Today’s Kids are Drowning in Ad Noise Like Never Before

A new study shows kids are exposed to 554 brands a day.

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a woman and a child look at their ipad with ads
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If you feel like everywhere you look, you see marketing, you’re unfortunately not wrong. And although the constant push towards consumerism is worrying for adults, it can be even more troubling and potentially damaging for kids. A new study shows that children are pummeled with marketing messages over the course of a typical day — up to one branded message per minute.

For the study, researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand used a novel method to quantify the presence of marketing in our children’s lives — they strapped cameras to kids for a few days, then counted the number of marketing messages the cameras captured. Ninety children, aged 11-13, wore cameras for four days, Thursday-Sunday, that automatically captured images every seven seconds. The results were tallied, and researchers were shocked to find that kids were being bombarded with brands. Over the course of one 10 hour day, the children in the study were exposed to 554 brand images, or roughly one every minute.

Most of the exposures to marketing took place in schools (43%), at home (30%), and in stores (12%). The implications of this study, beyond just “holy cow, that’s too much,” are far-reaching. The kids were exposed to twice as many ads for products that are harmful than those that are healthy.

The researchers found that kids from lower-income environments were exposed to more marketing messages and branded images than those from higher-income backgrounds. Past research has shown that brand exposure and marketing have a more negative impact on those on the lower end of the economic spectrum than those from more affluent areas. The fact that these children are exposed to more marketing, and typically more negative marketing, is particularly troubling.

Although younger children aren’t conceptually aware that ads are actively trying to sell them something, the more they’re exposed to a particular brand or logo, the more familiar they become with that brand, and ultimately, the more they want it. This is how kids fall for, and also lack understanding of, “persuasive intent.” By age 10-12, children can understand that ads are sales tools, according to Common Sense Media. But before that point, it’s hard for kids to see the intent behind the ad. Corporations can get a foothold by exposing children to branding early in life — cartoon characters on cereal boxes, for example.

As kids get older, marketing becomes more targeted, not just to their personal preferences but to their developmental predispositions. Ads targeted to teens tend to poke at their insecurities, while ads for preteens and tweens capitalize on their desire for stimulation.

Teaching children to think critically and wield a healthy dose of skepticism regarding the ads they see can go a long way toward mitigating the negative consequences of our hyper-consumerist, late-stage capitalist world.

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