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The answer to marketing to kids: Parents

Submitted by on Monday, 28 September 2009 No Comment
I'll admit it: The commercial where stoic, pseudo-intellectual teens take turns replacing body parts with Fruit by the Foot is funny.

I'll also admit that it started the guys clamoring for Fruit by the Foot with a fervor previously foreign to this household. It made me miss the gentle bygone days of commercial-free Noggin.

I'll also admit that I bought a box three days ago as a treat. "This is not really fruit," I said. "It's one of those once-in-a-while things that might taste good, but it's not helping you grow strong bodies and brains at all." The guys gulped down one each and quickly forgot about it. "It's really not that great," Big Guy said.

That would be end game, my friend, as they say in the commercial.

And that's why it amuses me that scientific publications such as the Journal for Adolescent Medicine are calling for the government to revisit policies covering online advertising and marketing to teens. They stop short of calling for a ban, but it's clear that they want officials to consider tighter regulations.

Online marketing is a whole new game, the researchers say, with tools that can seamlessly blur content and advertising. New media can immerse teens in a game then hit them with commercial messages when they're at their most vulnerable.

Sure, they can. And it's our job as parents to curb that influence.

We start by making children advertising-savvy at a very young age. "Yes, I know that race track looks great on TV. But toys aren't always as much fun once you get them home," I'll say. I have pile after pile of playthings I can point to as examples of what I'm talking about. It's been about a month since they last touched the person-sized bananas they once loved.

We monitor their online usage closely in the early stages - particularly as they clamor to go to sites attached to toys they love and junk they crave. The guys' computer isn't even hooked up to the "hinternet" yet, but Boots already can recite "Thomas and Friends Dot Com."

And we teach them to evaluate what they hear, read and play and to tell the difference between a "need" and a "want." We teach them that indulging in too many "wants" isn't the best thing to do.

Of course not all of that will stick. Neither will they always make perfect decisions - who does? But if you keep hammering them with the message when they're still young enough to listen to you some of the time, enough of it will linger long enough to make them pause and think.

Yes, advertising is a strong, ubiquitous force, and, yes, interactive advertising is a game-changer.

But we still are human beings with magnificent tools called brains. It's our jobs as parents to teach our children to use them.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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