* Children cannot comprehend advertising messages due to their young age. * Children don’t understand persuasive intent until they are eight or nine years old and that it is unethical to advertise to them before then. According to Karpatkin and Holmes from the Consumers Union, “Young children, in particular, have difficulty in distinguishing between advertising and reality in ads, and ads can distort their view of the world. ” Additionally children are unable to evaluate advertising claims. Beder, 1998) * Older children pay less attention to advertisements and are more able to differentiate between the ads and TV programs but they are also easy prey for advertisers. Around puberty, in their early teens, children are forming their own identities and they are “highly vulnerable to pressure to conform to group standards and mores. ” At this age they feel insecure and want to feel that they belong to their peer group.
Advertising manipulates them through their insecurities, seeking to define normality for them; influencing the way they “view and obtain appropriate models for the adult world;” and undermining “fundamental human values in the development of the identity of children. ” Advertisements actively encourage them to seek happiness and esteem through consumption. (Beder, 1998) * Younger children often do not understand the persuasive intent of advertisements, and even older children probably have difficulty understanding the intent of newer marketing techniques that blur the line between commercial and program content. Calvert, 2008)
* One key area in research on the effect of advertising on children has been analysis of age-based changes in children’s ability to understand commercial messages, particularly their intent. Before they reach the age of eight, children believe that the purpose of commercials is to help them in their purchasing decisions; they are unaware that commercials are designed to persuade them to buy specific products. The shifts that take place in children’s understanding of commercial intent are better explained using theories of cognitive development. Calvert, 2008) * During the stage of preoperational thought, roughly from age two to age seven, young children are perceptually bound and focus on properties such as how a product looks. Young children also use animistic thinking, believing that imaginary events and characters can be real. For instance, during the Christmas season, television is flooded with commercials that foster an interest in the toys that Santa will bring in his sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. Young children “buy in” to these fantasies and the consumer culture they represent.
Preoperational modes of thought put young children at a distinct disadvantage in understanding commercial intent and, thus, in being able to make informed decisions about requests and purchases of products. (Calvert, 2008) * With the advent of concrete operational thought, between age seven and age eleven, children begin to understand their world more realistically. They understand, for example, that perceptual manipulations do not change the underlying properties of objects. More important, they begin to go beyond the information given in a commercial and grasp that the intent of advertisers is to sell products.
By the stage of formal operational thought, about age twelve and upward, adolescents can reason abstractly and understand the motives of advertisers even to the point of growing cynical about advertising. (Calvert, 2008) * Increased use of the Internet to target children offers increasing opportunities for advertisers to convey their messages. * A new arena for advertising is the Internet. It is estimated that about four million children are using the Internet worldwide and this figure is bound to increase dramatically over the next few years. Beder, 1998) * As the enormous increase in the number of available television channels has led to smaller audiences for each channel, digital interactive technologies have simultaneously opened new routes to narrow cast to children, thereby creating a growing media space just for children and children’s products. (Calvert, 2008)
* Newer marketing approaches have led to online advertising and to so-called stealth marketing techniques, such as embedding products in the program content in films, online, and in video games. Calvert, 2008) * Television has long been the staple of advertising to children and youth. Children view approximately 40,000 advertisements each year. The products marketed to children— sugarcoated cereals, fast food restaurants, candy, and toys—have remained relatively constant over time. But marketers are now directing these same kinds of products to children online. (Calvert, 2008) * Rapid growth in the number of television stations and online venues has also led advertisers to market directly to children and youth.
Because children and youth are heavy media users and early adopters of newer technologies, media marketing and advertising campaigns using both television and newer media are efficient pathways into children’s homes and lives. Although television is still the preferred medium for reaching children and youth, marketers are exploring how to reach this age group online using cell phones, iPods, game platforms, and other digital devices. Banner ads, for example, which resemble traditional billboard ads but market a product across the top of an Internet page, appear on most webpages.
And “advergames” integrate products such as cereal and candy into online video games to sell products to youth. (Calvert, 2008) * Although television is still the dominant venue for advertising, marketers are exploring new ways to market to children and adolescents through online media and wireless devices, often using stealth techniques whereby consumers are immersed in branded environments, frequently without knowing that they are being exposed to sophisticated marketing campaigns. Marketers carefully analyze children and adolescents’ interest patterns, focusing on games for “tweens,” as well as communication software for teens.
Tracking these patterns provides extensive information that marketers now analyze in aggregate form, but that can, in the future, be used for one-on-one relational marketing strategies directed at specific individuals. (Calvert, 2008) * Online interactive agents are a virtual form of stealth advertising. Marketers program robots, or bots, to reply? to surfers who initiate a conversation. Such bots are programmed to respond to users in a one-on-one relational way that builds brand loyalty, as for instance, with virtual bartenders who “talk” to those who visit their sites.
These alcohol-related websites feature humor, games, and hip language to appeal to minors. (Calvert, 2008) * Many companies have realized that children, particularly tweens and teens, enjoy using technology for education, communication, and entertainment purposes. The Internet allows tweens and teens to become involved with, explore, and learn about products when and where they want to (Schumann and Thorson, 2007).
* Some marketers suggest that the best way to engage children through the Internet is by the use of ‘viral’ or buzz marketing strategies that encourage children to email their avourite commercials and other product information to each other (Schumann and Thorson, 2007). As the Internet has continued to grow in prominence and commercial strength, concerns about this medium have grown accordingly, particularly as they relate to children and teens (Schumann and Thorson, 2007).
* Typically, these concerns focus around issues of time spent on the Internet and its effect on intellectual and social development, the vulnerability of children to advertisers’ tactics and children’s access to inappropriate content (Schumann and Thorson, 2007). One of the concerns often voiced about children and Internet advertising is how much time children are exposed to advertising messages while online and also how much attention they pay to these messages (Schumann and Thorson, 2007). * Because exposure to Internet advertising is not regulated like advertising on broadcast television, there is concern about the amount of exposure that a child may have to advertising messages. On television, a single advertisement for a single brand may last 30-60 seconds before switching to another advertisement.
On the internet, however, a child can spend hours on a single web site playing games, chatting to friends, catching up on product news, all while being continually exposed to a range of persuasive messages for that brand (Schumann and Thorson, 2007). * While television and other media have long been used to sell to children, the Internet presents some important differences. For example, television advertisers are asked to maintain a clear separation between content and advertising; Internet advertisers are not.
And television advertisers are prohibited from using their corporate logos both as content and pitchmen at the same time; Internet advertisers face no such restrictions. As a result, Tony the Tiger has free rein among the games, quizzes and activities on Kellogg’s site, while on television he is restricted to station breaks (Carleton, 2000). * Today, children spend an estimated $130 million annually, and influence another $500 million in household purchases.
And the Internet is a great place to reach those young consumers (Carleton, 2000). * Unlike traditional media, the Internet allows children and adolescents to access different kinds of content, and a specific characteristic is that this can be done in privacy, without the knowledge of parents (Marshall, 2010). * The most influential sources of information for children today making decisions and keeping contact with peers are media, meaning that children receive far more information from media than from parents and schools.
This phenomenon has been called ‘the parallel school of media’, which means that children and adolescents will daily use up several hours on various media (Marshall, 2010). * Children can very quickly adopt and use new media technology and companies and advertising agencies are extremely innovative and creative when it is a question of targeting children with commercial messages (Marshall, 2010).
* Children are targeted because of the amount of money they spend on themselves, the influence they have on their parents and because of the money they will spend when they grow up (three different markets). Young children are increasingly the target of advertising and marketing because of the amount of money they spend themselves, the influence they have on their parents spending (the nag factor) and because of the money they will spend when they grow up. (Beder, 1998) * Children represent three different markets. In addition to the direct money that children spend and the money they influence, children also represent a third major market and perhaps the most significant and that is the future market.
Advertisers recognise that brand loyalties and consumer habits formed when children are young and vulnerable will be carried through to adulthood. (Beder, 1998) * In Australia, children under 18 have an average $31. 60 to spend each week and they influence more than 70 per cent of their parents’ clothes and fast food purchases. (Beder, 1998) * Both the discretionary income of children and their power to influence parent purchases have increased over time. (Calvert, 2008) * The affluence of today’s children and adolescents has made youth a market eminently worthy of pursuit by businesses. Calvert, 2008)
* Evolution of a child consumer. (Beder, 1998) – From age 1: Accompanying Parents and Observing. Children are taken with their parents to supermarkets and other stores where all sorts of goodies are displayed. By the time a child can sit erect, he or she is placed in his or her culturally defined observation post high atop a shopping cart. From this vantage point the child stays safety in proximity to parents but can see for the first time the wonderland of marketing. – From age 2: Accompanying Parents and Requesting.
Children begin to ask for things that they see and make connections between television advertising and store contents. They pay more attention to those ads and the list of things they want increases. At the same time, the youngster is learning how to get parents to respond to his or her wishes and wants. This may take the form of a grunt, whine, scream, or gesture–indeed some tears may be necessary–but eventually almost all children are able on a regular basis to persuade Mom or Dad to buy something for them. – From age 3: Accompanying Parents and Selecting with Permission.
Children are able to come down from the shopping trolley and make their own choices. They are able to recognise brands and locate goods in the store. At this point the child has completed many connections, from advertisements to wants, to stores, to displays, to packages, to retrieval of want-satisfying products. For many parents this is a pleasing experience. Ditto for the marketers, for it signals the beginning of the child’s understanding of the want-satisfaction process in a market-driven society. – From age 4: Accompanying Parents and Making Independent Purchases.
The final step in their development as a consumer is learning to pay for their purchases at the checkout counter. – From age 5: Going to the Store Alone and Making Independent Purchases. – By the age of eight children make most of their own buying decisions. * Integrating a variety of different theoretical perspectives, Patti Valkenburg and Joanne Cantor advanced a developmental model? of how children become consumers * In the first stage (birth to two years), toddlers and infants have desires and preferences, but they are not yet true consumers because they are not yet truly goal-directed in their product choices. During the second stage (two to five years), preschoolers nag and negotiate, asking for and even demanding certain products.
At this point in their development, young children do not understand the persuasive intent of commercials; they focus on the attractive qualities of products and cannot keep their minds off the products for long. These developmental characteristics make them extremely vulnerable to commercial advertisements. By the end of this stage, children replace whining and throwing tantrums to get a desired product with more effective negotiation.
In early elementary school (five to eight years), children reach the stage of adventure and first purchases. They begin to make clearer distinctions between what is real and what is imaginary, their attention spans are longer, and they make their first purchases outside the company of their parents. * In the final stage (eight to twelve years), elementary school children are attuned to their peer groups’ opinions. Their critical skills to assess products emerge, and their understanding of others’ emotions improves considerably.
In the later years of this stage, interest shifts from toys to more adult-like products, such as music and sports equipment. Although children’s consumer behaviors continue to develop during the adolescent years, the foundation is laid in these early years with a progression from simple wants and desires to a search to fulfill those desires to making in- dependent choices and purchases to evaluating the product and its competition * (All Beder, 1998). The ability of elementary children to recognize both traditional online advertising such as banner and button ads and embedded advertising that is part of advergames seems to be limited.
With only about a third of the children able to accurately identify advertising, a large percentage is left unable to identify advertising content. * Children’s culture is increasingly dominated and defined by market interests, as advertisers, children’s industries, and other producers of consumer goods clamour to capture the hearts, minds and pocketbooks of this profitable demographic. * The creation of online communities and spaces for children and youth has thus become a growing and lucrative endevour for many media, toy and food companies.
This article provides a critical analysis of one such online community called NeoPets, whose premise is that users create or adopt a virtual pet to nuture. * Acquisition of currency (called ‘NeoPoints’), gained by playing various games, exchanging or selling items, filling out marketing surveys, and entering contests and games of chance, allows for the purchase o pet food and other virtual consumer products. * Neopets is part of a landscape of global, youthful, digital entertainment products that have emerged with the Internet and technological convergence.
In its few years of operation, 16 million users have created Neopets. According to promotional material, Neopets is one of the fastest growing Internet youth communities. * The neopets site generates revenue through a strategy it calls ‘immersive marketing’, a scheme similar to product placement in films. Food manufacturers and entertainment giants have thus flocked to neopets, eager to reach this youthful market through insinuation of their brand in games and activities on the site. * Neopets generates a substantial part of its revenue by providing market research and consumer studies of its users. The neopets website exemplifies the new ‘children’s digital media culture’- a culture which fosters deepening levels of intimacy between marketer and children by dissolving traditional barriers between ‘content and commerce’.
* In neopia, products and brand names are integrated within the many games and features that are part of the rich content on the site. Advertisers and entertainment companies such as Walt Disney, McDonalds and Mattel have flocked to Neopets, eager to reach the tween and teen market. * The majority of neopets users are under 18 years of age, with 39% below the age of 12 and 40% between 13-17 years old. Neopets conforms to modern conventions found in Saturday-morning cartoon series, comics, children’s advertising and product design: the use of a brightly coloured palate, with a predominance of primary and secondary colours, and highly-stylized ‘bubbly’ graphics.
* Immersive advertising directly integrates a sponsor’s product or service into the activities available with in the site. Advertisers hope that immersive advertising campaigns will encourage children to play with the products, thus enabling them to later identify their brand. As children and youth continue to expand their access and presence on the Internet, they adopt participatory roles in the creation of online content and contribute in meaningful ways to online environments, including games and communities.
* As children are sucked into the commercial marker in an increasingly competitive cradle-to-grave branding strategy, neopets strategy of immersive advertising amidst a fantastical community concerned with the ethos of acquisition and entrepreneurialism as entertainment provides a salient example of ‘childhood as a cultural space constituted by consumerism’. Neopets global marketing strategy of cross-media licensing and integrated marketing is a blatant example of branding children’s media environments. Slapping consumer culture onto children’s culture means we are denying children a degree of autonomy and agency in creating their own spaces.