A flood of marketing

Ever think about the sheer volume of marketing our kids are  exposed to? 

Me neither, most of the time. But the other day, I stumbled across (OK, I was on Twitter) a comprehensive study of media use by young people (tinyurl.com/study-mn). 

Among other things, I learned that kids age 8 to 12 average about six hours of “entertainment media” a day — and that got me to fretting.

Of course, I immediately turned toward my two sons — one was watching YouTube videos (with headphones on) while the other was playing a game on his phone — and hollered at them to do something creative with their lives. 

My teenager pulled aside one headphone and said, “What?” 

But by then I’d already turned back to my screen. Some example I set.

What they’re doing

OK, so it’s not shocking news that kids spend a ton of time with media. But there’s a lot going on in those hours.

For one thing, entertainment media includes listening to music, so it’s not necessarily all screens. 

Girls tend to use social media more than boys, while boys play more video games. 

Low-income kids have less access to devices, but when they do have access, they spend more time on them. 

And the vast majority of kids’ engagement with media is passive — consuming (not creating) content.


It was that bit about consuming content that kind of ruffled my emojis. I started thinking about all the marketing muscle directed at youth. 

That can’t be a good influence if we’re trying to raise responsible earners, savers and — can’t get around it — consumers. 

The aforementioned study (done by Common Sense Media) doesn’t address marketing directly, but with a little digging I found a study from 2014 that does. 

Kids are exposed to advertising and marketing through virtually every media channel they use. They still see traditional commercials on TV, and most YouTube videos start with a pre-roll ad. 

Products are placed in the shows themselves in myriad ways, from a character walking past a billboard to products being built right into the script. They’re also placed in video games. 

Ads appear in our social media feeds, and kids often engage with product profiles.


Did you know there’s such a thing as an “advergame?” It’s an online game sponsored by — or often created by — a company with the purpose of advertising a product. 

In them, kids are often playing with a branded item, like using Oreo cookies as gaming pieces, or playing in a “heavily branded environment,” like going on a Barbie treasure hunt. 

Advergames can keep kids engaged for much longer than a regular ad can, and they blur the line between entertainment and advertising.

With phones and mobile devices, advertising can target kids anytime and anywhere. 

In fact, with location tracking, they can be targeted specifically based on where they are in relation, say, to the nearest Burger King. 

Apps, including branded apps, can access personal information (as well as contacts) to hone their marketing even more precisely. 

Steps you can take

What’s a parent to do? Here are a few things I learned in my fretting-induced research:

Until about age 8, kids don’t understand that ads are trying to sell them something. They see ads as part of the entertainment. Teach them what ads are and what they’re trying to do, and as much as possible, try to avoid commercials for these younger kids. Visit a product website with your child and talk about what it’s doing. How do the images, videos and games make the product seem appealing? Look at advertisements, too. 

With older kids, go further: Analyze sponsored status updates on social media, or ask them why they think a particular pre-roll ad comes up for a particular YouTube video.

Teach them to avoid obviously branded sites (or block them with parental controls).

When given the option, buy the paid app rather than the free version, which is supported by ads.

Watch a show or play a game together and identify all the products or logos that appear.

Talk about the way ads manipulate our emotions. Ask, “How is this ad trying to make you feel?” 

By talking with our kids about what marketers are trying to do, we can raise their awareness, making them savvier consumers (even if their consumer days seem way out in the future). 

I also plan to set a better example by limiting my own media use.

Eric Braun is a Minneapolis dad of two boys and the co-author of the forthcoming book for young readers, The Survival Guide for Money Smarts: Earn, Save, Spend, Give (Free Spirit Publishing, September 2016). Send comments, story ideas and questions to ebraun@mnparent.com.