Sunday, March 9, 2008

Advertising to Babies

Buy, Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds by Susan Gregory Thomas

Every once in a while I have to read a book like this to remind myself I need to
protect my kids from the influences of the corporate world. Marketing companies, advertising companies, publishing companies and entertainment companies do not have my children's best interests at heart; they're concerned with making money for themselves and their clients.

I never really believed the educational claims of anything watched on TV for the youngest children. We don't have what you'd call "educational videos" in our cabinet. (Mostly what we have are VeggieTales videos.) I was, therefore, surprised to learn that studies of babies and toddlers watching TV (whether shows designed for them or those targeted to preschoolers) were learning something after all. They are learning to recognize characters, which is essentially the brand awareness capability of babies and toddlers. I shouldn't have been surprised since First Daughter recognizes the Veggies, Elmo and probably Clifford, even though she's not interested in watching the TV shows.

So by watching the shows, we're essentially watching long commercials for products. I'm not too worried about the Veggie ones. There aren't that many products and I can live with them. (Plus, we already own them and I think there would be rioting in my house for weeks if I decided to throw them out.) Other characters, though, are everywhere...cereal boxes, fruit snack boxes, juice boxes...all sorts of stuff we do not buy.

She also confirmed what I'd long suspected. Most toddler and baby books are really just more ways to get character faces into the home. They don't have real writers or illustrators. I scanned our shelves and removed a few of the ones the kids hadn't seemed too interested in anyway or ones that I thought were particularly annoying. I kept ones they really loved and figured we'd deal with the consequences. I'm going to avoid buying books with TV characters in them anymore, though. If they're based on a classic character, we can buy the real classic book. Given our new and improved budget, I don't anticipate any problems with this plan. When you're buying as few books as we intend, you want them to count.

I think we'll be more careful about what we purchase, but I wasn't so horrified that I'm going to ban these sorts of products from our house. (I was much more concerned about their ubiquitous presence in classrooms, especially in day care centers and preschools, but as we intend to home school and our kids will probably stop going to school this summer, it won't affect our family as much. I feel sorry for other children, though. Perhaps someday I'll have to join a lobbying group of some kind...I'll think about it when I have some free time.)

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