Read on to learn about the harmful effects of marketing to children and what you can to do protect your little ones.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is based in Boston and is made up of parents, educators, and health professionals who are concerned about the commercialization of childhood. Companies market to children today more than ever before. Corporations see children as consumers and have employed successful marketing strategies that result in children asking their parents for specific products. Kids are exposed to media and advertising on a daily basis. They see their favorite television characters at the toy store, at their school book fair, and at the local fast food joint. So what’s the problem?
- It is estimated that children see more than 40,000 ads each year while watching television.
- An online poll in 2004 showed that 85% of respondents thought children’s television should be free of advertising.
- Young children are vulnerable and don’t understand where the program ends and the advertising begins.
- Corporations even market to babies and toddlers with crib mobiles, infant toys, and board books featuring licensed media characters.
- Toys based on TV characters actually discourage creative play. Why? They come with names and established storylines!
- Kids who have been exposed to a large number of advertisements are more likely to be materialistic.
- Marketing to children is seen by many as playing a role in the childhood obesity epidemic.
Even PBS stations which claim to be “commercial-free” promote companies like Chuck E. Cheese and McDonald’s. While the products aren’t actually shown, the logos and jingles often are, resulting in brand recognition at an early age. Other channels geared towards kids (with the exception of Noggin) air advertisements for toys and junk food during children’s programming. Some would argue that popular children’s shows are advertisements, with extensive product lines inspired by characters such as Dora the Explorer and her cousin, Diego.
It’s easy to find toys, room decor, junk food, and other products that feature licensed characters. It’s big business because companies realize that putting Elmo, Buzz Lightyear, or Blue on a lamp, pair of shoes, or puzzle will result in children asking for that item. One four year old in Florida asked for a Cars sheet set along with the matching comforter. He already had a race car themed set, but said that he just “had to have” sheets inspired by the hit movie. According to The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, companies spend more than $15 billion a year marketing to kids, and children influence more than $500 billion a year in purchases.
Recently, popular characters have been used to market food and beverages that are good for kids. For example, Annie’s Homegrown Noodles (a healthy alternative to Spaghetti-o’s) currently feature Arthur from the award-winning children’s show. In addition, Nickelodeon launched a new campaign last year in which characters like Dora would be used to promote healthy food choices such as fresh fruit and vegetables. Effective character-driven marketing practices can be used to help children make good choices, and some companies are doing this in response to criticism for using popular characters to promote junk food.
So what can parents do who are concerned about advertising, especially on children’s television? They can check out the fantastic articles and factsheets on The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood website. These are excellent resources for parents of children of all ages–even teenagers. They summarize current facts on marketing to children and cover more than toys and food products; sex, violence, alcohol, body image issues, and tobacco are also discussed.
Many parents who are into living more naturally are also concerned about the commercialism of childhood. We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please share!