work very well. I think I’m saying that as much as a parent as some sort of authority on business ethics. Most parents have probably been in these awful situations where the advertising actually has worked to a degree and you can’t get out of a store without either severely disappointing your child or creating a scene. Or else buying something that the kid has had etched into his or her mind.
I think that this is probably an area that requires careful guidelines. As a practical matter it’s hard to imagine anybody, any country terminating advertising to young kids. It’s going to continue. So people need to work together I think and find, and look at the facts about how powerful it is. And my hunch is as time goes by these ads will grow only more powerful. And see what sort of guidelines might be appropriate.
At some point a company might be succeeding in getting the kids to like the brand and fight to buy the product but they’re turning off the parent. So to some extent there are probably some built in limitations. But if you ask me to imagine a world where psychologists use all of their skills to assist extremely sophisticated campaigns. The result of which is that if McDonald’s gets to a kid by the age of four it’s got that kid for life. I’d have serious reservations about the ethics of that and I’d be inclined towards laws and regulations to control it.
When Corporations Go Too Far > Chris Barrett & Luke McCabe, First "Corporately-Sponsored" University Students
We didn’t want like to wear shirts in the classroom and distract from our education and other student’s education.
And I think that’s when corporations will go to far when like the chalkboard is sponsored by some corporation name or there’s like a big banner on the wall because like they paid for the renovation in the building. I don’t think, I think that’s when it goes too far.
I think if it stays out in the hallway it would be okay but once you enter the education area then the kids need to learn and make up choices for themselves what they think of corporations and what they think about what they want to do it for the rest of their lives.
“Manipulated Kids: Teens Tell How Ads Influence Them” by Roy F. Fox
“Blurring Commercials with other types of programming” at Stay Free magazine
Channel One Whittles Away at Education PDF
“Why They Whine: How Corporations Prey on Our Children” by Gary Ruskin
“MarketResearch C'mon, Mom! Kids Nag Parents to Chuck E. Cheese's” from the perspective of the advertisers, the author doesn’t seem to be cited prominently.
Juliet Schor “The Commodification of childhood: Tales from the advertising front lines” PDF
Book review of Juliet Schor “Born to Buy” the simple dollar book review
Juliet Schor “When Childhood Gets Commercialized, Can Children Be Protected?” 2005
Commercial Alert’s “Parents Bill of Rights”
Additional links will be compiled soon.