KIDS SPENDING AND THE NAG FACTOR
Few people take the power of children more seriously than advertising executives. Marketers are interested in children both as consumers and for the enormous influence they have on their parents’ buying patterns.
Kids’ spending is skyrocketing. In 1991, children aged four to 12 spent $8.6 billion of their own money each year.By 1999, four- to 12-year-olds took in $31.3 billion in income from allowance, jobs and gifts, and spent 92 percent of it. In 2001, teenagers spent $172 billion.
Children are exhibiting extraordinary influence over their parents’ spending. Twenty years ago, children aged four to 12 influenced about $50 billion of their parents’ purchases. By 2001, that figure reached an estimated $300 billion. Marketers call this influence the “nag factor” or “pester power.”
WHERE DOES THE SALES PITCH HAPPEN?
Most kids spend the bulk of their time in one of three places — parked in front of a TV or a computer, or sitting in a classroom. Is it any wonder that advertisers make their biggest pitches in these places?
On Screen Advertising
Whether it’s through televisions or computers, American children get a lot of screen time (four and a half hours a day!),8 and these screens are full of advertising. A lot of these advertisements are aimed specifically at children.
Thousands of other ads — both on the web and on TV — are aimed at adults but absorbed by kids.
- The average American child aged 2 to 17 watches 17 hours, 30 minutes of TV per week.
- On average, American children view over 20,000 TV commercials each year, which works out to well over 50 TV ads a day.
- The average American child aged 2-18 spends nearly five and a half hours a day out of school consuming media in the form of TV, music, magazines, video games and the internet, amounting to what Kaiser Family Foundation president Drew Altman refers to as “a full time job for the typical American child.”
- Children between the ages of five and 18 will spend an estimated $1.3 billion online by 2002.
Advertising in Schools
Parents can see how much advertising comes at their kids from TV and the web. What they can’t see is how much advertising kids are exposed to during school hours, a time that is supposed to be set aside for learning. How much commercialism is in our schools? A lot. Over the past decade, advertisers have become much more sophisticated at targeting kids in school.
While there have been some successful cases of communities pushing back, the trend toward commercialized school environments continues. Sports uniforms are covered with logos. Textbooks are filled with brand names. Soda and candy machines in the hallways and fast food vendors in the cafeteria are commonplace. Some school curriculums even contain corporate-sponsored “lessons” that tout the socalled environmental benefits of the oil industry, the timber industry, the nuclear energy industry and the pesticide industry. And millions of children spend part of their school day watching commercials for junk food, teen fashion and violent films via Channel One’s in-school television network.
Captive Kids, Lost Time
Students in schools with Channel One, a twelve-minute news and advertising television program viewed daily in 12,000 middle and high schools across the country, are required to watch the program on nine out of ten school days. In return for requiring students to watch TV during class time, Channel One provides the schools with video equipment.
It’s not so clear that schools profit from this arrangement.
The hidden costs in lost class time appear to far outweigh the free hardware a school might receive. Research reveals that taxpayers in the U.S. pay $1.8 billion dollars per year for the class time lost to Channel One. And even more disturbingly, kids who should be in school to seek knowledge and stimulate critical thinking are instead a captive audience for a company whose prime aim is to coax them to buy.
THE IMPACT ON KIDS
I’m quite concerned that kids (and adults) today are equating money with success and happiness. I was appalled when my nine-year-old daughter asked her grandmother how much her birthday gift cost.” Dave Johns, Oregon. We all want to steer our children toward positive, healthy sources of fulfillment, but it’s not easy. Money can’t buy you love, friends or happiness, but advertisers want us to think that it can, and many children are simply too young to separate the hype from reality. According to a recent Junior Achievement poll, 43% of teenagers associated the American Dream with accumulation of material possessions, and nearly three-quarters of teens expect future job satisfaction to be directly related to how much money they make.
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL AND PHYSICAL EFFECTS
“My children are seduced into believing that if they have the right things or more things, they will not just be happier, but also more popular. This culture that sees kids mostly as consumers is creating a future generation of kids that have not felt valued for their character or their contributions to the greater community.” Jane Brolsma, Oregon.
When a society is preoccupied with material things, children and adults lose touch with non-commercial sources of happiness. In trying to fulfill non-material needs materially, we can lose contact with friends, nature and creative play. “Ads have encouraged this generation to have material expectations they can’t fulfill,” says noted author and clinical psychologist Mary Pipher. “This generation is the ‘I want’ generation. They have been educated to entitlement and programmed for discontent.” Studies show that less time in front of the TV and more time outdoors would do our children a world of good. Early experiences with the natural world have been positively linked with enhancing the development of imagination and a sense of wonder in children. Time outdoors in nature also plays a key part in helping children feel comfortable in the world around them. Child development studies are finding today’s kids are increasingly “biophobic” — fearful of the natural world. That is, they only feel comfortable in synthetic, climate-controlled environments. Too much time spent in front of the TV also has been linked with increased violence, low self-esteem and obesity. Both the Surgeon General and a Stanford University study have linked watching TV to excess body weight. In some school districts, over half the student population is overweight. And, unfortunately, many of these children will carry their weight problems into adulthood — overweight teenagers have an 80% chance of becoming obese adults.