Billions in Advertising Targets Kids

What Will Turn Today's Youth into Tomorrows Smart Consumers

by Alice Zhang, age 17

Picture this: you're shopping in a store and passing by the giant display of toys from the latest kids movie and casually glance at it. Suddenly a little boy and his father pass by the same display, but instead of glancing briefly over it and moving on, they stop in front of it, though certainly not by the father's insistence.

After a little pleading, some bargaining and maybe even a small temper tantrum, the beleaguered father is exasperatedly picking up the toy and putting it into the shopping cart.

It's not just elementary students and their parents that are sucked into these advertising ploys. Middle schoolers, high schoolers, and consequently, their parents are also lured into buying fancy toys and gadgets. Although once kids get older it's usually not action figures and dolls as much as unlimited texting plans and iPods).

This scenario is more common than you might think. Big shot companies are smart, and they know exactly how to target a large chunk of the household's buying power—kids. The younger the better, but these companies won't say 'no' to older children either. Car companies, toy companies, even tobacco and alcohol companies, advertise to children across the country.

Why is this happening? Why are companies aiming at the children of the paycheck holders instead of the pay checkers themselves? There are several reasons.

First, companies want children to develop brand loyalty. Fast food places, clothing brands and toy companies each develop a unique image. They hope this image is strong, and will stay with kids for a long time, and eventually grow into a lifelong loyalty. Magazines like Time, People, and Sports Illustrated have kid and teen versions with ads for 'adult' things like cars, airplanes, hotels and credit cards, even though the readers might be too young to think of that. But companies place their ads in these places with the hope that brand loyalty will grow and develop. They hope to develop life-long customers through this kind of marketing.

In addition to customer brand loyalty, companies also bank on the nag factor. A 2007 CBS report says that 8 to 12 year-olds spend 30 billion dollars of their own money and convince their parents to spend another 150 billion dollars. That was 2007. Now it’s 2010 and more ads than ever are flooding every accessible media gateway to children. Companies know that it were up to adults, the latest Polly Pocket toy or G.I. Joe action figure probably would not be purchased.

This is probably true, so companies aim their marketing at kids. When kids want something, they're like relentless piranhas, picking and nibbling. The kids then nag their parents into buying the products. The "nagging factor" is what encourages companies to advertise directly to kids instead of the parents.
Another reason that kids are targeted instead of adults is because of their vulnerability to outside influences. Companies spend billions to advertise their products to children. Recent estimates put these figures at $15 billion annually. This amount represents a dramatic increase in marketing dollars aimed at children and youth.

The advertisements are found everywhere, including but not limited to, the internet, television, and magazines. That, coupled with a ridiculous amount of peer pressure and the desire to be ‘cool’ or have the ‘coolest stuff’, leads to children frantically trying to acquire the latest cell phone, the latest action figure, the hottest clothes, the coolest material possessions possible.
Peer pressure and the media coerce children of all ages to go out and buy company products, even if it means forcing their parents to buy for them, all in hopes of achieving that intangible happiness and popularity.

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Things seem pretty bleak for kids today. If they’re like this now, imagine what their future purchasing habits might be like. This is the strategy. Companies hope that when these young people grow up they will continue to consume. They won’t be able to ignore the impulse to buy the latest car, the latest insurance, the biggest house, and acquire the biggest financial problems. Thankfully, given the right information, kids won’t go blindly into the world of commercialism. There are things that can be done.

First, get kids (or if you are a kid reading this) off the computer and the TV. Almost any activity that doesn’t involve sitting in front of a screen is a good activity. Take a walk, read a book, volunteer at the library, find a job, mow the lawn, write a newspaper article, play with a Frisbee or football; anything but sit in front of a screen

Next, teach awareness. There is no such thing as too much information regarding advertising. The wiser you are, the better. Parents and kids should be aware that advertising companies want their money. They often don’t care about happiness or success; many companies only care about their own happiness and success. They usually don’t care much about consumers. Smart consumers question any claims made by advertisers. If you mute the TV when commercials come on, you might be on your way to becoming a smart consumer.

Another good strategy for parents is to encourage kids to understand why advertisements are on TV and why the advertised products are often not as shiny as they appear in commercials. Teach kids money management. It’s all part of developing those all important financial literacy skills. Basically, the more information young people have, the more questions they will ask. Hopefully we will all begin to understand that commercials and advertisements aren’t always completely true and we should al make smart spending decisions. We don’t always need the next hottest thing around. Happiness isn’t sold as a toy, an electronic, a pair of shoes, or food. With any luck today’s youth will begin to be smart consumers, able to make logical and rational decisions regarding advertisements.


Teach well, and hope for the best. But remember, kids need to know that happiness isn’t a material thing. It is something usually found with friends and family.

[Sources: www.focusonthefamily.com, www.consumersinternational.org/,  http://pzrservices.typepad.com/advertisingisgoodforyou/facts_and_figures_relating_to_advertising_and_marketing, www.nber.org/reporter/winter04/saffer.html, www.associatedcontent.com, article, http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/resources/educational/handouts/advertising_marketing/mtt_advertising_strategies.cfm]

Alice, your writing is attention-grabbing and has real voice. Keep challenging your readers and asking the right questions. – Aarushi AgniMadison, WIsconsin (2010-11-18 19:16)
Alice, you hit the nail right on the head. Frankly, the way companies target and lure kids and their parents into buying things they don't need is scary. Awesome article, and keep up the great work! – Adaeze OkoliMadison, WI (2010-11-20 10:57)
Alice - You put a lot of work into this article and it shows it! – jane colemanmonona (2010-11-20 16:56)
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