Jewish World Review May 13, 2004 / 22 Iyar, 5764
Let's pull ads targeting kids
I hate advertising that tries to hook kids on burgers, candy, soda, beer endorsed by adorable frogs, clothes straight out of music videos, sex straight out of music videos, character undies, thong undies, pricey toys, violent movies and - just because they sound so revolting - Hot Fudge Sundae Pop Tarts.
In other words, I'm probably just like most parents: trying to keep my kids out of the great marketing maw. And just like most parents, I'm failing.
Feel free to blame me. That is the usual response in a society that is all a-lather about personal responsibility. Tell me I'm letting my kids watch too much TV and not supervising their video games enough. Blame me for not "setting limits." But the fact is, there are no limits vast enough to keep the marketers at bay.
When I was a kid, there were Saturday morning cartoons for us and not much else. There also were laws that made it illegal to create a cartoon with the sole aim of selling toys and spinoffs.
Those laws were lifted in 1984 (thanks, President Reagan) and, a year later, 10 of the top 10 kid shows were linked to toys. Now we have shows linked to toys linked to food linked to movies linked to games linked to clothes linked to everything but Quaaludes (so far). Sponge Bob-shaped macaroni and cheese, for instance, was Kraft Foods' top-selling pasta product last year.
What was already a $6 billion kiddie ad industry in 1992 has almost tripled today. Comparing the ads of yesteryear to today's "is like comparing a BB gun to a smart bomb," says Susan Linn, author of "Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood."
Her point is this: Marketing to kids is absolutely everywhere, starting with preschool counting books that show, "One M&M! Two M&Ms!" There are even ads on so-called ad-free public TV. This explains why, after watching Clifford yesterday, my 6-year-old begged to go to Chuck E. Cheese.
He's never even seen a Chuck E. Cheese - except as a proud sponsor on PBS. McDonald's is a proud sponsor there, too. Of "Sesame Street." And, presumably, Type 2 diabetes.
As my boy changed out of his Rugrats p.j.'s into his Star Wars undies on his way to a breakfast of Corn Pops from a box featuring Spider-Man - the same superhero who was trying to co-opt Major League Baseball's bases last week, I felt a wave of despair.
I do try to limit my kids' TV watching. And their video games. And their whining. But no parent can fight a $15 billion onslaught alone. That's why Linn wants us to start demanding: No more marketing to kids.
Sure, that sounds impossible. But think of all the problems plaguing kids today - obesity and violence and precocious sexuality. Now think of all the food and movies and videos marketed at them. Connect the dots.
Marketing to kids hurts them. It exploits them. And it has to stop. It is time to set some limits on the advertising industry.
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JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.
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