How ads get kids to say, I want it!
Kids influence up to $500 billion a year in purchases. Now, youth advertising is coming under renewed scrutiny.
Nicole Crosby still remembers when her son was 6 and asked her to buy a particular brand of vacuum cleaner because he saw it advertised on kid's network Nickelodeon. It is one of many items he's begged for in the past five years after watching commercials.Skip to next paragraph
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"It creates the greatest source of friction in our life -him requesting a product he sees on TV," says Ms. Crosby, an advertising copywriter from New Rochelle, N.Y.
Today children are influencing the purchase of everything from new cars to frozen pizza - up to $500 billion a year in family buying. Whether they are spending their own money or asking mom and dad to spend theirs, advertising aimed at kids is now more prevalent and effective than ever.
More media outlets, coupled with a growing understanding of teen motivation, are helping advertisers separate kids from their allowances at an unprecedented rate - sometimes for products that are violent or unhealthy. As it does, the psychology of youth advertising is coming under new scrutiny.
"Over the last 10 to 12 years advertising to children has just mushroomed, it's skyrocketed," says Allen Kanner, a psychologist from Berkeley, Calif. "They're being advertised to all day."
Last week, the Federal Trade Commission released a report condemning the entertainment industry for peddling violent entertainment to children, and on Thursday the Federal Communications Commission put forth a proposal that would limit advertising during kids' shows.
"These advertisements not only encourage kids to demand toys from their parents, but they encourage boys to celebrate violence and girls to consider their self-worth by how they look," said Mark Crispin Miller, director of the Project on Media Ownership in New York, at a protest held outside a New York hotel where a ceremony honoring excellence in advertising to kids was taking place.
Children and young adults represent a lucrative market to advertisers. Kids ages 2 to 18 now outnumber baby boomers and are big spenders. In 1999, four- to 12-year-olds took in $31.3 billion in income from allowance, jobs, and gifts, and spent 92 percent of it, says James McNeal, a market researcher who specializes in the children's market. He says that percentage is the highest he's recorded in three decades of tracking the spending habits of kids.
Children and teens are also estimated to influence between $130 billion and $500 billion in family purchases annually. Mr. McNeal says $17 billion in new cars alone are sold because of children's preferences. The minivan was created, for example, because children demanded more room. Then they decided the three-door behemoth was uncool, helping give rise to the SUV. "Every auto manufacturer has a strategy to target children," he adds.
Though an ad's approach usually depends on the age of the child targeted, commercials often appeal to a sense of fun. Cereal is better if a lively character is selling it, for example; so are cigarettes, as Joe Camel proved.
"The emotion advertisers most often play on for kids is their funny bone," says Kathy Lalley, senior vice president at Kid-Leo in Chicago, which handles accounts like McDonald's and Nintendo.
Some kids think they know when they are being handled, says David Walsh, president of the National Institute on Media and the Family in Minneapolis. "Kids will say, 'I know what they're trying to do' - as if that makes them immune."