I told my 14-year-old son that some of the $17 billion that marketers spend on marketing to children is used to hire psychologists, sociologist, behavioral scientists, even anthropologists, to study children and their behavior and find ways to get into their brains. They figured out that babies can very early learn to recognize logos, so the race is on among companies to be the first to get their logo in front of six-month-old babies. That early familiarity induces a sort of brand-loyalty brainwashing, apparently. He was appalled.
“Is that even legal?” he asked.
Yes, sadly. But it hasn’t always been that way, and doesn’t have to continue to be that way. The FTC used to have the authority to regulate advertising to children. When research showed that children under 8 were not able to fully understand the persuasive intent of advertising, the FTC decided that all advertising to children should be banned, because it was inherently deceptive and unfair. The lobbyists fought back and the attempt ultimately backfired in the early 1980s, and we have the advertising saturated world of children’s media that we live with today.
Because today’s teens are used to this milieu and don’t know any other, they may not realize what it’s doing to them. But media literacy teachers tell me that when their students learn about the exploitative behavior of marketers, they are appalled. And angry at being manipulated. By bringing our kids into the conversation, we can make them our partners rather than adversaries while guiding them through this wilderness. They are the future parents who will guide their own children, so they need to know the facts.
A good place to start educating ourselves and our kids is with the film Consuming Kids, created by the Media Education Foundation (the trailer is embedded above). It talks about the manipulative techniques that advertisers use, and how advertising to children has changed dramatically over the past two or three decades. It’s deeply disturbing. It is a must-see for all parents, and also for teenagers, who need to hear its message.
(Note to parents: There are some scenes illustrating sexual and violent material that would previously have been found only in R-rated movies but appear now in PG-13 movies. So that section is a bit on the inappropriate side for younger teens, but if they see PG-13 movies, they’ve likely already seen similar stuff.)
If you have a group in the Boston area that would like to view this film, please get in touch with me at emcn17 (at) gmail.com.