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Hook, line and sinker?

Not so fast - parents can play a role in thwarting advertisers' advancements

Not so fast - parents can play a role in thwarting advertisers' advancements

February 24, 2006|by KRISTIN WILSON

kristinw@herald-mail.com

Anna Giancola's 9-year-old son gleaned quite an education about Presidents Day by watching TV this month.

On Monday, when the Giancola family of Hagerstown was off from school and work "we were trying to talk to the kids about the fact that it was Presidents Day," Giancola remembers. "My son said, 'Yeah, I know. It's time to buy a Honda.'"

While Giancola thinks her son was trying to be funny, his quick recall of this year's Presidents Day Honda sale commercial reminded her that kids - like adults - are exposed daily to a barrage of advertisements.

And, as any parent knows, advertisers' messages found in commercials, Web sites, television shows, movies and books, can lead to an onslaught of "Mom, can I have ..?" and "Dad, I want ... ." It is then up to the parents to decide how to handle such commercial-induced requests.

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"Why businesses relate to kids isn't hard to realize," explains Dr. Stanley Goldstein, a clinical psychologist who works with children in Middletown, N.Y. Children act as "direct purchasers, depending on their age, and also influence what is bought in the home."

Giancola's son probably isn't Honda's target audience. However, when he is in the market for a car - in about seven years - his familiarity with the Honda brand might turn out to be fruitful for the car company.

"The reason companies want to advertise to kids is because they are the next generation of customers," Goldstein says. "You have to look upon kids as consumers."

Advertisers certainly do. An estimated $12 billion per year is spent on advertising messages aimed at the youth market, according to information from the American Psychological Association. The association is advocating restrictions on advertising to children younger than 8.

So what's a parent to do, knowing that everywhere their child turns, he or she is likely faced with an ad?

"You can't abdicate the role of parents to advertisers," Goldstein says. "The parents need to serve as the gatekeepers."

Mostly, parents shouldn't worry too much about it, as long as they are keeping a watchful eye on what kids are exposed to, counsels Goldstein, author of "Troubled Children/Troubled Parents." Just like adults, kids tune out the ads they are not interested in and they learn quickly the concept of an advertisement.

Larry Daily, an assistant professor of psychology at Shepherd University, says his 10-year-old son used to be captivated by toy car brands such as Hot Wheels, when commercials would show the small race cars barreling through loop-the-loops and completing acrobatic feats. He explained to his son that the commercials were probably filmed dozens of times to get the toy cars to flip and race just the way they did on television.

"There's been a couple of times that we've bought him the real cool toy that didn't work the way it was advertised," Daily says. Those toys "are now collecting dust."

Giancola remembers her kids putting the hard sell on her to buy pen and marker products that were advertised on TV. "I'll never forget the blow pens," she says. To work the pens, kids had to blow into them, causing ink to spray out. They also were interested in black boards that when drawn on turned multiple colors.

Her kids would say, "It's only $19.99 plus S and H," she says with a laugh. The infomercial listed S and H to represent shipping and handling. "They didn't know what S and H was," she says.

The Giancolas refused to give in to the blow pens, however. They tried to explain all the hidden costs of the products to their younger children, now 7 and 9. Some time later the kids tried the products and were disappointed with how they worked, Giancola says.

"If the child feels convinced that product will do something and it does not, the disappointment will probably be very great for the child," Goldstein says. And the child will probably not fall into the advertising trap as quickly the next time.

Dealing with kids' demands or requests for advertised products can be an ideal time to talk about money and how much things cost, say parents and Goldstein.

"Use this as an educational kind of experience," Goldstein says. When kids ask for the sneaker brand that costs more than $100, talk to kids about what else $100 can buy, he suggests.

The Giancolas set dollar figures for what they think clothing should cost for their children.

"What we try to do with (my 17-year-old daughter) is say, 'This is how much we are willing to spend on this item.' If she wants something above and beyond that, she has to pay for it," Giancola says.

That kind of approach taught her daughter quickly how expensive brands can sap a budget.

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