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Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood Hardcover – May 6, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Like Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation, Linn is able to write about a subject people care about and avoid the shrillness that can make such books a chore to read. A psychologist and children's advocate, Linn is openly critical of the corporate bottom line and focuses on what will benefit children and families. Her exhaustively researched picture is of a $15 billion industry in near-total denial about the effects it has. Executives traffic in transparently self-serving rhetoric, extolling the educational value of such seemingly bland fare as Teletubbies or claiming to be developing toddlers' incipient need for control. The concept of "prenatal marketing" need not be exhaustively described to send a shiver down the spine of any mother-to-be. Linn points out that successful marketing is often in direct opposition to what's good for society. Sex, violence and sugar-packed snacks obviously hold great appeal for youngsters, and there exists, he says, no countervailing social force to effectively check their influence. Linn demonstrates how marketers research methods to make children more effective naggers-thus undermining parental authority-and TV programming executives spike the chilling metric known as "jolts per minute." Linn works hard not only to put together a truly devastating case against the marketers, but also to couch it in the most reasonable terms possible; indeed, the entire book is really an appeal to common sense: that we as a society take better care of our children. Savvy enough to avoid sounding "like someone's old maiden aunt," Linn presents a socially conscious account that deserves wide exposure.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Marketing executives have targeted children as the ultimate consumers because they are easily manipulated and able to extract dollars from their parents to satisfy manufactured desires, often against their parents' better judgment. Linn, psychologist and parent, examines how corporate America exploits children and deliberately infects them with obsessive American consumerism. Linn cites research and behind-the-scenes information on marketing strategies that include emphasis on brand names, extreme individualism, and consumerism and the increasing use of child psychologists to plumb knowledge about the vulnerabilities of children, all with a cynical disregard for their welfare. The campaigns--tie-ins between children's characters and products and fast-food meals--blur the lines between programming, literature, and commercial marketing. Linn critiques parents, herself included, for their inability to protect children from aggressive "guerilla" marketing and offers suggestions on how parents can resist their children's whining for the products they've been encouraged to want and lists resources parents can use to take public action against advertisers. An eye-opening look at marketing to children. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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If you're interested in the toy industry they're worth picking up.
The Real Toy Story: Inside the Ruthless Battle for America's Youngest Consumers
Creating Ever-Cool: A Marketer’s Guide to a Kid’s Heart
Toy Wars: The Epic Struggle Between G.I. Joe, Barbie, and the Companies That Make Them
Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood
The Kids Market: Myths and Realities
Seller: 3rd Party Merchant
Purchase price: $.15 - 9.88 (Plus shipping)
The short version is that marketing to children is ostensibly a self-regulated industry, but as with many other industries entrusted with self-regulation, it's a free-for-all.
The author goes through the book discussing specific aspects of the problem, such as marketing in schools, food marketing, alcohol and tobacco marketing. She documents examples of how marketers take advantage of the immaturity of juvenile brains. For example, children under five or so can't distinguish between a tv commercial and a tv show, and children under eight don't grasp persuasive intent. (Advertisers not only know this, they use it and abuse it.)
The author points out that it's not just our children's weight being undermined by fast food commercials, or their livers and lungs being targeted by alcohol and tobacco commercials. Their respect for adults and authority is attacked by commercials that, in the guise of 'empowering' children, portray adults as at best incompetent, and at worst deserving of disobedience and disrespect.
This book is not prescriptive. Only at the end of the last chapter does it give a few pages of suggestions on how one can combat this multi-billion-dollar industry that preys on children despite its own assertions to the contrary. For parents, it's simply ideas like not letting your child have a TV in their room, and limiting their TV hours. She goes on beyond that, though, by suggesting how teachers, health care providers, PTA members, and politicians can do their part.
On the whole, and as noted at the beginning, this book is not a how-to on commercial-proofing your child. It is, instead, a well-researched documentation of how products are marketed to children, and why it's bad. I highly recommend that anyone concerned about the effect of media on children read this book. I recommend it even more strongly to any parent who's a little uncertain that the media really can manipulate children so readily, or those who think that it takes nothing more than a simple explanation of what commercials are to equip children to understand and resist them.
The book itself is well-documented in a variety of ways--a pleasing and effective mix of personal anecdote (a mother herself), academic scholarship/studies, psychiatry, and old-fashioned journalism involving interviews, internal company memos, and in some of the most interesting scenes, "under-cover" experience at some marketing conferences/workshops.
All the major and expected culprits are examined: tobacco, alcohol, sex, toys, television, etc.. Each one given roughly equal treatment of analysis, anger, and disdain. For the most part, the analysis is even-toned (though always with a sense of sad anger or urgency), though she occasionally stacks the deck against the book's villains a bit too obviously.
Linn closes with some proposed solutions. While she acknowledges the role of parents in such simple solutions as "hey, turn off the TV!", her main argument is that the balance of power has shifted too greatly over the past 20 years or so and the govt. needs to step in on a more aggressive parental/child-friendly fashion. Some will find her solutions overly-intrusive, others will cheer them on, and sadly, I think many will nod in agreement while thinking the genie's already out of the bottle.
There's really very little to complain about with regard to the book. As mentioned, it's a bit self-evident, so one doesn't expect any "wow" moments. And perhaps some more historical context could be helpful. A bit more balance from the other side would have been nice, even if it's hard to imagine much of a defense. But overall, it's a detailed, lucid argument made in pleasant fashion, even if the end result is frustration and sadness over just how far things have gone. Recommended.