WMU News

Companies zeroing in on kids to sell products

May 2, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- Companies are spending huge amounts of cash to market their products to children between the ages of 5 and 14. And there's a good reason ­ children in that age group, either directly or indirectly, account for some $230 billion in sales, says Dr. Gwen A. Tarbox, a WMU assistant professor of English.

"In 1999, there were 39.8 million children in the United States between the ages of 5 and 14," Tarbox says. "And they spent $33.9 billion of their own money. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, these kids influenced about $196 billion of their parents' purchases. So when you consider, for instance that in 2000, advertisers spent around $8 billion to reach kids, you can understand why they want to. My big joke to my students is that the brand loyalty wars begin in the cradle."

Tarbox adds that companies increasingly are coming out with new product lines for children, such as new makeup lines for girls ages 6 to 12 developed by Cover Girl and Loreal. Trying to shield children from a bombardment of advertising is a losing proposition, Tarbox says.

"All you have to do is go out for an evening at the fast food restaurant," Tarbox says. "Major firms, such as McDonald's and Burger King have partnerships with film distributors, so when a new movie comes out there will be tie-ins with games and toys that children are exposed to. So it's really everywhere. There's no way, I think, to raise a child in this country today without them being exposed to a lot of advertising, much of it targeted at them."

Tarbox says marketing to children began in earnest in the 1950s when corporations hired psychologists to fine-tune marketing strategies aimed at kids. Today's youngsters are the children of the first generation to undergo mass product marketing when they were young, further cementing the spread of materialism across generations.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 616 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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