Limit Commercialism

The late television pioneer Roon Arledge, (creator of Monday Night Football, 20/20, Nightline, etc) watched TV in his hospital room and announced "There's too damn many commercials."

Commercial time has exploded. The American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) report showed that in the primetime slot, non-programming time on network television was 16:43 minutes per hour. The daytime level of advertising was 20:53 minutes per hour. Network news showed 18:53 minutes of commercials per hour and late night news aired 19:06 minutes of ads per hour. The most "cluttered" program in all of TV, according to the report, was ABC's Good Morning America. On cable, the former Fox Family Channel (now ABC Family Channel) was the most cluttered with 18:03 minutes of commercials per hour; E! came in second with 17:19 minutes of ads per hour; and MTV was third with 17:19 minutes per hour of clutter.

Children's shows are often just half-hour commercials for toy lines. You may need to decide to draw the line on extremely commercialized programs, or at least limit the number of program-related toys that the child can buy.

 Executive Director John Jackman comments:

When my son was little, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a new show. Andrew loved it; so did all his preschool friends. At the time I thought, "this ridiculous concept will burn out in about six months." Wrong. Five years later, TMNT were still shouting "Cowabunga!" and every toy store still had an entire aisle of Turtle toys. We were knee-deep in plastic action figures, little nunchucks, and weird VW microbus Turtle assault vehicles. Over the years, I bet my family spent over $1000 on these annoying injection-molded plastic ninja terrapins. Andrew's friends often spent much more.

Mark Freedman, the marketing whiz that turned the Turtles into a commercial toy craze, creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, and their company Mirage Licensing are rolling in dough. The original series was in production for a decade and spawned two live action movies. Freedman, Eastman, and Laird are currently relaunching TMNT to hit a third generation of little boys.

The Art of Whine-Making

Marketing to kids is a carefully developed and refined science that we call "the art of whine-making." It's a huge and lucrative business. Children themselves spend $24.4 billion each year directly. But the big bucks are in the "influence" market, perhaps as high as $300 billion, the amount of parental spending that children can directly or indirectly influence.

James U. McNeal, a professor of marketing at Texas A&M, is perhaps the foremost expert on selling to children. To McNeal, children should be viewed as "as economic resources to be mined."

Advertising agencies spend huge amounts of money on consultants and psychologists who specialize in manipulating children through advertising. They design commercials that work in two steps: the cause the children to whine, and the children cause their parents to buy the advertised product.

Cheryl Idell, chief strategic officer for Western Initiative Media Worldwide, says that "Nagging falls into two categories. There is persistent nagging, the fall-on-the-floor kind, and there is importance nagging, where a kid can talk about it." She writes reports with titles such as as the "Nag Factor" and "The Art of Fine Whining" for major children's advertisers. She advises her clients that childrens' nagging triggers about a third of a given family's trips to a fast-food restaurant, to buy children's clothing or toys. Her job is to make your life as a parent miserable.

So how can you as a parent control this onslaught of media manipulation? Some ideas:

Some helpful reading:

Why They Whine: How Corporations Prey on our Children
by Gary Ruskin, Commercial Alert

The impact of commercialization on children

Marketing To Children Harmful:
Experts Urge Candidates To Lead Nation In Setting Limits