The 4 R’s – Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and Retail?

Do your kids walk around the house humming jingles from commercials? I know mine have.

Kids are a Huge Market

A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics published this month in Pediatrics highlights the scope of advertising to children. According to the report, kids are exposed to about 3,000 ads per day in the United States from TV, radio, internet, billboards, etc. Why so many? Kids spend about $180 billion a year and influence parental spending of another $200 billion.

Advertisers are reportedly marketing to an increasingly younger age group in an attempt to establish brand recognition. Recent studies, reported last month at the Radiological Society of North America meeting, show that the brain works harder to process information from new brands than from recognized ones. The study also reported that strong brands activated brain regions associated with positive emotions, reward and self-identity. In contrast, weak brands activated regions of negative emotion and working memory. Advertisers want to get kids familiar with their brands early so that they can influence a lifetime of buying power.

Most Messages are Not Healthy

This is not new, but what we should be concerned with is the types of messages our kids are getting. About half of the ads that kids see are for food but only 3% push healthy foods. However, it’s this next statistic that blew my mind. According to the Pediatrics report, there are more beer and hard liquor ads in youth-oriented magazines than there are in adult magazines! This is according to a Washington Post article from September 24th, 2002. Tobacco companies also spent about $217 million in teen magazines in 2000 and the report cites evidence that they have developed specific advertising campaigns for kids as young as 13.

The campaigns aren’t limited to junk food, alcohol and tobacco. Prescription drug companies spend twice as much on marketing as they spend on research and development and promote the message that there is a pill for everything. A survey of doctors concluded that 92% of patients request an advertised drug. The top 10 drug companies in the Fortune 500 now make more money than the remaining 490 companies combined.

Studies show that kids under 8 years old are unable to distinguish between advertising and factual messages. In fact, the FTC realized back in the 70’s that marketing to kids under 6 was unfair and deceptive but decided it would be too hard to enforce a ban. However, many European countries have succeeded in doing just that. Pediatricians are now calling for tighter regulations on advertisers in the U.S., as well.

The Invasion of the School System

Can you protect your kids by limiting their exposure to TV, internet and magazines at home? Well, somewhat. Pediatricians recommend limiting ‘screen time’ to less than 2 hours per day. But kids are getting plenty of exposure at school as well. The report cites advertisements on school busses and book covers, and in school gyms and bathrooms. More than 200 school districts have signed exclusive contracts with soft-drink companies. There are also more than 4500 Pizza Huts and 3000 Taco Bells in school cafeterias across the country. Furthermore, Channel One, now shown in 25% of middle and high schools, contains 10 minutes of current events programming and 2 minutes of commercials and generates an estimate profit of $100 million annually.

Do you Know what your Kids are Seeing?

It is estimated that we receive as many advertisements in a single day as our grandparents did in an entire year. Everyone is battling for mind-share. Some of the messages are good and are trying to help you with your health, finances, and relationships and generally improve your lifestyle. Others are just trying to get your cash in exchange for some immediate gratification product. As adults, we have the ability to develop filters to weed out some of the trash. But kids don’t have this power yet.

Try to spend a day in the life of your kids and see what they are being exposed to. Sit down and watch one of their favorite shows, look through one of their magazines, visit their favorite websites, stroll through the hallways of their school. Pay attention to the ads they are seeing. You may automatically filter these out but they do not.

What can you do? First, becoming aware of the messages your kids are getting is a huge step. You can talk to them about the difference between advertising messages and educational information. But the best way to instill positive messages in your kids is to be a good role model for healthy lifestyle practices. What they see and hear from you will carry much more weight than what they see on TV.

Copyright (c) 2006 The Brain Code LLC