Posts tagged: marketing & kids

Fighting Unethical Children’s Advertising

By , October 22, 2008 3:17 pm

Do you ever get upset about the excess of marketing targeted at your children?  How about the sexualization of children’s toys and ads?  Even without TV, it is hard to miss the barrage of ads, “licensed characters” and sleazy or violent toys.  We see it everywhere: in children’s magazines, in the grocery stores, and even (or so I have been told) in the public schools.

Some people don’t seem to mind, and that is OK.  But if you are a parent who feels manipulated, angry and frustrated by every trip to the supermarket, toy store, or even book store, then head on over to Parents For Ethical Marketing and meet Lisa Ray, a mom who is not just complaining, but is actually trying to DO something about it!

Lisa started her website and blog in 2007.  Via her blog that began as a simple creative outlet, Lisa discovered her true passion: fighting corporate marketing targeted at children.

Now a year later, she is taking her website one step farther.  Lisa is creating a non-profit organization to help her take real action to curb unethical children’s marketing.  Her plans include educating the public via free workshops for parent groups, newsletters and her blog, Corporate Babysitter.  She also hopes to influence legislation and encourage parents to write to corporations about marketing policies that displease them.

Lisa’s goal is to raise $10,000 by Thanksgiving.  Read more here.  If you like what you read, then you can make a donation to her cause via the Parents for Ethical Marketing page at

It is so easy to sit back and complain about what displeases us, but very few people have the energy or drive to actually try and do something about it.  Thank you for taking this cause and running with it Lisa.  I applaud you!

(Thanks to and photographer Anita Patterson Peppers for this lovely photo.)

Parents: Be Heard

By , February 19, 2008 8:34 am

If you would like an opportunity to let some big corporations know your concerns about their social and environmental impact, particularly with regards to your children, then head on over to Parents for Ethical Marketing (aka. Corporate Babysitter). Lisa has been contacted by a marketing agent who wants feedback from parents to pass along to her corporate clients. She has a few questions that she would like interested parents to answer.

Instead of all of us engaging in our usual collective grumble about unsafe toys, poor environmental practices, and the like, here is a chance to get productive and speak up!

Life Under my Rock – “Ad? What Ad?”

By , January 30, 2008 9:39 pm

For those of you who have not been keeping up with the blogs Shaping Youth or Corporate Babysitter (aka. Parents for Ethical Marketing), there has been a HUGE debate raging over a certain Target print ad. The debate even made it into a New York Times article! Since I have been away on another planet for the past two months (between the holidays and blog moving), I only just discovered this controversy last night as I tried to play a little catch-up with my Blogroll.

There has been enough said on all sides of this debate, so my two-cents on the intention or appropriateness of the photo would really be overkill at this point in the process. Besides, any intelligent remark would only be drowned by the endless sea of flaming comments that are bombarding these two unfortunate bloggers.

My point in bringing this up is not to stir up further controversy, but to mention my revelation when I first read about the Target ad: I must really be living under a rock to have not seen this ad that everyone else in the universe HAS seen!

Part of this ignorance or innocence (depending on your point of view) stems from the fact that I live in the boonies. The nearest Target is about 3 hours away so we don’t see billboard ads for anything much other than Cellular One and local businesses.

The other, and more major cause of my uninformed state, is obviously my lack of television. With TV, we would be exposed to far more marketing than we are now. This controversy made me think more about advertising and children.

Since the average child in the US is supposedly exposed to 40,000 TV-ads annually, it seems that parents ought to come up with some sort of strategy for dealing with this commercial barrage.

In my mind, there are three approaches to dealing with kids and TV commercials:

1) Don’t worry about the number of ads they see:

The easiest approach, but you still might want to read on. I have some suggestions further down for discussing ads with your kids and teaching them a bit about media manipulation.

2) Limit the number of ads that your children view:

Some practical suggestions for accomplishing this:

– Limit their network TV viewing time.

– Choose PBS over advertising channels. They’ll see some “brought to you by…” stuff, but that seems far less blatantly manipulative than mainstream ads.


3) Totally eliminate TV advertising from your children’s lives:

How to do it:

– Get rid of the TV (but this is awfully drastic and is not for everyone)

– Allow them to watch only PBS or any other commercial-free channels out there (won’t work if the “brought to you by…” bothers you too.)

– Have them watch only videos and DVDs.

– TIVO or videotape the kids’ programs minus the ads. Have them watch the recorded versions.

How to handle TV advertising and your children is a very individual choice and one approach does not work for all families. I am not preaching any particular philosophy here! Think about it, and decide for yourselves.

But whether your children see a lot of ads, or only a few, I think another important aspect of dealing with advertising and children is to talk to them about the ads that they see. Here are some suggestions:

For young children:

– Have them call out “Commercial!” whenever an ad comes on. Children under the age of 5 often have a hard time distinguishing between a program and a commercial.

– Have kids count the number of ads in one hour, or time the length of each commercial.

– Talk to children about what is being advertised and how it is made to seem appealing. Do they think that Barbie can really dance all by herself?

For grade-schoolers:

– Show kids that you are skeptical. Ask them who they think created the ad. What is the message? What information is missing from the ad? Do you believe what is being shown? Show them that many ads attempt to make the viewer feel that life would be better, or more comfortable, or “cooler” with the product in question.

For pre-teens:

– Mute the ad and have your child tell you what he or she thinks the ad is saying. Or have your child cover their eyes and then describe to you what they think the ad showed.

For better or for worse, ads are a part of our world and they aren’t going to go away anytime soon. So learning to deal with advertising and how it works seems to me to be an important life lesson, one that even TV-free kids will have to learn eventually.


Some of my suggestions came from PBS Parents: Children and Media

A related post of mine: Combating Commercials

Image thanks to Wikimedia Commons and photographer David Monniaux.

Combating Commercials (Christmas/Holidays Unplugged)

By , December 8, 2007 11:28 pm

I still remember growing up and seeing TV ads with Barbie looking gorgeous and twirling around by herself and thinking that if I had that particular Barbie, she would dance around like that and be like a best friend to me instead of a plastic doll, and my life would be perfect. Well, Santa did occasionally bless me with that wonderously miraculous gift of the moment, but the wonderous gift never did what it seemed to in the ads, and it never changed my life.

How do we explain to kids that what is in the ads they see, is not what would come in the package under the tree? The easiest way is to have no TV, so they see no ads.

Barring that more radical approach, the book Unplug the Christmas Machinehas some good suggestions for how to teach your kids about TV commercials:

According to this book, studies have shown that children under the age of 5 cannot distinguish TV commercials from actual programs. (Thanks for the link Dana!)

The authors suggest that parents watch at least one hour of TV with children, in order to discuss commercials.

+ Have young children call out “commercial” whenever an ad appears.
+ Talk to children (especially older children) about what is being advertised and how the product is made to seem appealing.
+ Have older kids count the number of commercials in one hour, or even have them time the length of each commercial.

Here are some ideas that grabbed me from the website PBS Parents: Children and Media:

+ For Grade Schoolers:

“When watching TV with your child, question the commercials.Voice your skepticism by posing questions such as these: Who do you think created this ad? What do you think the message is? What might the advertiser not be telling us? Do you think you can believe what you see? Start with obvious targets—ads promoting high-fat foods, for example—then move on to more subtle ads, such as those promoting a cool or attractive lifestyle. Explain how advertisements are often meant to make people feel that something is missing from their lives. “

+ For Pre-Teens:

Try muting an ad and have your child tell you what he or she thinks the ad is saying. Or…have your child close their eyes and tell you what he or she thinks it is showing.

There are so many more wonderful ideas grouped by age at PBS Parents: Children and Media, that I shall just have to link to them by age here:

Grade Schoolers


Quote of the Day:

“Adolescents, youths, and even children, are easy victims of the corruption of love. Deceived by unscrupulous adults, who, lying to themselves and to them, draw them into the dead-end streets of consumerism.”

– Pope Benedict XVI, quoted today while talking about Christmas (heard on tonight’s NPR All Things Considered)

Sorry this is so “heavy.” I am not Catholic, nor do I usually get into religion on my blog, but I did think this was a quote worth thinking about, no matter what one’s beliefs.

Read all the Christmas/Holidays Unplugged posts here.

Santa Lists and Sponge Bob (Christmas/Holidays Unplugged)

By , December 3, 2007 7:52 pm

I have already written my “making a list” post, but that was not about a “kid kind of list.” I have not discussed what to do about kids’ lists because I always take the lame way out and DON’T ASK my kids what they want for Christmas, and have never told them that they could even write to Santa and ask for things. “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” right? If it works for the military, it works for me.

Without TV, kids don’t necessarily know about these lists and “cool toys,” but they do pick up an amazing amount of information on the playground, so I think the Christmas list issue might come up soon.

I honestly had not thought about the whole Christmas list dilemma until I read this post at Outside the (Toy) Box. What do you do when your kids want Sponge Bob Cyber-Slime 3D-Goggles and a Disney Jasmine Nail Glitter and Flavored Lip Gloss Set for Christmas? How do you give a child that magic “…moment where the clouds part and the angels sing when she looks under the tree…” and still be true to your (and hopefully ultimately their) values?

I think “Mom” is BRILLIANT!!! She has come up with the ideal solution in my mind. She suspects that rather than “Genius,” she might be a “Mistress of Manipulation” or a “Spineless Sell-Out,” but I vote for “Genius.”

For her four year-old she created a poster with cutouts of different toys that her daughter could request from Santa. Please read her very funny post.

To expand on her idea, I suppose you could choose catalogs that contain 100% toys that you approve of and let kids pick from those. Of course perhaps you still ought to edit a bit. Like those $200 wooden play stands? Just cut them out with scissors if you want! Any queries from the small fry regarding the holes in the pages? Well…maybe Santa has some things that are “out of stock” too. After all, magic only goes so far.

There are some great stores out there that do offer print catalogs. I would suggest:

Back to Basics Toys

Rosie Hippos
Nova Natural
Chinaberry (WONDERFUL catalog, but mostly books, so good to give to readers for picking gifts, but there are a few toys and games too)
Callie’s Corner
Culture for Kids (lots of books but videos, music and other items too)
For Small Hands
Montessori N’Such
The Wooden Wagon

Good luck!

Photo thanks to and photographer Mike Rash.

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