Consuming Kids: the Commercialization of Childhood
Adriana Barbaro & Jeremy Earp 2008
The Commercialization of Childhood is about the constant, insidious targeting of American children with corporate marketing.
The US is the only country in the industrialized world that refuses to regulate children’s advertising. In 1984 the Reagan administration stripped the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of any ability to regulate any children’s advertising or programming. Starting from age three or earlier, American children are bombarded with an average of 3,000 commercial messages a day. Because children under twelve lack the critical faculties to recognize deception, this constant bombardment with pro-consumption messaging has a profoundly negative impact on their psychological development and physical health.
The Nag Factor
Most child marketing is centered around what public relations specialists call the “nag factor” – children’s ability to make their parents miserable if they don’t buy them want they want. In addition to the $40 billion kids themselves spend every year, they also influence their parents’ spending to the tune of $700 billion a year. It’s often children who determine where families spend their holidays and what kind of car, computer and cellphone aps they buy.
Children’s advertising is no longer limited to TV ads and cereal boxes but intentionally pervades every area of their lives. Many contemporary children’s programs are deliberately centered around branded products, such as Sponge Bob Square Pants and Teenage Ninja Turtles. Marketers then play on children’s identification with these toys to get their parents to buy them Sponge Bob and Teenage Ninja Turtles video games, lunch boxes, tee shirts, cookies, crackers and even macaroni and cheese.
Meanwhile financially strapped schools make extra money by displaying brand logos in hallways and auditoriums and on sports fields. Many get free computers and satellite dishes by playing Channel One informercials at the beginning of the school day.
Child Marketers are Like Pedophiles
One of the psychologists interviewed compares child marketers to pedophiles. In addition to maximizing the nag factor, children’s marketing deliberately taps into powerful developmental needs. Public relations specialists spend hundreds of hours filming children’s in supermarkets, at school and even in the bathtub. As well as organizing special focus group slumber parties to expose them to new products, they get them to join fake online social media groups. Here they can earn money and free products by providing personal information about their friends. In most cases, these activities take place without the parents’ knowledge.
This continual bombardment with corporate messaging is leading to a total remodeling of children’s psyche. One particularly alarming example is the sexualization of young girls via “tween” marketing. This is designed to heavily promotes short skirts, skimpy tops and sexy make-up and hair products to 6-12 twelve year olds. After years of this insidious brainwashing, western society is left with a staggering number of young women who think they only have worth if they’re pretty and thin and wear designer clothes. As well as an alarming increasing in anorexia nervosa, which is often fatal.
Meanwhile enticing ads for junk food and soft drinks is responsible for an epidemic of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and strokes – conditions that were once extremely rare in childhood.