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Saturday, May 23, 2009

The selling of childhood: Have commercials and product placements gone too far?

As a couple of my regular readers know, recently I began reporting for EXAMINER.COM as their National Children's Entertainment Examiner. I've not been able to post here as often as I would like, but as I ease into my new role I will be back here to post on a variety of grown-up oriented subjects as well as sharing some of the more interesting stories I am covering. I hope you will bear with me for a little while as I make this transition. I would also like to invite each of you to follow me along as I report on entertainment that makes a positive difference in the lives of children.

The article below was published on Friday, May 22, 2009 and it was an eye-opening labor of love, which I want to share with you. The link at the bottom of this post will take you to Part 2 of this article. Please feel free to post your comments on either page, and thanks so much for visiting. Hope you all enjoy the holiday weekend.

Years ago, children would learn about the latest doll, game or toy when a parent plopped down a catalogue for them to peruse for Christmas, or just before their birthday.

Sometimes, it took a trip to a local toy store or hobby shop to reveal a fascination for model airplanes, or paint-by numbers kits, but over the last 50 years, marketing to children has changed, and become immediate and seemingly all pervasive, because it provides an unparalleled source of revenue for entertainment generating corporations.

On Wednesday, May 15, 2009, the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Worldwide division, a traditional purveyor of quality cultural programming, both here and abroad, announced the appointment of Tom Keefer as Senior Vice President of Global Licensing for BBC Worldwide.

Keefer, a former Mattel executive will be spearheading BBC Worldwide’s growth in product licensing opportunities for their children’s as well as adult brands.

Neil Ross Russell, Managing Director BBC Worldwide Children's and Licensing said: "One of our core objectives when restructuring the business last year was examining untapped potential in territories outside the UK, especially the US where such a high proportion of the world’s licensing revenue is made.”

Entertainment corporations everywhere are constantly on the lookout to produce additional streams of revenue from ancillary markets, which for some corporations provide their only profit, and for others much more. It is part and parcel of doing business, but what does that say about our society when corporations specifically target children as consumers?

Profit making is a benchmark of capitalistic societies - it is the engine that drives economies, however, our current global recession is forcing consumers to closely scrutinize what they invest their money in, as well as why they invest it, and what is the return on that investment.

When it comes to children, parents are generally the ones that do the “buying,” but more often than not, it is because a child has demonstrated a preference for a particular product that they have encountered through some form of media promotion.

Toys, games, DVDs, books, clothing and even food products are marketed to children through television commercials and shows, product placements in movies, mentioned in music and in pop-up ads on the Internet and even offered at schools with the intent of creating brand loyalty to a generation of customers who are too young to make informed purchasing decisions.

For many parents this translates into the “gimme syndrome” or “nag factor,” which has started a grass roots rebellion among parents and caregivers, who are questioning not only if these products represent the family values they wish to impart to their children, but are these specially branded items worth the added cost to their budgets?

Is it appropriate to be marketing to children when they are vulnerable to sales manipulation, which in fact, may not always be in their best interests – educationally or emotionally?

Have the reach of commercials and entertainment product placements gone too far?

Later today, part two of this series and the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, an organization that is making a positive difference in the lives of children and their families.

If you enjoyed this article, you may want to read:

The selling of Childhood: Part 2

How to use Common Sense Media: Making informed choices for your child's entertainment


Jo said...

Paula, amazing! I read parts one and two, and watched both videos, and I think the one fellow sums it up: Children are a trillion dollar business. The genie is out of the bottle, and as long as big business is involved, there may not be much that can be done. Big business seems to be sacred. I did notice this trend starting about 30 years ago or so, and even children's Saturday morning TV shows were just one long commercial. I think change needs to come from the parents, to try and keep the advertising away from their children, but it's everywhere.

TallTchr said...

The media have changed, but have the messages? Weren't we targeted over fifty years ago by the Mickey Mouse Club etc.? Watch "A Christmas Story" again and see how eager Ralphie is for his Captain Midnight Decoder Ring and his Red Rider BB Gun. Hey, Barbie turned fifty this year! Of course, I'm offended by Joe Camel and attempts to make kids loyal Bud drinkers before they've ever tasted a beer. But I think those who live by stealth marketing will die by it. The public is very fickle in its tastes and product popularity is a fleeting bauble. Anyway, what do you think will happen this Christmas, with so many people out of work? Will the kids be able to demand the toy of the moment, or will parents teach them a lesson in economic reality...which ironically can be a wonderful stimulus to their imaginations!

Paula Slade said...

I totally agree with you Jo, Saturday morning children's programming for the most part is one long infomercial. It is a big problem for parents to constantly monitor, particularly with older children and parents working outside of the home. I am glad that there is an organization that is going to bring these issues to President Obama, and hopefully it will start a trend within the entertainment industry, but parents need to speak out on the issue as well, otherwise Congress and the industry may not listen.

Paula Slade said...

You bring up some very good points Tall Tchr! I do remember Mickey Mouse and the "ear hats" you could purchase at toy or department stores, or if you were lucky enough to go to Disneyland, get them there. I take umbrage when cigarette and beer companies target future generations with slick commercials and print ads. Barbie became popular through Saturday cartoons but now, there is no stone left unturned when it comes to reaching kids. I totally agree with you, parents are facing some tough choices this year, and I'm sure that as that reality settles in you will see less dependence on branded toys, and hopefully more on developing a child's creativity through the use of their imaginations.