As I wrote in my column two weeks ago, marketers are out to get America's youth, and they'll stop at nothing in the name of "entertainment" to do it.
Parents take note: The only thing that stands between your kids and those who seek to exploit them for the sake of the almighty dollar, is you.
In order for you to be successful at protecting your kids in today's media-saturated culture, you must never, ever underestimate the power of the forces arrayed against you. An episode of the PBS program "Frontline" titled, "The Merchants of Cool," spells out the lengths to which marketers will and do go to manipulate our children into buying their products. This amazing documentary should be required viewing for any parent who believes that MTV is just plain ol' entertainment for today's teens.
As the host of "Merchants of Cool" says, the way to get money from today's teens is to create programming that, "grabs them below the belt and reaches for their wallet."
The competition for our teens' wallets is fierce. Five companies ? News Corp, Disney, Viacom, Universal Vivendi and Time-Warner ? fight continuously for the space in teens' brains and the $100 billion they spend every year. These five companies control all the major film studios, all the TV networks, most of the stations in the top TV markets, much of the radio we hear and all or part of every major cable network.
The master at feeding crass images of sexuality and rebellion to our children is Viacom. If the name of this media giant sounds familiar, it's because they are the same folks who brought 90 million Americans Janet "Flashing" Jackson during Super Bowl 2004. While CBS whined it had no idea MTV was going to produce a show that included what amounted to a strip-tease act, the execs of the parent company of both broadcast outlets, Viacom, were laughing all the way to the bank.
When it comes to creating programming for teens, the "Merchants of Cool" explains how MTV controls much of the culture in which America's teens now live. Through all the focus groups, all the grilling of teens about their interests, all the study done of today's youth ? including visits by MTV executives to the homes of typical teen viewers ? all the "culture spies" it dispatches to see how successfully they are impacting their target audience, the corporation has figured out not what teens want, but how they think. This most insidious use of marketing doesn't seek to satisfy the needs and desires of a mature customer ? it seeks to manipulate young, impressionable minds and influence their values and lifestyle.