Marketing childhood happiness? No, thanks.

As Jenna noted, seems the Christmas Advertising Snow Job has begun. Today, I, too, found myself trying to shut out have-a-holly-jolly-Christmas jingles while perusing store aisles for very non-Christmas things.

Now, let me be clear. I’m not against Christmas jingles. Or Christmas shopping. And I certainly don’t mean to sound bah-humbug. It’s just that it all seems to have gotten, well … outta hand.

The holiday sale flyer for WalMart made its way through my mail slot earlier this week and, most unfortunately, didn’t make its way to the trash before Maeve noticed its enticing colors and images. Images and design geared for little ones just like her. (And those younger. And older.)

She wanted to flip through Every. Single. Darn. Page. Eyes wide with interest, she scanned up, down and across the ad, her little fingers struggling to keep the wide pages from spilling.

The look on her face got me thinking (and swearing I’d be more diligent in trashing the junk mail).

It’s seemingly quite a fierce marketing push to entice children these days. (Ouch. When someone says “these days,” they are about to make themselves sound very old. But I digress.)

Don’t get me wrong. I remember those early Saturday mornings, my sister and I still pajama-clad, balancing a bowl of cereal in our laps, seeking out the cartoon of the moment. And with that dose of Road Runner came commercials every 10 minutes.  Commercials stacked onto commercials, hocking toys, dolls, games and light-up-thingies that with a simple twist here and a tug there would become something else altogether.

And I loved it, coveting the Easy Bake Oven, a Lite-Brite and a Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine (oh, the quarters I knew I would make from selling the icy rainbow goodness in the neighborhood on hot, summer days) from right there on my parents’ couch.

So, I ask you: Is this an age-old issue and becoming a mama has simply heightened my sensitivity to it — or has wooing children through endless television commercials; “charactered” diapers, plates, cups, clothes and shoes (ever try to find a non-television character coloring book?); and toys with meals — actually gotten worse?

According to Campaign For a Commercial-Free Childhood, marketing to children “encourages eating disorders, precocious sexuality, youth violence, family stress, and contributes to children’s diminished capability to play creatively.”

A New York Times article in November 2004, according to CCFC, notes that “from 1992 to 1997, the amount spent marketing to children shot from $6.2 billion to $12 billion.” That’s double in five years. And that number? That’s 10 years ago.

It also notes that “almost every major media program for children has a line of licensed merchandise used to sell fast-food, breakfast cereals, snacks and candy.”

I started asking myself all sorts of questions, like why is none of this surprising to me? And, most important, what can I do to protect Maeve from it all? To keep from falling into the trap of it all?

But before panic sets in, I remember.

I remember jumping in puddles — in the rain — with my mom. And later attaching string to sticks and “fishing” in those very same puddles with my friends.

Or when a tornado twisted my new swingset into a pretzel and I thought the world as I knew it was over. The day after the storm, it was my mom who showed me how to use my imagination. After all, the tornado had uprooted a tree — and she couldn’ understand why I was sitting sad inside the house. I didn’t “get” the fun of finding the jungle gym nature had provided, until I saw my mom in the backyard climbing it herself, finding a perch and waving me over.

Or when my dad, a professional photographer, walked all around the neighborhood, teaching me about taking photos, him letting me use his grown-up cameras. And later he taught me how to develop our photos right in the bathtub.

Or the time two neighborhood boys decided I couldn’t play with them anymore — and my mom consoled me and told me to pick myself up and play on my own. She set up a little table outside, emptied a box of old fabric scraps and other “mom tricks,” and she and I had the Mother of All Craft/Play Sessions. Right there in our yard. Wasn’t too long before those boys were inching their way closer, wanting in on the fun.

Or getting up before the sun rose to go fishing with my dad at the lake, where we’d spend a few hours in the quiet of the just-waking morning.

Or the times my family would pile into the car and we’d head to the wildlife refuge near the university where my folks worked. We’d park and sit, and wait for a family of deer to make an appearance.

Funny. Ya know what?

I haven’t a clue if I ever got the Sno-Cone machine.

NaBloPoMo Stats: 4 down, 26 to go.



Filed under Children, Diapers, Family, Growing up, Maeve, NaBloPoMo, Parenting, Products

5 responses to “Marketing childhood happiness? No, thanks.

  1. We love Christmas itself. We had a Christmas themed wedding! But, GAH. I WANT SOME TURKEY FIRST.

  2. Given that I’m as old as dirt, I can remember having lots of non-manufactured fun. Like making my own skateboard from a plank and old pair of roller skates. Or making stilts from saplings we found in the woods. Hula hoops. Riding bikes and doing acrobatics in the yard. There were things that were marketed that we wanted too – Barbie was one thing I absolutely had to have.

    My kids have definitely had more regimented “fun” than I have. Our son was an indoor kind of kid, so getting him to do something without a screen has been a challenge – but once he found drama in high school he had plenty to do that wasn’t electronic. Our daughter has never been a problem – she loves to be outside and will do anything to spend her time in the fresh air. I guess a lot of it depends on the kids, too.

  3. As a marketer, we are taught to try to capture the youth market because no one has more influence on purchasing power than a child. Your child(ren)influences what you buy, where you live, what you drive, eat, where you vacation, etc. It is good business sense, even if it’s not good human sense. Plus, the time to capture someone’s brand loyalty is when they are young, as we are all creatures of habit (hello Coke, Pepsi, Heinz and Helman’s)

    We allow Kelsey to watch Nick Jr. and Sprout TV during the day. The have about 3 minutes of commericals on every single show. Kelsey reacts and says she wants many of the things she sees (especially if they are Dora or Diego related). She was also really into the TRU and Target toy books that just came out. It’s quite shocking to see a child react so strongly to television commercials, even though intellectually I have been one of those who create the spots for them.

    The good thing is that as a Marketing Professional, I do get to pick and choose the products I work for. I won’t work for a company whose product/ethics I don’t agree with. Not everyone is so high minded unfortunately. That’s why Pop Tarts and Lucky Charms exist.

    Thanks for the comment on my blog, it was very sweet!

  4. slightlycrunchymomma

    I enjoyed this!

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