My kids have only just started to watch commercial TV this year. They look forward to watching Dora the Explorer and Diego bright and (too) early on a Saturday morning. My oldest son actually loves watching the ads and gets annoyed with you if you turn them down whilst the commercial break is on. Thankfully we haven’t been pestered to buy any of the range of products that he’s now being bombarded with during these shows (yet).
Even without commercial TV kids are bombarded with branding from a very early age. Even when my kids were younger and didn’t watch Thomas or Bob the Builder, the amount of boys clothing in department stores that had these characters on it meant it was pretty much impossible to go through childhood without being exposed to them.
Hit Entertainment has an incredibly successful line with these two shows! There is a seemingly endless number of Thomas or Bob items that can be purchased. The Thomas the Tank Engine toy line alone conspires to produce a new movie with new characters each year specifically so there are new engines that children want to buy. Making a movie with the same old characters (aside from Thomas!) just wouldn’t provide the same revenue streams. Bob the Builder is the same. Never mind Scoop. Muck and Dizzy, and Roley too… now we have Packer, Scrambler, Sumsy, Dodger, Tumbler, Flex, Trix, Travis….. all up about 24 machines (but Bob has a long way to go to catch up to Thomas which has well over 100 trains and growing!).
The success of the Thomas and Bob brands to kids has been reinforced to me a few times this week when my youngest son has refused to wear plain underwear and demanded ‘Bob the Builder’ undies or a ‘Thomas’ shirt. I imagine it’s the same with girls. Just replace ‘Bob’ and ‘Thomas’ with ‘Disney Fairies’, ‘Bratz’ or ‘Barbie’.
An amazing phenomenon I’m observing now is a developing desire in my youngest son for Ben 10 branded things. He’s never even seen a Ben 10 show (and from my understanding he won’t be for a while as it is for much older kids with elements of violence) so this has been picked up from exposure in advertising and seeing store merchandise exclusively. Going by the size of the clothing in stores like Kmart and Target, Ben 10 is being marketed to kids as young as 5. Thomas and Bob is for 1-4 year olds at the most. This is dissappointing to my 6 year old who will still dearly love to wear Thomas clothes and hasn’t conformed to the store marketing image that says he should have grown out of it by now. Defeating the power of kids branding is going to be a serious challenge for my ethical clothing pledge (Vinnies here we come!).
I was really interested to read that this week San Francisco became the first major US city to ban the practice of giving away toy with high calorie, unhealthy kids meals. The argument for this is that the toys in ‘happy meals’ are a big hook for kids and are a major impetus for families to purchase these meals and thus contributing to the growing problem of childhood obesity. Happy Meals are yet another extremely clever marketing tool to entice consumers. I’m glad that McDonald’s has been taken down a peg. They get enough brand recognition with their golden arches. Every time we drive past one my youngest gleefully shouts ‘Donalds’!
I think when kids are old enough it’s important we talk to them about advertising and what it is trying to do – but what about when they’re not old enough? Should there be more regulation of ads? There is an interesting discussion on this topic (and religion as well) here.
But regulation won’t solve the problem of branding. As well as instilling messages in kids such as the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ that is ironically spouted all the time in Bob the Builder, we need to make them understand that advertising is about manipulation. Sites like this one Don’t Buy It developed by PBS kids are a good starting point for older kids to learn about ads. But modelling a way to live that shows them that we don’t need a whole heap of ‘stuff’ to be happy, and that healthy food can be yummy is probably the most important lesson. This can work at any age.
What are your thoughts on kids, advertising, branding and the like?
Image taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/gabegross/4988811794/sizes/l/in/photostream/ with thanks to gabe gross.