MaMa-Feminista

Discourse on the intersections of politics, feminism, and motherhood.

Wednesday, August 2

Commercials and Kids

What is wrong with this quote by the president of Nickelodeon in an article on NPR regarding the negative consequences of marketing to children?

"But ultimately, Zarghami acknowledges, Nickelodeon believes that by putting characters on products, they are serving their real customers: kids."


When did my kid become a 'customer'? He doesn't pay for anything! He is not a consumer in the Capitalist sense of the word! My child consumes what I give him, since I'm the real 'customer', which consists of breastmilk, organic baby food, cereal, organic O's, and organic Lucky Duckies among other things and none of what I purchase has any cartoon characters on the packaging nor is associated with any television personalities. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children under the age of two not be exposed to any television what so ever and after age two only two hours of programming a day is recommended. We know how realistic this is. With the majority of two income earner house holds a children's video can be a drastic time saver in the mornings. I personally like Noggin as the programming is educational and free of commercials. This of course doesn't mean I drop him in front of the television and just go about my day, but in the event of a morning with two adults and one infant needing to leave the house at the same time, it can come in handy. Oh yeah, and since I'm the real 'customer' I don't have to consume what I don't choose to consume. I have a choice, one of the positives of Capitalism. Parents should not feel powerless against this advertising machine but gain as much information as possible to fight the forces. I know some will say, easier said than done, but crap so what if the kid throws a tantrum, it's not the end of the world and they can't have everything they want. So we, as parents reside in between this difficult advertising machine and parental responsibility. I say, easier said than done if the machine would let up a bit! Parental responsibility is only half of the story. Kids have to branch out into the world and eventually make decisions for themselves. If they would put Dora on a bag of organic apples all would be great but they don't. They put a bunny on the Trix box, and a friendly tiger on the Frosted Flakes box and create commercials that air on children's time slots that look just like cartoons themselves. What the hell is a parent to do? Blindfold their kid?

Vicky Rideout says about one-third of young children live in homes where parents leave the television on almost all the time, regardless of whether anyone is watching.

"They think that, leaving the TV on in the background, the kids are mostly ignoring it," Rideout says.

But Broughton says that children take in a lot, even if they are only occasionally exposed to programming intended for general audiences. A colleague recently told him about a father whose 4-year-old son raised the topic of Levitra while on a doctor's visit for an earache. He notes that children are attentive to messages that aren't necessarily intended for them, and that they may not be equipped to process the information, even with ads on age-appropriate programs.


I do agree with this. I don't think leaving an adult show on during the day while your child plays is the best idea. Children are so receptive; for the most odd reason my child turns his head and smiles everytime he hears Dr. Phil's voice which I personally dispise; Dr. Phil that is. My husband is addictive to those horrible court shows that only reinforce the worst stereotypes in our culture so I don't let him watch them when our child is awake and playing. I've included an exert from a great book by Susan Linn. The advertising industry is much more complex than we think and their aim is to create brand loyalty by introducing products at an early age. Children's programming gets caught trying to make a buck as federal funds for stations like PBS and after school programs fall to the waist side or are used to buy more bombs. It's important to be informed as a parent, that way one can better have the tools to anticipate such situations before they become out of control.



Excerpt: Consuming Kids

by

Cover

NPR.org, July 28, 2006 · 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."

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from the publisher. Footnotes have been removed.

8 Comments:

At 11:07 AM, Blogger Jennifer said...

Great post, great article. Companies are looking everywhere to find new consumers, and unfortunately, with children being more and more media-saavy, they've also entered those branding crosshairs. For instance, did you know that Toyota Scion had a website for KIDS to play with, and the more points they won in games, they could earn a virtual Scion?? The company hoped that the children could influence adult spending, or that the brand loyalty would carry into the teen years or adulthood. Sick!

 
At 11:18 AM, Blogger MaMa-Feminista said...

We don't keep the TV on at my house other than the Noggin channel during specific times. The problem is you can't hide your kid forever, they have to go out into the world but damn if I'm letting him head out to MacDonalds, or play on a website that wants him to buy their car!

 
At 6:47 PM, Blogger Jennifer said...

Good luck with that! Advertising is so amazingly prevelant these days, it sounds like it's going to be tough. I guess if you talk enough with your kid, they'll hopefully grow up with the ability for independant thought, and good media literacy. Still, ads just seem to be EVERYWHERE!

 
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