The book Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture gives a scary window into how marketers are targeting kids in unhealthy ways to buy products. Here is the book review from Amazon.com.
"This book is an extended report on current marketing practices aimed at children and their results. The author begins by noting how marketing practices have changed over the last ten to fifteen years. In the 1970s and 1980s, when many of today's new parents were growing up, laws and industry practices provided some level of protection and privacy for children from the focus of marketing campaigns. Now, however, the gloves are off, and marketing firms shamelessly push everything from junk food to beer, cigarettes, cosmetics, and cars to `tweens, children between the ages of 6 and 12. Schor worked closely with marketing professionals while gathering information for this book so that she could obtain insider views. At the end of the book, Schor notes that these marketers generally feel horrible about what they do and the lengths they go to, but feel they have to continue in order to feed their own families.
The kinds of marketing practices that Schor describes in this book are shocking and outrageous. Many parents have heard of Channel One, an organization that puts TVs in schools for free, but parents may not be aware that in exchange for use of the equipment, administrators agree to force students to watch Channel One program complete with commercials while sitting in their seats and with the volume turned on. But force-feeding commercials to a captive audience of school kids is nothing compared to other current practices, such as having children conduct and even surreptitiously videotape focus-group data from friends at slumber parties that marketers pay them to organize. And then there are the "viral-marketing" campaigns, where kid leaders are sought out because other kids think they're cool, and then paid to convince other kids to buy merchandise, or when college kids are paid to sit in bars and pretend to be ordinary patrons while extolling the virtues of a company's alcoholic beverages.
Schor notes that there are now many ways in which marketing messages are delivered to kids. Kids are exposed to ads through viral-marketing, magazines, and radio. But television advertising seem to be especially hard for youngsters to understand and withstand. Marketers know that if they tell young kids that a product is fun or cool, the kids will pester their parents to get it, and they more the kids see the ads, the more persistent they will be with the pestering. Internet advertising is also a great problem for children, since young children have great difficulty recognizing which parts of the screen are filled with advertising and which parts with content. Marketers even embed Internet games with logos and ads, so that the ads are inseparable from the content.
One result of all this exposure to advertising is that kids these days are more heavily into consumerism than ever before. Schor cites a 1997 time use survey in which it was found that American children now spend, on average, two and a half hours each week shopping, which is twice as much time as they spend reading or going to church, and five times as much as they spend playing outdoors. They are extremely brand conscious with their clothing choices, even well before their teenage years. Schor attempted to find how down-shifting families dealt with all these commercial influences on their children, but found that it was extremely difficult to locate down-shifters with children- -apparently, having children in the house who are so exposed to marketing campaigns makes it difficult to avoid over-consumption.
To see how modern hyper-consumerism is affecting children, Schor conducted a research survey among kids in downtown and suburban Boston. She found that the marketing pitches are causing serious harm to children's well being. Advertisements for junk food, sweets, and soft drinks are feeding the obesity epidemic among our children, and the kids who watch the most TV are the ones getting the fattest. Heavy TV watchers also tend to have the greatest number of behavior problems, they have problems getting along with their parents, and they cannot seem to find satisfaction with life, no matter how much they buy. In contrast, in another study conducted by Thomas Robinson in San Jose, California, it was found that children whose TV watching was reduced also reduced their requests for products advertised on TV.
This book is clearly written and very well researched. Sources are cited through endnotes found at the back of the book (but not numbered explicitly in the main text). There is also an extensive bibliography and index. At times, the text can be rather heavy and overbearing, as Schor buries the reader in fact after depressing fact, so it's not exactly a fun book to read. Nevertheless, the material is extremely important for all of us, parents or not."
What scares you the most about how marketers are targeting children? What can we do to combat this and help our kids deal with this onslaught?