Updated: Nov 24, 2020
In the prior post, we gave just a single example of marketing that targets parents in order to mislead them. Children need a different kind messaging to attract them. This is why Saturday morning cartoons, back when that was a thing, had so many commercials. Even at this point, I can remember some of those commercials. There were Lunchables, the cool way of taking processed carcinogens and loads of fat and sugar to lunch each day. There were Ecto Cooler Juice Boxes, which were rectangle containers of syrup that I thought were paranormal. And, of course, there were the short stories with Ronald McDonald, Grimace, and the gang, selling us on “Happy Meals” of carcinogens, artery cloggers, and sugar highs. These days, childrens’ television isn’t restricted to Saturday mornings.
Let us imagine a little boy named Samuel. If he’s an average child in the US, it’s estimated that he’ll see about 1 food commercial for every 5 minutes of TV. With kids watching at least 2 hours of TV per day after the age of 2, this means he’ll watch 24 food ads every single day. Most of these commercials are for fatty, sugary, foods or fast food restaurants where such foods can be purchased- often with a toy. Absolutely none of these commercials is for any fruit or vegetable. Samuel may never encounter Popeye and his spinach.
The goal of this marketing endeavor is much greater than having the child pester their parent into a one-time sale. These ads are just the beginning of a campaign to capture him for life. As this he gets older, he’ll encounter advertising targeting him at each stage of his life. By the time he graduates from high school, he’ll have seen 180,000 food ads—and that’s just television. He’ll take the impressions made upon him and carry that with him when he starts his own family. This strategy eventually means that Samuel's whole family has loyalty to that food brand.
As adults, we eat similar foods as when we were kids. Granted, we’ll typically choose foods more sophisticated than Frankenberry cereal, but the quality of the food is roughly the same, and the parent companies are probably the same. Despite knowing that they do physical damage to our bodies, I still have warm and tempting memories of the foods in those commercials from decades ago, courtesy of nostalgia.
This form of child targeting is even more egregious because children younger than 6 can’t tell the difference between the TV show and the advertising. It takes until 8 years old, for kids to understand that the advertisements are trying to convince them of something. Before that, they just take it as truth. There is over $2 BILLION dollars being spent every year on marketing junk food and junk drinks to children. The most vulnerable and impressionable time in our lives, in our children’s lives, is the foundation of these companies’ bottom lines.
We have been subject to an advanced marketing campaign since we were children. Despite that, this is our problem and our lives; we must solve it. Beyond Medicine can help with that.
Story, Mary, and Simone French. “Food Advertising and Marketing Directed at Children and Adolescents in the US.” The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, BioMed Central, 10 Feb. 2004, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC416565/.
American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/topics/kids-media/food.
“The Facts on Junk Food Marketing and Kids.” Prevention Institute,