Sun 30 Dec 2007
In an article on his excellent website GlobalIssues.org, Anup Shah writes about children as consumers, and how marketers have increasingly targeted children to the point where $15-17 billion is spent each year on marketing to kids, who influence an estimated $130-670 billion a year worth of parental purchases each year in the US alone. In the UK, last the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has promoted several measures designed to restrict the content of junk food advertisements targeted at, or easily viewable by children, as well as proposing a ban on online junk food advertising targeting the same demographic. I must say, I’m sympathetic. In a previous post entitled, “Know your market and hook ‘em while their young” I described first hand how my kids started out playing a coloring game online and somehow stumbled upon a “game” that was little more than a giant cinnamon stick gobbling up Apple Jacks, and how the next day they ganged up on me to buy them a box - not an easy request to accommodate in Beijing at the time.
Mind you, I complain frequently to anyone who will tolerate it about the proliferation of flat screen advertisements in buses, trains, and now even elevators! Mostly people just look at me as though I’m some oddball kook, but I am all too aware of the effect that advertising has on me, who, despite the fact that I am vigilantly on guard against the direct to subconscious metaprogramming tactics employed by marketers, still fall prey to their never ending assault on my senses. (Especially when it comes to food.) What then of the impressionable minds of children?
Well, my approach is to minimize the inevitable exposure to mind controlling media in any way possible, the most obvious of which is to limit TV watching. Now, before you get on your high horse and ask me how I can deny the kids their cartoons etc., that is not the case at all. Fortunately, DVDs are widely available and cheap in China, and offer nearly any content you’re likely to wish to view… without commercials.
The Internet is proving to be a larger problem, and, as, over the course of the next few years, advertisers migrate the vast majority of their advertising budgets to direct marketing on mobile devices, I’m afraid it will tax all my resources to stay the onslaught. I suppose the best I can do is to teach my kids to be aware of efforts to manipulate them at all levels, not just advertising, but also to guard against meme viruses, both organically evolved and contrived, that are rampant in society, and which propagate through peer pressure to accept certain “facts” such as “fluoride is good for you” and “the World Trade Center towers collapsed due to airplanes crashing into them” as “reality”, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In my opinion, a healthy skepticism is the sign of a healthy mind. Of course, an obsession with conspiracy is a path to paranoia and social ostracism, so where to draw the line is critical to anyone’s development.
There are a lot of great research papers out there on the subject of advertising to kids. Here are a couple I enjoyed:
Food Promotion to Children (pdf file)