Kids have the largest influence in what and where your family eats, entertainment choices, family vacations, and many other aspects of your life, according to a study on homes in Canada.1 Advertisers not only know this, they exploit it.
Companies went from spending $100 million on advertising in 1983, to spending over $17 billion in advertising annually by 2007.2
And this is increasing constantly.
I’ve got some alarming facts and stats that I’ve provided in this concise little guide that only takes a few minutes to read. The goal is to spread awareness.
How Kids Influence Purchases
Why is so much of this advertising being directed towards kids? There are three primary reasons:
- Kids are vulnerable
- The companies want to build brand loyalty early on
- As mentioned above, kids are a major influence on family purchases
Kids are broken down into three markets by advertisers:
- Primary Market – Kids consuming with their own money
- Influence Market – Kids affecting parents’ purchases
- Future Market – The things kids will buy when they grow up
The influence market may go deeper than you think. There’s actually a thing called “pester power,” which refers to a kid’s ability to pester their parents into buying things, whether for them or for the family.
“We’re relying on the kid to pester the mom to buy the product, rather than going straight to the mom”-Barbara A. Martino, Advertising Executive
This pestering comes in the forms of:
- Persistence Nagging – A persistent plea that is repeated by the children until the parents give in
- Importance Nagging – Guilting the parents into providing what’s “best” for their kids (according to the advertising firms)
Kids influence more purchases than we may like to admit…
“The minivan was created, for example, because children demanded more room. Then they decided the three-door behemoth was uncool, helping give rise to the SUV. Every auto manufacturer has a strategy to target children [James McNeal, a market researcher who specializes in the children’s market adds.]”-Kim Campbell and Kent Davis-Packard3
How much do your kids influence your purchases?
It doesn’t stop there. Advertisers market directly to kids because they know children are future potential customers. And they know that brand loyalty starts at a young age.
Kids and Brand Loyalty
Barbies don’t specifically carry Visa cards to be “realistic.” Visa endorses those products strategically.
Credit card companies like Visa know that heavy brand loyalty is tied to someone’s first credit card. Over 70% of kids will keep their first credit card indefinitely.4 This is a big deal for marketers.
Advertisers don’t start with your barbie-loving 7-year-old. The messages start much earlier.
Babies can start forming mental images of logos they’ve seen, which leads to subconscious brand loyalty early on — as young as two years old, according to New Dream (formerly The Center for a New American Dream).
A couple studies dating back to 1944 and 1964 revealed that adults typically use 23% of the products they used when they were kids — mostly things used on a daily and habitual basis.5
When a company sponsors a school (i.e. supplying free products), there is more to it than just “doing their part.” Food companies like Kraft, Pizza Hut and Subway make their way into school lunch rooms with their branding highly visible.6
On average, children ages 2-11 see more than 25,000 advertisements a year on TV alone,7 and that doesn’t even include product placement. Everywhere you turn, ads are in your face. And your child likely pays much more attention to them that you do.
“As children reach the age of 4–5 years, they typically perceive a categorical distinction between commercials and programming, but primarily on the basis of affective (“commercials are funnier”) or perceptual (“commercials are shorter”) cues only.”-American Psychological Association8
Companies like McDonalds and KFC are marketing products directly to children as “healthy options,” when a complete study of advertising to children and nutritional value found few, if any, healthy choices at these restaurants.9 No surprise there.
Proctor & Gamble actually has a panel of 250,000 teens who are asked to talk to their friends about P&G products.10 This is a form of “buzz marketing” that is infiltrating our schools, and I feel like that’s pretty alarming.
The advertising companies think this practice is perfectly fine.
“The emotion advertisers most often play on for kids is their funny bone,” says Kathy Lalley, senior vice president at Kid-Leo in Chicago, which handles accounts like McDonald’s and Nintendo. “I don’t feel we’re manipulating kids,” says Ms. Lalley. She says they don’t get kids to do anything they already wouldn’t want to do. “This society is a consumer society,” she says. “Advertising and marketing and making brand decisions are part of life.”11
It’s obvious that we can’t rely on others to protect our kids from advertising, just like how we can’t rely on others to teach our child about finances. But what can we actually do?
As with so many other things, intentional parenting busts in the side door to fight the good fight. It’s our best defense mechanism.
Before we go into exactly how you can protect your kids, one more thing must be addressed: the dangers of unmonitored media consumption.
It’s Not Just About the Ads
It wouldn’t be reasonable, helpful, or even possible to shelter your kids from all forms of advertising (unless you live in a commune), but you can do your best to be intentional about what your children are viewing.
Be intentional about what your kid sees, because you can’t take it back after they’ve seen it. Especially look out for websites like YouTube. I have no problems with YouTube as a whole. It’s a legitimate company, and I’ve spent some of the best unexpected 4-hour blocks of my life scrolling through their endless “related videos.” But you must know what you’re subjecting your kids to, if you allow them free rein.
It’s not just ads you have to worry about on YouTube. There have actually been scary accounts of videos created specifically for children with inappropriate themes and images.
One example is the pseudo-Peppa Pig video that a random YouTuber created, which depicts a graphic scene at a dentists office.12 Though it looks like the real show upon first glance, and it was created for children to find, it’s not something they need to be watching.
More than 400 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every minute.13 And YouTubers know that most parents aren’t monitoring what their kids are watching.
As far as marketing goes, extended sessions on TV or YouTube will guarantee hundreds of ads in front of your kid’s face. We’ve got to monitor what they’re watching. This isn’t just about “adult content,” it’s about indoctrination by all of these companies.
How to Protect Your Kids
There is one way you can help your kids, and it’s really the only way to have an impact: teach them how advertising works. Teach your kids why they may want the toys, products, and food they think they want.
Show them some examples of advertising — especially when it’s right in front of you. When they see an ad and want a product because of it, use that as a teachable moment to explain how marketing companies are targeting them.
It’s perfectly fine for your children to want toys or other things they see in advertising. I’d be more concerned if they didn’t. But it’s important to help your kid make their own decision, without the help of some multi-billion-dollar advertising company.
To get a jump start on educating your kids about the media, advertising, and marketing, there’s a great resource. Media Smarts created a short workbook that explains advertising and marketing to kids interactively. You can check it out here.
Further Book Reading
- Advertising to Children by Macklin & Carlson
- Advertising to Children on TV by Gunter, Oates & Blades
- Consuming Kids by Susan Linn
Last Updated: June 10, 2020
- Poulton, Terry. (2008, February 22). “Kidfulence” on family spending strong: YTV Report. Media in Canada.
- Lagorio, C. (2007, May 14). Resources: Marketing to Kids. CBS News.
- Campbell & Davis-Packard. (2000, September 18). How Ads Get Kids to Say, I want It! The Christian Science Monitor.
- Homan, J. (2006). College Credit Card Statistics. UCMS.
- Radunovic, L. (2014, July 24). Kids And Advertising: (Ab)using The Most Vulnerable Target Group. Domain.Me.
- Media Smarts Staff. n.d. How Marketers Target Kids. Media Smarts.
- Holt, Ippolito, Desrochers, & Kelley. (2007, June 1). Children’s Exposure to TV Advertising in 1977 and 2004. Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Economics Staff Report.
- Cantor et al. (2008, February 20). Report of the APA Task Force on Advertising and Children. American Psychological Association.
- Harris et al. (2013). Measuring Progress in Nutrition and Marketing to Children and Teens. Fast Food FACTS.
- Horovitz, B. (2005, October 18). P&G “Buzz Marketing” Unit Hit With Complaint. USA Today.
- Campbell & Davis-Packard. (2000, September 18). How Ads Get Kids to Say, I Want It! The Christian Science Monitor.
- Bernard, Z. (2017, November 8). YouTube is reportedly pointing kids to thousands of disturbing, violent, and inappropriate videos. Business Insider.
- Maheshwari, S. (2017, November 4). On YouTube Kids, Startling Videos Slip Past Filters. NY Times.