PESTER POWER. Tweening. Viral marketing. Juliet Schor, a psychiatrist and economist, exposes the multibillion-dollar advertising schemes aimed at America's kids in Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture. TIME met with Schor:
Why have kids become the target of so much advertising? Kids have a lot more money than they once did, mostly from parents, grandparents and friends. Kids also are much more empowered in parental expenditures, from buying a car to picking a tourist destination to food purchases. Children are inside much more, and they watch more television and other electronic media.
What type of advertising is going on in schools? About 31% of the nation's middle and high schoolers are subjected to a daily news program called Channel One, which is mandatory viewing. If your school has signed on for this, it's a 10-minute broadcast, plus two minutes of overt advertising. The products they advertise tend to be junk food, violent movies--a questionable set of products. There are schools that accept advertising on their buses, on their walls.
How well do marketing messages work on young kids? Market researchers find kids can identify brands from something like 18 months old. Some brand logos are better known than almost anything else: the Golden Arches, Mickey Mouse, the Nike swoosh.
You write about tweening. What is it? Tweening is the marketing of sexually revealing clothing to kids, along with teen music, makeup to girls, more violent toys to younger boys and so forth. A tween is what years ago used to be called a preteen. Some marketers have even stretched the concept of tween down to 6-year-olds.
What impact do kids have on parents' purchases? Researchers estimate that about $600 billion of adult spending is now "influenced" by children. If you look at the kids' channels, you will see adult products being advertised. Hotels, automobiles, technology--kids weigh in on a wide range of parental purchases.
What is trans-toying? It's an industry term for taking everyday utilitarian objects and turning them into toys. It's turning a shampoo container into a toy by putting a character on top or on a toothbrush. It's turning a Band-Aid into a tattoo, a food into a toy.
What impact does all of this have on kids? I found that with most of the kids I interviewed and surveyed, the more consumer culture they were involved in, the more they had conflicts and fights with their parents. Those kids who are heavily involved in consumer culture are depressed; they're anxious; they don't feel well.
Why are they anxious and depressed? They're more likely to have poor self-esteem, which is not a surprise because a lot of the messages consumer culture sends them are that you're nobody if you don't have the right tennis shoes or you're not drinking the right soft drink. Life isn't fun unless you're eating candy. Your parents are nerds. Your teachers are nerds. School is a bore.
Do you favor laws against these practices? I do. The Federal Government has really abdicated its responsibilities in terms of regulating the kids' marketplace. There's something referred to as the Parents' Bill of Rights, some of which is being introduced in Congress, to get some control over the kind of Wild West atmosphere that has developed in children's marketing in the last 15 years.