Marketing to Kids hits bump in the road

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    "The people who tell the stories define the culture," says Dr. David Walsh, president and founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family [www.mediawise.org].

    I have heard Dr. Walsh repeat that line on several occasions when he refers to the significant role the media plays in influencing children’s choices and behavior. So it was with great interest that I read about a new government report on advertising to children that was released last week.

    "As childhood obesity rates climb, the food industry needs to improve how it markets its products to children," according to the government study, as reported in the New York Times. The report was generated by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Health and Human Services. Not coincidentally, the release of the report coincided with an announcement from the big three beverage companies (Coke, Pepsi and Cadbury Schweppes) to call for a voluntary withdrawal of high-calorie soda and fruit drinks from being sold inside America’s schools.

    Based on the findings from the report, the government has finally acknowledged what many experts like Dr. Walsh have argued for years: junk food advertising impacts the health and well-being of America’s children.
    You might be wondering, "How does this link to spending habits?" Please indulge me while I extend the argument.

    If the government supports the notion that advertising does indeed impact a child’s eating habits, wouldn’t it also stand to follow that excessive advertising negatively affects children’s spending habits? The parallels are similar. Fifteen percent of children and teens in the United States are obese. Given the current trends, 50 percent of American children will be overweight by 2010.
    According to American Demographics magazine, by age 21 a young person will have experienced more than 23 million advertising impressions in their short lifetime. By their senior year, the average college student has four credit cards and nearly $3,000 of credit card debt. By age 30, the debt numbers grow by more than 70 percent to $5,200 of high-interest credit card debt.
    While the current findings are certainly important steps in acknowledging the link between advertising and children’s eating habits, I believe the FTC needs to think bigger (no pun intended). The agency should extend its research to include the whole enchilada – how advertising to children influences all aspects of their well-being, not just their eating habits. 

    Step back and think about the parallels between advertising to children and food habits and advertising to children and spending habits. Here are a few suggestions to help you make the comparison:

    • Do you notice a link between frivolous purchase decisions and the latest advertisingcampaign for the "thing of the week?"
    • Are the spending patterns of young people in your home linked to their currentemotional state?
    • What boundaries and/or system do you have for healthy consumption – be it food,toys, clothing, etc.? 

    With billions of dollars spent each year on advertising to children, it’s essential to have a system for developing healthy financial habits. What are some of the differences in the amount and types of ads today compared with when you were young? Unless you grew up in the late 80s or 90s, the differences will likely be startling. 

    Gotta have it now
    Nearly one of every three toys that American kids receive annually comes from fast-food restaurants.
    Source: Chew on This, by Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson 

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    sed author, award-winning speaker and national expert on family finances and the effects of mass marketing on young people. A top-performing financial advisor and vice president of marketing for a Fortune 500 financial services company, he founded Share-Save-Spend LLC, an organization that helps people of all ages develop and maintain healthy financial habits. His book, Prodigal Sons & Material Girls: How Not to Be Your Child's ATM, was released in 2003 by publisher John Wiley & Sons. Nathan is vice-chair of both the National Institute on Media and the Family and Minneapolis-based YouthCARE boards. Visit www.sharesavespend.com, e-mail [email protected] Copyright © 2005 Nathan Dungan. All rights reserved.

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