As the Super Bowl approaches, parents may have concerns over how much advertising will affect young viewers. However, a new study by Common Sense Media published today reveals that marketing to kids is already immeasurably invasive in their everyday activities.
I say “immeasurable” because, according to the Common Sense Media, researchers need to develop new methods to quantify young people's exposure to advertising.
“At this point we lack even the most rudimentary research needed for policymakers to ascertain whether certain types of practices of marketing to children are fair, such as enlisting them as 'viral' marketers, enticing them to purchase products through rewards and incentives, exposing them to product placement in popular TV shows, or encouraging them to make their own ads and enter them in a contest,” according to the report.
This study points to Nielsen data estimating kids ages 2-11 see approximately 24,000 ads per year, which seems enormous until you realize that is a drop in their mental buckets, since there is also product placement (Coke paying to have all the "American Idol" judges drinking Cokes) and embedded ads (naming products in TV or film dialogue), and online ads woven into gaming experiences.
Sounds to me as if we need further study in this area so we can craft a better system of measurement in order to create some effective boundaries for advertisers.
The study points out that kids are often engaged in "immersion games," commonly referred to as "Advergames," where the brand is woven seamlessly into the plot of the game.
The study also highlights cross-marketing between companies, such as Disney and fast food chains that offer branded toys in kids’ meals, while products from the fast food chains randomly appear in the hands of characters in kid and teen TV shows.
This topic is so much of a daily battle in my house with four sons – ages 10, 14, 18, and 20 – who love YouTube and online gaming sites. My belief is that you can raise kids to think for themselves and shake this stuff off, but it’s a constant struggle to stay vigilant against the marketing push.
I have been following the video series with Anna Lappé called Food MythBusters by watchdog group Corporate Accountability International, because the tactics and science behind them are really helpful.
The advertising that goes uncounted, and which can be the most insidious and difficult to battle, is the newer practice of engaging a child’s creativity as a participant in the ad cycle. This includes the contests challenging kids to design an ad for the product themselves, or in the case of the Super Bowl, to vote for which ad will air during the game.
The website Armor Games sucks kids right into this process, via the Doritos "Crash The Super Bowl" contest, in which five fans have a shot at having their commercial play during the game.
The top item on the Armor Games site is an ad bearing the image of a little boy in a cowboy hat next to the words, “Help us win the Doritos contest. VOTE for Cowboy Kid!”
Of the five finalists’ videos, two have kids as the main characters
I let my 10-year-old son Quin click on the videos, which were all pretty funny, until we got to the one in the series. Business Insider has announced the last video we clicked on, titled "Finger Cleaner," by Thomas Noakes of Sydney, Australia, as the projected winner.
I wish I’d seen the Business Insider story on this particular video before I ever allowed my son to click on it.
Business Insider declared this video “absolutely disgusting” adding “It's shockingly sexual. In the worst way possible.” That assessment is right on the money.
The premise is this: a man, his fingers covered in the orange Dorito powder – the result of wolfing down a bag of chips – sticks his finger into a hole in the wall to get it “cleaned.”
At the end of the video, viewers see it revealed that on the other side of the wall is a man who loves Dorito dust. Ick.
I was relieved when my son handled the gross factor by saying, “Oh that’s disgusting. Do you know how many germs that is? Plus the engine grease under the Dorito dust would make it taste bad. Next!”
You can be darn sure that you will not see a bag of Doritos in this house on Super Bowl Sunday, especially if that ad is selected. I don’t want that image rattling around the heads of my other sons, who might not dismiss it as quickly as my youngest.
In an effort to change the discussion from Doritos to anything else I asked my son if he notices the ads online.
“It’s just too overflowing sometimes,” said Quin, who loves YouTube for its science and gaming videos, and often plays games online because it’s more affordable than buying a game system.
“On YouTube I usually choose the “skip ad” option and pass them,” he said. “Here’s the thing, sometimes they don’t have the SKIP option.”
That is “the thing” alright.
Thanks to this study parents have a lot to digest and much of it will not sit well.