Who's to Blame for Consumer Kids -- Marketers or Moms?

Jeanne Sager

Flickr photo by Vacacion
Marketing to kids is finally getting major attention -- Michelle Obama, the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, and others are throwing it into the spotlight.

But while you're staring at the cute little cartoon figure tempting your kids to eat unhealthy packaged meals, the rest of the world's marketing is passing you by. Unfortunately, it isn't missing your kids.

Take last week, when I told my daughter she needed to take her Claritin before nursery school. (It was actually a generic bottle of the stuff, but I prove the success of the marketers myself by using the name.)

She popped up on her stool beside the sink. "I'm ready for my Claritin Clear."

Not the name of the item, but a tagline from the commercials. A commercial she has seen rarely, as she's not allowed to watch TV with commercial interruptions, save for nighttime when she's in the room while we watch the news.

It's not a product that's marketed to kids by any means. There are no cutesy characters, no promises it will make her friends on the playground. It's a pharmaceutical company marketing to adults. And yet my toddler has bought it -- hook, line and sinker.

I'm not going to let marketers off the hook here -- according to a recent article on AlterNet, in 2006 alone, food companies spent $1.6 billion marketing products to kids.

Brand loyalty, they say, is established as early as 2 years old these days. And part of that is us, the parents who aren't putting their foot down.

For the commercials she does see and hear, we started teaching our daughter from day one that they're trying to sell her something. Ask her why we don't listen to them, and she'll tell you they "make stuff up." At this age, it isn't perfect -- take the Claritin Clear mishap last week.

I hate to sound like Chicken Little, but the danger isn't simply in the companies targeting our kids. It's in what advertising does -- and does well.

As we drove down the road last week with the local radio station on, and my daughter singing along to a Toyota dealership commercial, I had to admit it isn't Ronald McDonald who is responsible for screwing up my kid. It's me.

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