28. “Consuming Kids” and devouring childhood: Part 2 of 3

10 Nov

Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s advertising was much more confined. The Federal Trade Commission advocated a ban on advertising to kids 8 or younger. After this, Congress took away much of the FTC’s power when it comes to regulating children’s advertising. In the 1980’s, President Reagan completely deregulated the industry which opened the flood gates for advertisers. The top 10 best selling toys were all based on television shows. Marketers and Advertisers’ goal became attempting to turn emotional attachments into profits, for example, one of the experts on the documentary talked about how her daughter swore to the fact that the SpongeBob SquarePants Kraft Mac-n-cheese tastes better than any other shape.  Product placement has become bigger than ever, and kids do not even realize that they are being sold something. It is present in movies, television shows, video games and even something called “advergames” which are games based solely around a product. Enola Aird, Founder and Director of the Motherhood Project, says that advertisers believe they “have to get to them in ways that maybe they don’t even know that [they’re] getting to them.”

Today, kids are being taken advantage of without even knowing it. Products such as Webkins, costing about $15 each, micro-target kids by forcing them to buy multiple styles and animals and then putting in personal information on their website that allows the company to target them with ads specifically. 1 in 4 kids between the ages of 8 and 12 have a cell phone that can also target kids directly without their parents knowing. There used to be maybe one conference a year on the youth market, now there are over 15. This ethnographic research is a little bit like scientific stalking. Companies research kids’ everyday actions, even in places like the shower, to see how they interact with products. That is just downright creepy. Dr. Michael Brody, a child psychiatrist, believes “these marketers are very similar to pedophiles; they are child experts. If you are a pedophile, or a child marketer, you have to know about children and what children want.” There is a company called the Girls Intelligence Agency that claims to work as children’s entertainment when really their “sleepover in a box” is just a way to have a mini focus group of young girls. It teaches kids to exploit their friends and enlists young children without their parents really knowing. Is it ethical? No, probably not, but they only care about pushing a product and no one is around to stop them.

Products are being pushed not because of what they do or how they taste, but because of their social meaning. Juliet Schor, author of Born to Buy, says “it will define them as an individual. What you buy is who you are.” There is a mantra in American society that you are what you have, what you buy and what you own. And if you don’t have it, then you are a nobody. This documentary talks about how children think they are going to have more self-worth if they own certain products. Girls are being told they need to buy this and look a certain way to have any kind of value; even dolls are becoming hyper-sexualized. Boys are told they must be aggressive and dominant. What used to be an R rated movie is now rated PG-13. We are pushing the concepts of self indulgence, instant gratification and materialism. “Consuming Kids” shows examples of these ideas everywhere, including on Hannah Montana and High School Musical. Childhood is disappearing and kids are getting older, younger.

 

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