Kids of today are the future consumers of tomorrow. Marketers and consumer brands have understood and identified this fact and have targeted their marketing efforts towards this generation to emotionally attach with them and raise loyal customers for them. As stated by the VC of J. Walter Thompson a renowned advertising agency that marketing and advertising is not only about creating awareness of products but the bigger idea is to create a future consumer base who are eager to buy more and attach with the brand. Marketers and advertisers have targeted young adults and kids through emotional advertising, as according to Journal of the American Medical Association the kids in the age range of two till seventeen spend more time watching television (on average 15000 to 18000 hours annually) than they spend in school.
Recently a new market segment has emerged referred to as “tween” including kids from age 8 to 12, the marketers are focusing on this segment to raise a new generation of shopaholics.
Stats show that 52 million children in the age group 6 to 12 years are the most profitable market segment globally. This market segment spends $40 billion dollars of their own and influence indirectly $700 billion worth of spending. While TV advertising is a main source of persuasion kids today are multi-tasking in between their phones, IPods, internet and TV, thus are exposed to targeted marketing infusing the love of spending among them at an early age.
This paper discusses and argues that targeted marketing to children is creating anxious, narcissist, materialistic and greedy future generation by encouraging them to spend more, nag more and be impatient.
Emotional Selling Leading To Consumerism
One of the core principles of marketing and advertising is that creating an affectionate relationship between a brand and a consumer will result in a long-term loyalty. This approach is apparent from several campaigns we come across daily, however when advertising to children is concerned this is the only strategy. Marketers carefully choose and use the common emotional stages of young children to connect with them and influence their actions (buying). Most of the ads for children related products show happy, healthy families spending time together or portray the image of a cool kid. At a young and growing age a child’s cognitive skills are not developed to take the right meaning of that advertising but they remember how the ad connected with them. Most psychologist believe that the way advertisement industry exploit the emotional weakness among children is not only unethical but it can have long term effects on the personality of the children.
Advertising experts believe that unlike any other era, today the older generation has more money than their ancestors and less time for their families. The rising rate of divorces, single parents and divided families have also played a role in encouraging children to buy more to be happy. Children from disturbed families are bound to be attracted by the family oriented advertisements as a way of escape.
The media industry around us is defining the norms and standard for everyone. From muscular action figures with weapons to destroy to Barbie dolls and Disney princesses with makeup, revealing clothing and high heels, the media has defined what kids need. From as early as 2 years old the toys for girls and boys unconsciously instill this identity into the kids. The toys are heavily influenced with the movies that may or may not be appropriate for that age of kids, however advertising for such toys relates owning them with style, pride and popularity. thus in an indirect way the consumer brands direct kids of what they have to be, while most boy brands focus on being macho and violent , the brands for girls make them learn the objectification of their bodies. Comparatively teenage girls are easy target for most industries from tobacco, alcohol and diet to clothing and accessories as they connect emotionally with the unrealistic body images, beauty idols and certain person, showed by these ads to glamorize the product. Media stereotyping forces them to buy the “cool” stuff and become like the models/characters associated with the products, inculcating anxiety among them at such as early age.
Consumerism among children
Consumerism defines what people want and buy, advertising and marketing campaign focus on creating that sense of want among people. While adults can understand the advertising clichés and messages and can decide what they want versus what they need.. Today the media and advertising is dictating what to eat or what to wear with a much more powerful impact.
Several studies have shown that children are unaware of the “selling” intent in the advertisements. The cognitive abilities of children limits them to understand the actual benefit to them because they are overwhelmed by the emotional attachment factor used in the ad. For example ready to eat cereals for kids is one of the most actively advertised products which is disguised as the healthy alternative and endorsed by celebrities and favorite cartoon or fantasy characters with free toys and gifts is the sure way to attract the kids and influence their parents to buy it.
Additionally, most kids do not differentiate between programs and advertisements with host selling. Though host selling has been prohibited yet most channels for kids are still doing it. While the desired outcome of these advertising companies are met but with some undesired outcomes. Most of the ads aired during kids’ programs are related to unhealthy, junk, sugary foods that either result in disturbed eating habits or parent child conflict.
Studies show that the appearance of a favorite actual or fantasy celebrity in an ad, changes the way kids view the product. Most of the fast food and junk food companies create strong ties with the celebrity figures and their products. Sports stars endorsing junk and sugary foods makes the kids believe that they can become like those stars however in reality they cannot achieve that physical appearance or popularity. Singers like Britney spears and Beyoncé endorsing fizzy drinks give the message that the consumers can be like them by just using the product, and that feeling will make them spend more and more on that product.
How consumerism is encouraging narcissism
The basic idea behind consumerism is to make a person feel privileged by buying a certain product. Children and young adult are emotionally weak and are not equipped to understand the persuasion techniques used in the advertising and thus fall easy prey to ads and media. The anxiety to stay ahead and to be better than others by buying certain brands, creates a feeling of constant sadness as the kid wants to feel the pride and be the best every time. As the author of the book The Good Life: Wellbeing and the New Science of Altruism, Selfishness and Immorality, Graham Music discusses in his book that the rise of consumerism in children from a young age is the reason for selfish, cunning and insensitive children/adults.
Children even in the age range of 9-10 years do not understand how brands enforce their messages through entertainment, most children feel obliged to buy more from a brand that associates with their favorite character or series.
The Millennial Generation & Self Obsession
The study found that the self-obsession score of the respondents was highly related, that is the respondents born in 2000s scored way more that those who were born in 1980s and 1990s. The study stated that the sense of self obsession or narcissism does not only affect the spending habits but it also affects the general behavior of those children too. For example people who feel superior have problems staying in a relationship, mostly have unhappy married life and are prone to depression in later life. This is due to the fact that narcissism instills a love of money, prominence and persona portrayed.
Studies show that consumerism and direct marketing to kids and young adults have significantly increase materialism and anxiety. While there’s no end to the spending spree, it is suggested by several experts that family life and marital relations have suffered due to materialism and narcissism. As believed by psychologists that over spending is a way people make up for the emptiness in their life and feel better by having the ability to buy the most expensive or exquisite.
The kids of this era are bombarded by targeted advertising everywhere. From magazines and billboards to TV commercials, internet and emails. The impact of every marketing campaign intended for kids has grown ten folds due to the multiple channels the kids use to interact with brands. The marketing efforts of most of the consumer brands are focused on creating an emotional link with the kids and gradually transform them into a loyal customer. To instill consumerism among kids, companies have used stereotyping techniques portraying young boys and girls with a definite set of characteristics such as bold, sexy, powerful, controlling and rude. The continual exploitation of these messages for kids have significantly changed their personalities and their thinking patterns. Kids want to be the model in the ad, they want to be the best and believe that by associating with certain brands they will be better than others. This urge to be the best keeps them in constant pressure that not leads them into narcissism, depression and anxiety. The way brands associate certain qualities with their product, forces the young consumer to follow the trends even if that leads to an unethical and vulgar way of life. Most of the models and celebrities associated with the brands also imply certain qualities and since young consumers have emotional bonding with their celebrity stars they are forced into staying loyal to the product. The young adults and kids are not aware of the actual intent of the product marketing and thus are incapable of deciding what’s right for them, however the way ads portray success and happiness targets the emotional weakness of the kids and builds a relation with them giving them a fake sense of liberation, freedom and self-obsession. The millennial generation is the most targeted market segment for most brands due to the fact that they are prone to over sending and easy prey to the media stereotypes, additionally since they will be the sole decision maker in the next decade, making them a loyal consumer today will influence their buying habits tomorrow.
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