Advertising aimed at children exploits their developmental inability to spot deception or to distinguish between fantasy and reality. It exploits their trust and manipulates their natural need to belong, to be loved and to feel worthwhile in order to sell products.
On October 4 last year I had the pleasure of launching Adproofing Your Kids: Raising critical thinkers in a media-saturated world (Finch) co-written by my friend and colleague, author and editor Tania Andrusiak. (She’s the one who described my book Getting Real: Challenging the sexualisation of girls – in which she has a terrific chapter – as a “collective shout against the pornification of culture” thus triggering the creation of our new grassroots movement of the same name).
I hadn’t yet embraced blog world back then, but now that I am enlightened and have one, I’m posting my launch speech here because I really believe in Tania’s work. She’s passionate about children and media literacy, committed to helping them think critically about the media messages bombarding them daily.
One day some advertising gurus got together to work out the best way to market their brands to babies and toddlers. They’d had some research done – picture a focus group of dribbling babies – and discovered that babies like to look down and watch their dribble. Aha! thought the advertising execs. If we can logos on babies bibs then that will get our brands fixed into their developing minds. They called it the “drool factor.”
The ‘drool factor’ has become an ingenious way for marketers to secure brand recognition early in a child’s life. By the strategic placement of trademarked characters on a baby girl’s clothing, it’s easy for her to recognise them and see them as a natural part of her world.
This is the landscape into which Tania and Daniel’s book arrives and which illustrates why this book is so important and so necessary and so timely.
As the authors write, “Marketers now know that even the tiniest customers are big business”.
- Employing childhood development theory
- Employing neuro-marketing research (using medical technologies like MRI to study the brain’s response to marketing)
- Infusing products with familiar aromas to influence children’s preferences
- Secretly recruiting kids to sell to their peers
- Snooping around kids’ bedrooms to find out more about what they like
- Marketers even recruit ‘agents’ to infiltrate kids’ chat rooms where they pose as children and create a buzz about a brand or product.
Tania and Daniel observe: “Marketers know that even very young kids can become loyal to the brands they like and that winning them over early might just mean gaining a customer for the rest of their lives. So marketers now aim to ‘own’ our kids before their competitors do.”
Especially insidious is the way companies make ads which make kids feel like losers if they don’t buy their product. Nancy Shalek advertising agency president says:
Advertising at its best is making people feel that without their product, you’re a loser. Kids are very sensitive to that. If you tell them to buy something, they are resistant. But if you tell them they’ll be a dork if they don’t, you’ve got their attention. You open up emotional vulnerabilities and it’s very easy to do with kids because they’re the most emotionally vulnerable.
The author’s care authentically for their children and for all our children. They don’t like the way advertisers “bait” children. But this book is about more than advertising: it covers violent media, overuse of TV, the lure of the internet and its traps, and, in chapters I was especially pleased to see, the way children are sexualised in the media and through popular culture. This is the subject of my new book, which Tania has also contributed to – great to have our books out at the same time Tania!
It is because of the contempt advertisers and marketers seem to have for children that Tania and Daniel don’t hesitate to arrive at a very strong conclusion:
Our research for this book has brought us to a simple conclusion: advertising directed at children is wrong. A child’s developing brain cannot fully understand the persuasive intent of advertising. And it is also wrong because some advertisers and marketers target our children’s self-esteem. Advertising aimed at children exploits their developmental inability to spot deception or to distinguish between fantasy and reality. It exploits their trust and manipulates their natural need to belong, to be loved and to feel worthwhile in order to sell products.
Our kids have the right to live in an environment where their self-esteem isn’t constantly eroded by advertising – but unlike us, they are not in a position to lobby for that right. If they are to keep their heads above water in the sea of images surrounding them, then advertising aimed at kids must be legislated against and restricted in the media that children see. Other countries have already passed legislation to that effect, and Australia must stop dragging its feed. Our children deserve so much better.
But the book also offers hope. “We can reduce the impact of advertising by minimising its role in our children’s lives and talking about it with them”.
There are a growing number of books detailing the problem. But Tania and Daniel’s book fills a gap because it offers page after page of helpful suggestions and advice for parents, in fact for anyone who has children in their lives.
Adproofing your kids is a tool kit equipping children to question advertisers claims.
The book gives us a thorough picture and understanding of the problem – and then offers us solid, practical hands-on strategies for addressing it. It’s packed full of great questions that keep our conversations with our children open.
Talking to kids about advertising arms them with skills they will need for the rest of their lives. Understanding how ads work can be a great source of empowerment as they learn to spot manipulation at a hundred paces.”
It can also help them to spend wisely and reduce the friction in our homes. Advertisers use every trick in the book to tell us how ‘necessary’ their product is. We need to call them out on their tactics and claims.
This important and significant book helps us challenge the corporate take-over of childhood.
It helps us detox our kids from the ‘gimme’ culture.
I hope that every parent and everyone who cares for children, will read this book and congratulate Tania and Daniel for writing it, and Finch for publishing it.