Be Sure To Get Your Parents’ Permission Before Calling…Culture Changes vs. The Marketing Blame Game

When it comes to the ethics of marketing to children, people tend to have some pretty strong opinions. Most are quick to blame marketers for the erosion of society and the corruption, in some respects, of children because they push products from candy to video games. I tend to disagree and found some opinions that support my thoughts.

I feel that it’s more of a catastrophic change in American culture that has caused parents, legislators, and others to quickly blame marketers or media for issues that are actually tied to a technologically rich society that is time-pressed and always on the go. U.S. materialism has also seemed to grow through the years and marketers are responding to this rather than being the cause.

A quick Internet search referred me to a book by Karen Sternheimer titled It’s Not the Media: The Truth About Pop Culture’s Influence on Children and the author makes some good points, as reflected in some excerpts. One anaylsis of the book’s content makes some supportive points to my thoughts:

The new dangers of the Internet are explored, as well as the over-marketing of products to kids, and I again was challenged by the author’s idea that it is not the media that is over-marketing, but simply responding to a culture that is so much more materialistic than ever before. That I think we all can agree on. The chapter titles mostly all feature the word “fear” — Fear of Cartoons, Fear of the Internet, Fear of Music, and what makes this book so timely is the fact that we are living with such pervasive fear in our lives as perhaps never before. But unless we come to grips with what we are afraid of, and why, we may be harming our kids more than helping them by our media-bashing.

I agree with these points and take things a step further in feeling that new marketing strategies are the result of a busy society that uses things like online games created by strategic marketers as babysitters for parents who are too busy to spend actual quality time with children. For example, Hot Wheels offers a pretty cool games site to attract children while also tying in heavily with their toy cars and playsets.

The site follows all of the rules of marketing to children online as established by the FTC and others. You can read through them if you’d like, as they’re a pretty good cure for insomnia.

What’s more concerning to me is not the marketing messages or online delivery via games, but rather that our society has reached a point where children are increasingly more sluggish and sedentary and sit in front of the TV, video games, and online games like these rather than going outside to play with friends and be active. So, as children become more obese, more sedentary, and seemingly less interactive, society is quick to blame the marketers, from toymakers to fast food chains rather than the parents or guardians who don’t encourage healthful living and engagement with others for their children. Parents should still ultimately be the filter and engage their children.

I think back to when I was a child and would watch cartoons after school and on Saturday mornings. I remember the TV ads for toys that promoted movies like Star Wars to action figures like He-Man. While I received many marketing messages, it was nowhere near the volume children receive online, offline, and in print these days. However, I did a search for some of the old toy commercials from my childhood and found a striking difference from most that are available today.

They all mentioned the standard things like “some assembly required,” “sold separately,” and so on. But they also incorporated parents into the the ads and often show children being active and playing with the toys outside rather than sitting passively in front of a computer screen. This ad for Star Wars toys, for example, markets to children, but definitely ties in parents as well by actually addressing them specifically:

In the end, it seems that it still is the responsibility of parents to make sure that marketing messages aimed at their children are filtered and explained as needed. As marketers, it is more of our responsibility to ensure truth in what is presented, that ads are created with childrens’ ages and cognitive abilities in mind, and adhere to what is “right” vs. what may be “legal.” As the old saying goes, if your get instinct tells you something doesn’t feel right, you’re probably right, so don’t do it. It can help to avoid a lot of headaches down the road.


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