I love that we live in a free market economy. I love that we all have the right to freedoms of speech and expression. I love business and the opportunity that everyone has to prosper within our system. In fact, I even love marketing.
What makes me mad is the proliferation of marketing designed to manipulate the mindset of the uneducated consumer to increase sales of products that are not useful and/or potentially harmful under the circumstances in which they are sold.
While I have been speaking out about this phenomenon in the fitness industry for years, there is a much bigger problem than the marketing of crappy fitness products to desperate individuals seeking the latest version of the magic pill.
Marketers have now turned to infiltrating the minds of our children through the integrated efforts of multi-media. Not only are children subject to commercials during their favorite cartoons, they are influenced by advertising on their favorite internet sites and even interacting with these marketing messages through internet gaming. They’ve got a name for this new viral monster; it’s called “advergaming”
The extensive interaction that kids have with these brands is embedding a significant relationship and identity with the brand and messaging of these product advertisers. The use of interactive multi-media and games very tactfully and effectively encourages the child to associate the positive, emotional experience of playing the game to the use of the product.
There is nothing inherently wrong with relating to or identifying with a brand or product, especially if the interaction with the company, brand or product improves some quality of your life. The problem in this case, is that the majority of advertisers that sink to such tactics are manufacturers of Junk foods. Once the junk food brand has a relationship with your child, she will likely ask for, buy or prefer that product for a lifetime.
Obesity and related health problems have already reached epidemic proportions and it’s growing even faster among children. Current indications are that the life expectancy of children today is actually declining from that of their parents. We have to address some of these contributing factors!
What can we do?
We need to take control of the messaging that forms our decision making process, and we absolutely must teach children to do the same. We need to educate ourselves and our children about the differences between marketing influenced information and the truth. This is no small task. With all the information available today it’s difficult to tell where the marketing ends and the truth begins. Here are a few tactics that may help:
1. Pay attention – notice product brands, names and messages around you. Does your favorite informational website have a sponsor? How about the free Frisbee that your child picked up at the fair? Or the bat you received at the baseball game?
2. Ask “why”? – Why is this product or service available for free? Why am I choosing this product over another? Why would anyone want to do that?
3. Talk about it – Talk with your friends, talk with your kids, talk about the things that you notice that could be shaping your decisions.
4. Become a student – Learn all you can about marketing. It’s a fascinating subject and it’s tough to be manipulated when you are educated. Here’s a great resource blog: http://www.prwatch.org/taxonomy/term/136/9
Marketing is not a bad thing; neither is selling a product or making a profit. But, manipulating consumers, especially children, to form lifelong bonds with unhealthy products is simply wrong. Take the time to become educated and teach your children how to make decisions based on real information, that is productive for their well-being and long-term health.