Child Marketers: Exploiting Children Like It’s Their Job

“They even follow them into the bathroom. I interviewed a number of people who sat and watched children take baths and showers, watched how they interact with shampoo and soap and health and beauty products as that category is called, in order to go back and write a report for their clients on what to do with the packaging. It’s creepy. It’s just absolutely creepy the way children are being dissected and put under the microscope by marketers.” –Juliet Schor, referring to Child Marketers, in Consuming Kids

It’s no secret that your kids are being marketed to, you and I can point to ways we ourselves were marketed to, but it hasn’t caused the concern or action it probably should. It really is more then innocent marketing, our children are being exploited for profit without interest or concern for their overall well-being, simply for the bottom-line. This should bother us.

An estimated $15 billion dollars is spent each year marketing to children under the age of 18 in the United States. Given that there are only 74 million kids in that age group, that means corporations are spending roughly $200 per child in advertising. You’d better believe they aren’t blowing $200 on your child without knowing they are going to make far more then that back. And if your one of those invincible, unfettered-type who haven’t let advertising affect your purchasing, then that means they are making double their money off the kid down the street.

This isn’t the same as marketing to adults. Most children under the age of 10 don’t understand persuasion. They don’t understand that the smiling kids on the commercial are paid actors following an elaborate script with the soul purpose of making them want a product. They don’t understand that when they’re told by their favorite character that this junk food is fun or tasty or cool that it’s a deceptive scheme, not an honest opinion. We know when we see a celebrity or athlete promote a product that it’s an advertisement (that doesn’t mean it’s any less effective), but children don’t. Imagine you discovered that everything your trusted mentor (maybe a pastor) had ever said to you was in an attempt to get you to purchase certain items. You’d be shocked and appalled wouldn’t you?

This is something we as parents need to be proactive about. We need to be aware of the influence marketing and advertising has on our children and how we can combat it. We also need to be aware of how we can be advocates against this exploitation in our schools and daycares as well as in the media. The blame and ‘responsibility’ is often put on the parents, but the marketers and corporations bear responsibility too.

“It’s akin to a owner of a large fleet of trucks announcing that ‘our fleet of trucks from now on is going to be barreling down the road, especially where children are, at 150 miles an hour. Parents watch out. It’s your job to take care that your children don’t get hurt.’ No one would argue, in that case, that the owner of the fleet of trucks doesn’t bare any responsibility at all.” –Enola Aird, Consuming Kids

13 thoughts on “Child Marketers: Exploiting Children Like It’s Their Job”

  1. “It’s akin to a owner of a large fleet of trucks announcing that ‘our fleet of trucks from now on is going to be barreling down the road, especially where children are, at 150 miles an hour. Parents watch out. It’s your job to take care that your children don’t get hurt.’ No one would argue, in that case, that the owner of the fleet of trucks doesn’t bare any responsibility at all.” –Enola Aird, Consuming Kids

    That is an incredibly fallacious statement. For one…a fleet of trucks barreling down the road your child is on has the potential to kill your kid. A shampoo bottle with Elmo on the packaging has the potential to entice a parent into purchasing the shampoo and cleaning their kid's head.

    I fully support being an active parent and encouraging other parents to be mindful of everything that is occurring in a child's sphere of consciousness, but to shirk the responsibility of personal choice onto others, whether corporations or individuals, is counterproductive.

  2. A shampoo bottle with Elmo on the packaging has the potential to entice a parent into purchasing the shampoo and cleaning their kid's head.

    Yes. A shampoo bottle with Elmo on the package also has the potential to train a child that the image on the packaging is more important than the product inside it. The commercials for these products have the potential to convince your child that their enjoyment of their friends and their social place among their peers is dependent on the things that they own. And they have the potential to convince kids that these concerns are equal to (when they don't outweigh) other concerns when making purchases.

    And then these kids have the potential to grow up to be teenagers and adults who think that way

  3. Had to look up “fallacious” and “shirk”, and I looked up “akin” while I was at it. I think I'd argue that it's not in fact misleading to say that marketing to children is similar to the example of the trucks she gave.

    The point is not at all to say that parent's are avoiding responsibility, I didn't, nor does anyone, say parents have no responsibility in this situation, but like the truck example, it's fair to argue that the marketers bear responsibility too.

    No parent, even the best and most well intentioned, can control “everything that is occurring in a child's sphere of consciousness”, that is an impossible task. I do think it's the parents responsibility to be active and aware of these issues, and included in that is advocating that we as a community and society, put limitations on marketing to children. We are the only industrialized country that doesn't have a policy on advertising to children.

    So, my point is not that parents bear no responsibility, but that advertisers, marketers and corporations do also bear responsibility for the advertising and marketing to children that they do. Is that fair to say?

  4. Had to look up “fallacious” and “shirk”, and I looked up “akin” while I was at it. I think I'd argue that it's not in fact misleading to say that marketing to children is similar to the example of the trucks she gave.

    The point is not at all to say that parent's are avoiding responsibility, I didn't, nor does anyone, say parents have no responsibility in this situation, but like the truck example, it's fair to argue that the marketers bear responsibility too.

    No parent, even the best and most well intentioned, can control “everything that is occurring in a child's sphere of consciousness”, that is an impossible task. I do think it's the parents responsibility to be active and aware of these issues, and included in that is advocating that we as a community and society, put limitations on marketing to children. We are the only industrialized country that doesn't have a policy on advertising to children.

    So, my point is not that parents bear no responsibility, but that advertisers, marketers and corporations do also bear responsibility for the advertising and marketing to children that they do. Is that fair to say?

  5. Had to look up “fallacious” and “shirk”, and I looked up “akin” while I was at it. I think I'd argue that it's not in fact misleading to say that marketing to children is similar to the example of the trucks she gave.

    The point is not at all to say that parent's are avoiding responsibility, I didn't, nor does anyone, say parents have no responsibility in this situation, but like the truck example, it's fair to argue that the marketers bear responsibility too.

    No parent, even the best and most well intentioned, can control “everything that is occurring in a child's sphere of consciousness”, that is an impossible task. I do think it's the parents responsibility to be active and aware of these issues, and included in that is advocating that we as a community and society, put limitations on marketing to children. We are the only industrialized country that doesn't have a policy on advertising to children.

    So, my point is not that parents bear no responsibility, but that advertisers, marketers and corporations do also bear responsibility for the advertising and marketing to children that they do. Is that fair to say?

  6. Had to look up “fallacious” and “shirk”, and I looked up “akin” while I was at it. I think I'd argue that it's not in fact misleading to say that marketing to children is similar to the example of the trucks she gave.

    The point is not at all to say that parent's are avoiding responsibility, I didn't, nor does anyone, say parents have no responsibility in this situation, but like the truck example, it's fair to argue that the marketers bear responsibility too.

    No parent, even the best and most well intentioned, can control “everything that is occurring in a child's sphere of consciousness”, that is an impossible task. I do think it's the parents responsibility to be active and aware of these issues, and included in that is advocating that we as a community and society, put limitations on marketing to children. We are the only industrialized country that doesn't have a policy on advertising to children.

    So, my point is not that parents bear no responsibility, but that advertisers, marketers and corporations do also bear responsibility for the advertising and marketing to children that they do. Is that fair to say?

  7. Had to look up “fallacious” and “shirk”, and I looked up “akin” while I was at it. I think I'd argue that it's not in fact misleading to say that marketing to children is similar to the example of the trucks she gave.

    The point is not at all to say that parent's are avoiding responsibility, I didn't, nor does anyone, say parents have no responsibility in this situation, but like the truck example, it's fair to argue that the marketers bear responsibility too.

    No parent, even the best and most well intentioned, can control “everything that is occurring in a child's sphere of consciousness”, that is an impossible task. I do think it's the parents responsibility to be active and aware of these issues, and included in that is advocating that we as a community and society, put limitations on marketing to children. We are the only industrialized country that doesn't have a policy on advertising to children.

    So, my point is not that parents bear no responsibility, but that advertisers, marketers and corporations do also bear responsibility for the advertising and marketing to children that they do. Is that fair to say?

  8. Had to look up “fallacious” and “shirk”, and I looked up “akin” while I was at it. I think I'd argue that it's not in fact misleading to say that marketing to children is similar to the example of the trucks she gave.

    The point is not at all to say that parent's are avoiding responsibility, I didn't, nor does anyone, say parents have no responsibility in this situation, but like the truck example, it's fair to argue that the marketers bear responsibility too.

    No parent, even the best and most well intentioned, can control “everything that is occurring in a child's sphere of consciousness”, that is an impossible task. I do think it's the parents responsibility to be active and aware of these issues, and included in that is advocating that we as a community and society, put limitations on marketing to children. We are the only industrialized country that doesn't have a policy on advertising to children.

    So, my point is not that parents bear no responsibility, but that advertisers, marketers and corporations do also bear responsibility for the advertising and marketing to children that they do. Is that fair to say?

  9. It's fallacious not because it is simply misleading, but it's using an emotional red herring (a truck hurtling at your child) to distract from an illogical jump from argument to conclusion.

    Here is the problem that I have with your solution…and I want to state from the beginning that I understand that yourself and many of those who agree with you have nothing but the best of intentions.

    While you agree that parents bear responsibility you say that corporations bear some responsibility in the matter. For starters, they bear responsibility for what exactly? Is there any quantifiable disadvantage or harm that has befallen children or families that is the direct consequence of advertisements? If there is demonstrable harm caused who will determine who is being harmed, who is causing the harm, and what measures will be taken to rectify the situation? As you can tell from my questions, I am attempting to point out that this is a far larger and more complicated issue than casting a net and vilifying all advertisers, marketeers, and corporations.

    However, to tear down this argument to its foundation…lets ask ourselves what is really occurring here. In any advertisement, there are two companies who are agreeing to a business deal, one company advertising their product over the others information distribution medium. It is in the advertiser's interest to gear their advertisement to the audience of the medium. Is it reasonable for them to do this? I would say yes.

    Now…that medium would never exist if there was no audience and that audience is created purely by personal choice, whether by an adult watching or a parent allowing their child to watch. No private company can physically force an individual to use their product or, in our example, their television station. All along this chain from product manufacturer, through the media, to the individual, there is a series of private and completely mutual agreements.

    Now…whether other countries do it or not, what right does any individual or group of individuals (you can never have an entire community or societal consensus) have to interfere at any point in this entirely private and completely mutual agreements?

  10. Now…whether other countries do it or not, what right does any individual or group of individuals (you can never have an entire community or societal consensus) have to interfere at any point in this entirely private and completely mutual agreements?

    I'm not sure if I understand how you are reading Ariah's post. Specifically, I don't see him making a comment on countries or groups interfering with mutual agreements.

    What I see him saying is that there is a danger in the way kids are being marketed to, and that parents should resist assumed mutual agreements. In the truck example, the trucking company is assuming a mutual agreement (i.e. if you allow your kids to play on this street, you are agreeing to letting us drive at 150 mph around your kids). Similarly, when companies insert this sort of advertising into schools, educational programming, etc. they are assuming a mutual agreement that if you allow your kids to learn in America, you are agreeing to letting us market to (and develop the market of) your kids. In the same way that parents would resist letting the assumed mutual agreement of the trucking company stand, they should resist the assumed mutual agreement of marketers.

    Do you think my reading of what he's trying to say off the mark? If so, how?

  11. I think I understand where your coming from, so let's try to some common ground. Here are some things I think we already do in our society to regulate or 'interfere' when it comes to media in general:
    -We have rating systems, for movies, for television and even for video games.
    -We do not allow certain things to be shown on major television networks (i.e. nudity and certain language)
    -Children under the age of 17 are not allowed into a rated R movie without an adult.
    -Pornography is illegal for those under the age of 18.
    -marketing cigarettes and alcohol to children is illegal.

    Are these things that you disagree with as well (not saying you think they are good or bad, but simply that you think it is not the place of government or society to regulate them)? Or do you think these sorts of regulations and interferences are acceptable?

  12. Ariah, let me answer your questions first and I may answer Richard's in the process. I read these questions last night and instead of giving a knee jerk answer I decided to take the night and this morning to really mull the situation over.

    I think you'll agree with me that it is dangerous to get trapped by the tyranny of the status quo and that just because something is occurring today that we are comfortable with does not mean that it is necessarily right. Even though the examples that you listed above seem perfectly reasonable to us (and my knee-jerk reaction would have been to say that they were acceptable) I think that we should examine the unintended consequences of such policies.

    I believe that such policies have actually helped to contribute to the problem of parental irresponsibility in a number of ways. Ratings systems and the restrictions of certain themes on network television has removed the responsibility for monitoring a child's viewing habits from the parent and has put that burden onto regulators and broadcasters (which do not necessarily have your child's interest at heart). It's not hard to imagine a situation where a mother decides to plop her kid in front of the Disney channel for a few hours, completely unconcerned about the content of the television shows, because the rating system creates a false sense of security as to what their child is being exposed to. How many times have you heard people complain, "I can't believe they talked about that on this show, I thought it was rated G"?

    A second consequence of rating systems (and virtually all regulations) is that they create a ceiling of appropriate conduct. Instead of creating a show that fits a certain level of moral standard that will be judged by its audience on its own merit, producers are incentivized to push the limit up to what regulator deems is appropriate for an arbitrarily set rating. The effect of this can be seen by observing virtually an television show or film. They continue pushing the limits to see what they can do while still maintaining a certain rating which can still give a parent the illusion of security that the rating systems provides.

    Now compare the current system, imposed using the threat of force by the government, to a scenario where parents are responsible for making sure that their kids are watching appropriate programs either through their own observations, or by trusting a third party reviewer (think Consumer Reports) that the parent judges to be trustworthy based again on that third parties own merits and not simply because they have the weight of the government pushing them in a certain direction.

    I truly believe that the latter scenario would help to encourage parents to be more involved in their kids lives, while at the same time address concerns about appropriate programs as well as the amount and types of advertisements that children would be exposed to.

    Remember, the presence of the government assures only one thing; it does not assure that your interest will be respected or that the best outcome will be achieved, it only assures that force or the threat of force will be used to carry out the government official's idea of what should be done.

    "Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master." George Washington

  13. Jeff,
    I think we found some great common ground to start on. I agree with you about the rating system as it relates to TV, Movies, video games etc. I think in many ways it does more harm then good. When people choose the standards for their kids based on a rating system I think they've dropped the ball in being involved in filtering and setting standards in their child's lives and have turned that over to someone else. I couldn't agree more.

    I also agree, with some of what you say about government, I'm not really comfortable much of the time with supporting or asking for laws because of it being upheld through the use or threat of physical force. I've struggled with that.

    At the same time, I still think there is a role and place for societal (you can read that government) 'interferences' when it comes to certain things.

    However, you seemed to address only a small piece of what I mentioned in my comment and the blog post, and that is primarily tv and media in the home, etc. You didn't, I don't think, addresses these current regulations:

    -Children under the age of 17 are not allowed into a rated R movie without an adult.
    -Pornography is illegal for those under the age of 18.
    -marketing cigarettes and alcohol to children is illegal.

    By the arguments you made above, it would seem that your saying you'd rather children be allowed to go see any movie they want, so long as they pay for it, regardless of adult supervision.
    It would also seem that your suggesting the same thing for Pornography and marketing alcohol and cigarettes to children. I'm not trying to put words in your mouth or anything, so feel free to clarify your point.

    You also seem to avoid the reality that parents are not with their children 24/7. At a fairly young age, children are spending time at friends houses, daycares, etc. We are also out in public, walking through grocery stores, passing buses, billboards, and hundreds of other ads every day. I don't think it's inappropriate for us as a society to have certain standards for advertisements in these realms. One of those areas is the public schools where advertisers and corporations are doing all kinds of advertising to kids through television (Channel One), radio (Bus Radio), drink contracts (Exclusively one companies soft drinks), field trips (to stores), 'eductional' activities (branded with characters and logos), and more. I again don't think it's inappropriate for us as parents and as a society to say this is wrong.

    Finally, the other piece to this is that many ads, specifically for baby videos, like Baby Einstein, are deceptive, not just to kids, but to parents. There is no evidence that those videos are educational and yet the ads and merchandising makes it seem like they are. Do you believe that it is okay for advertisements to tell half-truths or outright lies as long as they have a contract with the media outlet?

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