Today's Americans spend in excess of $150 billion dollars every year on babies and children (Cardona & Cueno, 2000). Children age 4 to 12 control some $9 billion dollars of their own money and have a vote in how parents spend their disposable income on hundreds of products such as cars, computer and video equipment, and vacations (Moore, 1990). The juvenile furniture business alone, grew from $2 billion in 1995 to $4.5 billion in 1999 (Cardona & Cueno, 2000), so it is no wonder that advertisers are racing to attract children to their corner and keep them buying their brands. In this paper the child as a consumer is first analyzed, along with their buying habits, likes and dislikes. Then the discussion turns toward the ways marketing firms have geared-up to capture their attention. Finally, the effects (mostly negative) of television advertising on children are explored and some strategies that parents might use to derail them are offered.
THE BUYING FADS OF CHILDREN IN THE U.S.
Researchers at the Child and Family Lab at the University of Texas at Austin have determined that children begin showing brand preferences around 23 months (Pope, 1993). Moore and Lutz (2000) found that younger children are more actively involved in advertisements and their recall of ad content is significantly higher than older children. Children are exposed almost from birth to advertising to the degree that before they can form a complete sentence, they can recognize a McDonald's when they pass by one, or see an advertisement on television. The brand-conscious children of today no longer wear hand-me down clothes and ask for a bicycle for Christmas. They want their own cellular phones and pagers, designer jeans (preferably from Gap or by Levi), costly kid-club t-shirts, hot video games (Sony's Playstation 2, Sega and Nintendo), shoes that pump up their image (Reebok pumps), and flashy Rayban sunglasses, all to help them fit in with the "cool" crowd at school.
The Importance of "Fitting In"
For children age six to 13, "fitting in" is of utmost importance to their mental growth and "at this level, peer pressure is so intense it's stronger than family, stronger even than their own internal smarts" (Pope, A5). Children pay particular attention to what their friends are wearing, what products their friends and their family consume, where friends spend their leisure and vacation time, and even what kind of car their peers arrive at school in. At the ripe old age of eight, children begin to place specific demands on family purchases of all kinds, influenced by what they think is cool and through peer pressure (Cardona & Cueno, 2000). Many children would not think of wearing a pair of jeans, or buying a video game that was not endorsed by their peers. The Wall Street Journal cited a study which indicated that around 70% of adults buy private-label store brands, but only 7% of their children would consider the stuff. Children also do not want sale items because they are viewed as unpopular products that stores just want to get rid of. Brands give children a form of identity that allows them to be part of the group, and non-brands are suspect. (Pope, 1993)
The Costs of "Fitting In"
These high-demand products do not come without a huge price tag. US toy retailers posted a record, $28 billion sales year in 1997, not counting an extra $5 billion spent on video games, which are accounted for separately (Hinger, 2000). This industry has grown significantly since 1993 when spending on toys for the six to thirteen age group for the1993 Christmas season was projected to hit $10 billion. That was another record-setting year for an industry that had not hit a slump in 30 years (Pope, 1993). Children fund part of their purchases through allowances, which are four times higher than they were ten years ago (Cardona & Cueno, 2000), but parents and grandparents foot the major portion of the bill. …