Today’s kids spend an average of five-and-a-half hours a day watching the variety of media available in their homes — television, playing video games, surfing the Web or using some other type of media. In fact, nearly half of all families own all four of the major media — television, VCR, video games and computer. Some experts refer to “media clutter” in describing the options that are available to children in their own homes, with 57 percent of the nation’s children having a television in their own bedrooms. Further, the media landscape continues to expand with CDs, DVDs, and MP3s. With such exploding choices available to children, parents have difficulty in monitoring what their kids are watching and hearing.
One of the most detrimental influences on children in media is marketing, and that marketing extends far beyond the television screen or computer monitor. The question, then, is whether parents — and the public — will continue to allow commercial interests to take precedence over the well-being of the nation’s children.
Industry spending on advertising to children has dramatically increased over the past decade with a current price tag of over $2 billion. Brian L. Wilcox, chair of the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Advertising and Children, said, “The clearest evidence we have that television influences children’s thinking and behavior is the fact that advertisers invest literally billions of dollars trying to influence the perceptions, choices and behaviors of children through advertising. We know very well that they wouldn’t be investing the amount of money they do without clear evidence that those messages are influencing kids.” Studies show that on average we see 3,000 advertisements per day. The Russian space program even launched a rocket that had a 30-foot Pizza Hut logo. We have grown used to what the marketers call “ambient advertising” — ads on cars, buses, park benches, elevator walls, stadiums names, clothing and on celebrity’s sports equipment.
Product placement has become a ubiquitous advertising tool targeting children. For instance, in the 1982 film, ET, having the candy Reese’s Pieces in a pivotal scene resulted in an increase of 65 percent in sales of the product. Such product placement is now commonplace and a highly effective marketing tool.