Monday, January 01, 2007

There Are Some Potential New Year Resolutions Here

Happy New Year!

The "Exhibit" spread in the January/February 2007 issue of Mother Jones is about advertising. Titled "Ad Nauseum," it includes some statistics that should make all of us a bit embarrassed by our profession.

In the area of marketing to children:

Placing ads inside video games is expected to be a $1 billion industry by 2010. One-third of revenues will come from "advergaming" such as Sneak King, an Xbox game created by Burger King.

Advertisers spend more than $12 billion a year marketing to kids. The average American child is exposed to 40,000 ads per year.

When Dateline NBC recently asked children to choose between a banana and a rock with a Scooby-Doo sticker on it for breakfast, nearly all chose the rock.

Disney sells its own brand of fruits and vegetables stickered with its characters.

In 2003, Hasbro introduced the Play-Doh McDonald's Restaurant Playset (with which kids can "extrude Play-Doh shakes and fries") and the Play-Doh George Foreman Grill.

Monopoly now features playing pieces molded in the image of McDonald's french fries, a Toyota Prius, a Motorola cell phone, and a Starbucks mug.

M&M's sells books—in regular and peanut—designed to teach babies and preschoolers how to count using its candies.

Nike logos and General Motors cars were drawn into recent DC and Marvel comics. DC says its superheroes will start pushing "a lot more health and beauty care" products.

References to "a killer coat of Lipslicks" and other Cover Girl products were worked into Cathy's Book, a novel for 12- to 17-year-old girls published in October.

Marketing to children this way is big business. It's also, in my view, unethical. Young children are not at a stage in their cognitive development where they can distinguish between advertising and other information the way adults can. The ads are designed to capitalize on this to manipulate them, and agencies that specialize in marketing to children hire child psychologists to figure out how best to take advantage of that.

As I read that list of stats in Mother Jones I thought about a scene in the excellent documentary The Corporation in which one of those psychologists, responding to a question about whether this is ethical, looks puzzled and says, "Our job is to move product!"

There's also the onoging degradation of our public space and environment - the destruction of the commons, as I think of it:

Last fall, CBS carved the name of its new program Jericho into a Kansas cornfield.

CBS also hired EggFusion, an "on-egg messaging" company, to print its logo on 35 million eggs.


In November 2005, Sony hired graffiti artists to spray-paint PlayStation ads on walls in Los Angeles, Miami, and 5 other cities.

In 2001, San Francisco fined IBM $120,000 for spray-painting city sidewalks. The next year, Microsoft was fined $1,050 for sticking decals on New York sidewalks.

Marketers aren't, of course, the only professionals who ignore the consequences of their work. We just happen to be the group I care about, because it's my profession.

It would be nice if, as we entered 2007, we all resolved to do our jobs well... but without taking advantage of children, or turning the whole world into an interruption-marketing ad opportunity. We have to live in this world, too. Our kids will be the target of advertisers, too. It's worth remembering as we do our work.

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