Average daily television viewing chart
baby barcode

The 1980s have been called “the decade of the child consumer,” notes Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation:

Hoping that nostalgic childhood memories of a brand will lead to a lifetime of purchases, companies now plan “cradle-to-grave” advertising strategies. They have come to believe [that] at person’s “brand loyalty” may begin as early as the age of two. Indeed, market research has found that children often recognize a brand logo before they can recognize their own name.1

The process of 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.2

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.3

“The average child sees more than 20,000 commercials a year – some as many as 40,000,” writes Jim Hightower in Thieves in High Places citing the American Academy of Pediatrics.4

“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.” 5

Krista Conger of Stanford News notes that “the degree of preference expressed by the children correlated with the number of television sets they had in their homes and the frequency with which they ate at McDonald’s”:

Numerous studies have shown that young children are unable to understand that advertising, product placement and co-branding with popular toys are meant to get them to choose one product over another. For them, “truth in advertising” has a very literal meaning.

“It’s really an unfair marketplace out there for young children,” said Robinson, who is also a member of the Stanford Prevention Research Center. “It’s very clear they cannot understand the persuasive nature of advertising.” 6

Backyard Brains - Neuroscience for Everyone!
Neuroscience for Everyone!

How Disney targets each age group (click to expand)

Media 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 Bodysuiti for their babies if they sign up for e-mail alerts from,” 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 12.7

“Studies over the years have demonstrated that many people, especially young people, unquestioningly accept the reality presented by television,” notes the website. “Popular culture (movies, television and music) carries messages about how society works and how people should behave.” 8

i [In 2003,] Greenpeace UK…launched an anti-chemicals campaign in Europe, alleging that chemicals such as Disney pajamas, perfumes, shampoos, and plastic goods contain allegedly “dangerous chemicals” such as phthalates and nonylphenol. In a press release, the group noted, “Shockingly, Disney-branded pajamas available at The Disney Store and other big retailers were amongst the worst offenders. We were astounded to learn that a brand aimed at children could sell products which could damage their health.”
– Greenpeace Phthalate Campaign, Endocrine/Estrogen Letter, 2003, vol. 9, no. 6 (178), at (retrieved: 11 November 2012).

1 Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (New York: HarperCollins, 2002, 2001), p. 43.

2 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.

3 Google Answers: American advertising in the media, at (retrieved: 3 January 2011).

4 Jim Hightower, Thieves in High Places: They’ve Stolen our Country – and it’s Time to Take it Back (New York, NY: Pengiun Group, 2003, 2004), p.158.

5 Morgan Spurlock, “The Truth about McDonald’s and Children,” Independent/UK, 22 May 2005, at, (retrieved: 13 May 2011).

6 Krista Conger, “McDonald’s has a hold on preschoolers’ taste buds,” Stanford News, 8 August 2007, at (retrieved: 13 March 2016).

7 Peggy Orenstein, “Dodging Disney in the Delivery Room,”, 9 February 2011, at (retrieved: 13 May 2011).

8 “Your thoughts may not always be your own!”, at (retrieved: 3 January 2011).

Related videos

“Commercial Jingles: AUDIENCE IDENTIFICATION – One of Ten Elements of Great Advertising Jingles,” billym0615 video at, (retrieved: 24 October 2011). (Watch it here)

“Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood,” video at, (retrieved: 26 June 2012). (Embedding disabled)

“Mickey Mouse Monopoly,” video at, (retrieved: 26 June 2012). (Embedding disabled)

“Does Marketing to Children = Pedophilia?,” David Pakman Show video at, (retrieved: 2 October 2014). (Show video)

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One comment

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    July 8, 2012 - 11:51 pm | Permalink

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