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Conditioned Response

The Art of Child Marketing

March 3rd, 2005 · Written by · 1 Comment

Every culture has its stories, fairytales and fables. Filled with heroes and villains, these stories provide a means to transmit knowledge and values on to future generations. However, in today’s electronic age of enchantment, it seems we’ve traded in the age old tradition of storytelling for something a little more modern: commercials.

As more and more children are raised by television, watching an average of twenty hours per week, it is increasingly corporations, not parents, who are teaching kids about their role in the often confusing world that surrounds them. And it doesn’t stop with the tube. The average American child lives in a home with three TV sets, two CD players, three radios, a video game system, a computer, and spends forty hours a week engaged with these types of media. In attempt to foster “cradle to grave” brand loyalty, child psychologists and ad agencies are teaming up to create comprehensive cross marketing campaigns which purposefully exploit the weaknesses of developing human beings. And now, when five companies control almost all mainstream media outlets, from publishing houses to movie studios, it becomes essential to examine what kinds of messages are embedded in the stories they are selling in order to hawk goods to the $600 billion demographic formally known as children.

Hook Them Young

One only has to peruse the pages of marketing journals in order to grasp the root of the problem. Firms responsible for selling to kids have names like, Small Talk, Kid Connection, Kid2Kid, and Kid Power. The art of advertising to young audiences is known as, “reaching children,” or “communicating with kids,” where savvy art departments utilize psychoanalytic research in order to capitalize on the various developmental stages of childhood.

For instance, pre-teens, or “tweens” as they are referred to in the industry, are considered one of the most important markets today. These 6-11 year old targets are developing independent identities, but because they are not yet as cynical and rebellious as teens, they are seen as more likely to be suggestive to advertising. Research shows that “tweens” are also more effective at nagging their parents into making purchases than the very young. Yes, you read that correctly, getting kids to nag their parents is one goal of this type of marketing.

These nags were then studied for effectiveness, and it was found that nagging was the cause for four out of ten trips to entertainment establishments, and one out of every three trips to fast-food restaurants.

In fact, in a 1998 study on nagging, called “The Nag Factor,” conducted to help companies boost sales, researchers asked 150 mothers of kids 3-8 to keep a diary recording purchase requests from their children over a period of two weeks. 10,000 nags were recorded in total, about 66 per mother or 4.7 every day. These nags were then studied for effectiveness, and it was found that nagging was the cause for four out of ten trips to entertainment establishments, and one out of every three trips to fast-food restaurants. In his book “Selling to Kids,” one leading authority in the field, James McNeal, even goes so far as to classify “children’s requesting styles and appeals,” into seven major categories. While McNeal never advocates turning children into screaming monsters, he states that the goal is to get kids to see the company in the same way they view mom, dad, or grandma. As a provider of happiness and security. Chances are when feelings of childhood warmth are associated with particular brands, the result is another lifelong customer.

Education Takeover

What’s even more startling is the corporate takeover of public schools. With continual cuts to the federal funding of education, companies have jumped on the opportunity by providing impoverished school districts with anything from money to facilities or equipment. In exchange, all they ask for is access to the minds and hearts of students, the perfect captive audience for advertising.

In-school advertising now includes corporate-sponsored newscasts, educational kits, field trips, walls, stadiums, and even whole buildings. Maybe your kids are learning about energy from Exxon Mobil, or attending assemblies about interviewing for jobs sponsored by McDonalds. Companies realize that anything presented to students while in school is given a certain air of legitimacy. So, when an elementary school cafeteria in Wisconsin features a life-size cutout of pop-star Britney Spears – who appears in Pepsi ads – as a “got milk” promotion, complete with all the information on how to purchase her latest album, the school is simultaneously promoting milk, Pepsi, and the values in Britney’s music.

The teaching time lost to Channel One costs taxpayers $1.8 billion dollars per year.

Many teachers now use corporate sponsored classroom materials. Besides being covered in logos, nearly 80% of these “kits” have been found to be biased or incomplete, as educating children takes a backseat to printing brands into their consciousness. In exchange for borrowing video equipment, over 12,000 schools have agreed to force their students to watch Channel One, a twelve minute “news” broadcast, complete with two minutes of commercials. Students who refuse to watch are punished. The teaching time lost to Channel One costs taxpayers $1.8 billion dollars per year.

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