Marketing to Kids’ Eyes, Parents’ Wallets

Brad M. Griffin | Aug 17, 2011

A couple of weeks ago my family was camping in Utah. We stopped by a local grocery at one point to pick up a couple of extra things on the way to our next wilderness destination, and my almost-three-year-old son lost it. Right there in the middle of the main store thoroughfare.

He wanted the Cars cheese.

You know, Cars. The multi-billion-dollar industry Disneys Pixar built around sucking young boys into product placement. I read something recently that mentioned that as the marketers sat around wondering what kinds of products could become Cars-bearing marketing opportunities, their answer was anything. So if youve been in a grocery lately, youve seen it: the Cars Ritz crackers, the Cars milk (which my hero wife inadvertently picked up one day and became Mom of the Week), Cars fruit snacks (yeah we bought those on purpose as a special treat), and Cars just about everything else. All designed to elicit the same response from little boys (and not a few little girls): I WANT THE CARS CHEESE!

To be fair, he was tired. And to be honest, Im pretty sure it wasnt even cheese. (Which caused quite a chuckle). But it didnt matter. He had been told he should want it.

Before I had a chance to blog about this USA Today article on marketing to kids, Adam McLane beat me to it and said it well. Check out his thoughts, and here are a few more.

The article, entitled Marketing to kids gets more savvy with new technologies, suggests kids in America are worth $1.2 trillion dollars (thats a lot of zeroes) in influencing their families spending. Per year. The focus in on the ways marketing has overwhelmed kids media technology use, clothes-buying, and eating habits. Some studies have suggested that brand recognition can be established as early as age 2.

Just ask my son.

Near the close of the article a former ad executive, Alex Bogusky, is quoted:

“So what if we stopped it? What if we decided that advertising to children was something none of us would engage in anymore? What would happen? A lot of things would happen, and almost all seem to be for the good of society.”

What if? And what if we began to accept the impact all this marketing has on kids identity development throughout childhood and adolescence? Teenagers are well aware that they have become the targets of marketing of all kinds. What does this do to their understanding of themselves as Gods beloved?

This is one reason youth ministry is still needed in our culture. We have a unique opportunity to speak a counter-narrative about true identity, real life, and a contentment that goes beyond the anxiety produced by ad media. But will we take that opportunity?

Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Senior Director of Content for the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, writer, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is the coauthor of over a dozen books, including 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Faith in an Anxious World, Growing Young, several Sticky Faith books, Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating Our Digital World, and Can I Ask That? Brad and his family live in Southern California, where he serves as Pastor of Youth and Family Ministries at Mountainside Communion.

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