Branded Baby Billboards…

I have just watched a fantastic documentary called “Consumer Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood” which discusses how Youth Marketers use Psychology, Anthropology and Neuroscience to convert children to becoming the greatest, most powerful and profitable consumers of the age-subcultures in the world.

Now I will say, I am a future Marketer, I study Marketing at University. Although I have always been into the creative and psychological side of Marketing, this document about how various methods of advertising, design and technology is used to influence children to buy certain products simply based on what character the product is using to promote itself, has made me wary about going anywhere near Youth Marketing.

From an early age, children are exposed to a vast majority of brands appearing on their toys, crockery, their playpens and more. Youth Marketers have realised the potential of capturing consumers at a rapidly younger age as they believe that creating a relationship between the child and the brand would help to endure a long and lasting  positive relationship which in turn would inject the child’s mind with permanent subconscious, brand recognition and loyalty (I know, sounds mad right?).

On average, it has been said that children are exposed to over 3,000 commercial messages PER DAY. This is not solely through television advertsing but through a whole cluster of advertising techniques:

  • Advergames: this is the term given to a product that is advertised through the creation of a game. For example, Barbie Horse Adventure, Hot Wheels, all of which are subconsciously creating a stronger consumer/brand relationship because of their constant interaction. Girls will see Barbie and her pony on the shelves of Toys R Us, boys will see the latest cars from Hot Wheels which will equal to them wanting to purchase the product.
  • Internet: This is the ‘biggie’. Nowadays, children or more specifically ‘Teens’ are more tech-savvy than their parents. They know where to go to interact with other children their own age on virtual worlds that promote shopping, social networking and playing games. Websites such as Our World encourage young girls to delve into the world of fashion, make-up and networking “Play Games. Meet People. Look Good.” There are options for players to pay a certain amount to gain more gems to enable them to purchase outfits, furniture for their virtual houses and more, this goes hand-in-hand with ‘upgrading’ their account to receive more benefits and to enhance their playing. This behaviour spurs a new activity and that is to shop. It too promotes young girls with the importance of ‘looking good’. Young girls at the age of 7 already. In America the definition of Tweens has budged from being between 7-12 to almost 4-12 which is simply ridiculous. Children are growing older, younger.
  • Product Placement: This recent common technique of advertising to children. An example was shown in the documentary how Wal-Mart appeaered in the Looney Tunes: Back in Action  movie and how Coca Cola is constantly being promoted in America’s Idol. Product placement is a way of sneaking past the obvious ‘in-your-face-advertising’ and discreetly showing it’s face and waving it’s little hand to the absorbing minds of children who gladly take it all in. The major shift in product placement is also beginning to appear more and more in video games, i.e. racing games (plastered over the vehicles)
  • Product branding with Characters: We’ve all seen the colourful packages dotted around the aisle in the supermarkets sporting the latest TV character like Dora the Explorer, Winnie the Pooh, Lazy Town and Thomas the Tank Engine. Children are hugely aware of these characters and naturally create a strong bond to the product already, even before they’ve tried it. The child in the documentary showed an immensely positive attitude and favourableness towards the product with Scooby Doo printed on it, the film maker asked the girl whether she liked the product she responded “yes”, however when asked if she had ever tried the product, her response was “no”. When asked why she loved the product, the little girl simply said “Because I love him so so much.” It is the emotional attachment children have between the brands and themselves that makes their judgement so strong. Youth marketers have picked up on this and in return, begun to take advantage of children’s emotional connections by creating products with the character’s faces printed on them like cereal, McDonald’s Toys, clothing and more merchandise.

Techniques of connecting to children through advertising are becoming more and more profound and are likely to pop up in areas of our lives where we would least expect it (product placement remember!). In the mean time, I think advertising to children should be kept to the bare minimum, or at least put a hold on advertising products that encourage children to grow up too quickly.

I’d hate to see my future child thinking she’s ‘all-that’ at the age of 5…

To watch “Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood” follow this link: http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/consuming-kids/

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2 thoughts on “Branded Baby Billboards…

  1. Hi Nina, great to read your take on this after viewing the documentary. This is actually the subject I chose for my dissertation, which I wrote while undertaking a 2 year placement at a youth oriented marketing agency. I have to say though, I was on the other side of the fence, as these techniques have been in use for well over 25 years, meaning we’ve all grown up with them. In fact, with the forced self regulation that came through in the food industry around 2007, after pressure from consumer groups, the media and parents, the use of character led marketing to children has diminished significantly. The argument at the time (as it is now) being that children were only eating sugary / salty foods because of the characters plastered on the box. Personally, and I know many agreed with this, I thought the argument was majorly flawed as I only had to look back at my own childhood and others at the time, to know that Tony the tiger being plastered on ‘Bran Flakes’ a “healthy cereal” instead of Frosties would have made no difference to which cereal I wanted to eat.. The facts were simple, Bran Flakes tasted like cardboard, and Frosties didn’t. What the free toys and character led marketing actually did, was keep us loyal to Kellogg’s rather than buying say Tesco own brand Frosted flakes. So pressure on parents wallets to buy the more expensive brand name cereal, is an issue i’d agree with. However, Tony the Tiger corrupting a child’s mind, I would not agree with..

    Obviously, much of this has now changed, with the rise of the digital world, and there are real pressures on children, created by marketing. However, all this aside though, another question we have to ask ourselves is, as adults, would we be so prepared for the no holds barred advertising world we now have to cope with if it wasn’t for our learning experiences as Children? And if we were to ban this type of marketing to children, what would be the cut off age, and how would it ever be enforced? What age are we saying it is suitable to start marketing to young people at, as a sheltered up bringing can lead to all sorts of problems in later life when the things one’s been protected from, suddenly become unavoidable. I’m not saying as a marketer that we should be aggresively targeting children as young as 4, but the world of marketing and advertising will become present in everyones life at some point, and we all have to eat, drink and be entertained. Therefore why shouldn’t brands aim to entice us to their products over their competitors from a young age, especially, when children are effectively consuming from such a young age anyway. Whether a can of drink in a TV program is branded or not, I’m sure even a child of 5 would likely associate it with a fizzy drink (how many non fizzy, healthy drinks come in a can), and surely the claimed damage is done at that point, not when they read the label…

    • Hi John,

      I would like to say a huge ‘Thank You’ for that reply as I thoroughly appreciate anyones opinion (especially when it’s constructive criticism as I, as a student, am still learning!) and you have raised many great points which I do have to nod my head to in agreement. Although I still believe using characters which young consumers have a great knowledge of, contributes to their opinions and ‘wants’ of which product they want their parents to purchase.

      Again, many thanks for your reply!

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