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Adopting new behaviors was addressed in 1953 by Howard Becker in “On Becoming a Marihuana User” for the American Journal of Sociology:
That the presence of a given kind of behavior is the result of a sequence of social experiences during which the person acquires a conception of the meaning of the behavior, and perceptions and judgments of objects and situations, all of which make the activity possible and desirable. Thus, the motivation or disposition to engage in the activity is built up in the course of learning to engage in it and does not antedate this learning process. For such a view it is not necessary to identify those “traits” which “cause” the behavior. Instead, the problem becomes one of describing the set of changes in the person’s conception of the activity and of the experience it provides him.1
The proficient use of social and psychological cues is crucial to grab an audience’s attention amongst the hundreds if not thousands of advertisements the average American is bombarded with every day.2 “Every waking moment of our lives, we swim in an ocean of advertising, all of it telling us the same thing: consume, consume. And then consume some more,” writes Morgan Spurlock, the investigator behind the documentary “Super Size Me” in his article “The Truth about McDonald’s and Children.” The article notes:
Today, corporations spend more than $15bn every year on marketing, advertising and promotions meant to program American children to consume.… Why? Because they realize that children not only have more expendable income of their own, but they influence how their parents spend their hard-earned bucks, too – to the tune of more than $600bn a year.…
McDonald’s and the other fast-food chains make no secret of the fact that kids are their primary targets. “We have living proof of the long-lasting quality of early brand loyalties in the cradle-to-grave marketing at McDonald’s, and how well it works,” James McNeal, a well-known children’s marketing guru and the author of Kids As Customers, has said. “We start taking children in for their first and second birthdays, and on and on, and eventually they have a great deal of preference for that brand. Children can carry that with them through a lifetime.” 3
Medial mogul Disney has gone even further by targeting maternity wards at hospitals. “The reps are offering new moms, within hours of giving birth, a free Disney Cuddly Bodysuit for their babies if they sign up for e-mail alerts from DisneyBaby.com,” reports NPR:
The idea is to encourage mothers to infuse their infants with brand loyalty as if it is mother’s milk.… Getting an expectant mom thinking about her family’s first theme-park visit while her child was in the womb, an exec told the [The New York Times], would be like hitting “a home run.”…
The Advertising Educational Foundation already hails infants 1 year and under as… “a more informed, influential and compelling audience than ever before.” Children as young as 12 months, the foundation adds, can recognize brands and are “strongly influenced” by advertising and marketing. Like that’s a good thing.
The truth is, some studies show that children under 8 years old can’t distinguish between ads and entertainment. Until then, they don’t fully comprehend that advertising is trying to sell them something. That gives marketers an unfair – not to mention predatory – advantage over our kids. No wonder so many other countries have tight restrictions on marketing to children under age 12.4
“Studies over the years have demonstrated that many people, especially young people, unquestioningly accept the reality presented by television,” notes the MindControlInAmerica.com website. “Popular culture (movies, television and music) carries messages about how society works and how people should behave.” 5
“Brand loyalty is hard to break for some,” writes David Butler for the Northern Colorado Beer Examiner. “The beers you started drinking when you were a young adult often become the beverage of choice later in life.… For some, it becomes part of their identity.” 6
According to the aysymtomatic.net website in their “Brand Addiction” article:
The big corporations aren’t worried about brand addiction to brands that aren’t their own. For example, Budweiser doesn’t care that you are brand-addicted to Miller, even though they have beer that is comparatively identical in its flavor similarity to water. They’re just biding their time until they strike the right nerve with their advertising and you suddenly switch brand loyalty. Until then, they have their own brand-addicts that they need not advertise to. It’s a big game to them.7
According to a 1990 paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Communication Association:
A study examined whether billboard advertising of tobacco and alcohol products is differentially targeted toward White, Black, Asian, and Hispanic neighborhoods.… The study suggests that the modeling of social cues can serve to motivate product use, disinhibit behavioral restraints, and reinforce existing habits.… Furthermore, the analyses of the content of the billboards revealed that alcohol and cigarette advertisements use social modeling cues such as anticipated rewards, attractive models, and similarity.8, i
i The magazine Advertising Age cited Ronald McDonald as No 2 on its list of top 10 advertising icons of the 20th century. Who was No 1? It was the Marlboro Man.
– Morgan Spurlock, “The Truth about McDonald’s and Children,” Independent/UK, 22 May 2005, at CommonDreams.org, http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0522-20.htm (retrieved: 13 May 2011).
1 Howard Becker, “On Becoming A Marihuana User,” American Journal of Sociology, 1953, pp. 235-242, in George S. Bridges, Deviant Behavior: An Anthology of Readings (New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1994), p. 51.
2 Google Answers: American advertising in the media, at http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=56750 (retrieved: 3 January 2011).
3 Morgan Spurlock, “The Truth about McDonald’s and Children,” Independent/UK, 22 May 2005, at CommonDreams.org, http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0522-20.htm (retrieved: 13 May 2011).
4 Peggy Orenstein, “Dodging Disney in the Delivery Room,” NPR.org, 9 February 2011, at http://www.npr.org/2011/02/10/133627064/dodging-disney-in-the-delivery-room (retrieved: 13 May 2011).
5 “Your thoughts may not always be your own!” MindControlInAmerica.com, at http://www.mindcontrolinamerica.com/mind_ctrl.htm (retrieved: 3 January 2011).
6 David Butler, “The reasons we drink beer,” Northern Colorado Beer Examiner, 8 July 2008, at http://www.examiner.com/beer-in-denver/the-reasons-we-drink-beer (retrieved: 13 May 2011).
7 “Brand Addiction,” Asymptomatic, 18 February 2005, at http://asymptomatic.net/2005/02/18/1361/brand-addiction (retrieved: 13 May 2011).
8 “Alcohol and Cigarette Advertising on Billboards: Targeting with Social Cues,” abstract, paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Communication Association (40th, Dublin, Ireland, June 24-28, 1990), at http://eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED321323&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=ED321323 (retrieved: 4 January 2011).