Choosing your Battles: the War against Marketing to Children



My husband and I have vowed to teach our children about the value of money from an early age. We have a 3rd grader and a pre-schooler. The one battle that my husband and I find ourselves fighting is the war against marketing to children. Advertisers and marketers bi-pass parents and market directly to children. Not surprising, children as young as 12 months recognize the Golden Arches, among many other company logos. We are bombarded with 5000 advertisement and brand exposures a day. For goodness sake, my 5 year old who loves to watch train videos, is getting marketed to when he watches these on YouTube.

One of my passions is media literacy and so I understand the tactics that are used to market products, including the techniques that are used to market to children. Sometimes, I regrettably decide to take my children with me to the grocery store or on errands, like to Target. All joking aside. I think it is important to be able to bring one’s children into these kinds of stores so that they know how to behave (read recite the rules that are laid down before them), can begin to understand the value of money, and finally appreciate the fine art of delayed gratification (do any of you know about the classic “Marshmallow experiment?” ) We will save that topic for another day.

Sometimes, I will drive into the parking lot of these stores and say, “What in the world am I doing? Do I really need to do this now?”  The Boulder/green mom and thrifty one in me says, “Yes. You have to. You are not going to waste gas to make a separate trip later. More importantly, your time is valuable, Momma!”  OK. So once that battle gets resolved in my head or perhaps out loud, it is time to bite the proverbial bullet and dive into Target. “So what are the rules before we go in guys?” Dutifully, my 9 year-old replies, “That we are only going to buy what we came for and that we cannot beg and plead for things in the store. If there is anything that we do like, we can tell you so you know what we like.” Well done, my first born!

Let’s take a walk right into the grocery store. The first battleground is produce. Are you kidding me? No, I am not. There are Dora carrots.  “Can we get these carrots (as it looks like they are shining in their own sparkling spotlight)?”, my 9 year-old pleads.  I say, ” Well first of all, these are twice as much as the generic brand and second, I like buying the whole carrots.”  Dora is selling carrots. Good for Nickelodeon, but it is not good for our pocketbook. Thankfully, this gives me an easy opportunity to point out some ways to make sensible decisions and teach some basic math comparisons.

Next up are the aisles. I literally have to rush by the cartoon endorsed crackers, cereal bars, and cereal. If you are walking by these areas, it is important to notice that the characters (Trix rabbit) are angled to make eye contact with your children who are at the height of the seat in the grocery cart. Slick. Very slick or in my opinion, Frustrating! By the end of the shopping trip, my kids have gotten the message loud and clear.


Because Target is one-stop shopping, I take my toddler to try on some tennis shoes. Oh goodness. Guess what I did not see? The light-up Spider-Man tennis shoes. My husband’s and my motto/preference is to limit or ideally nix buying the character endorsed products. My little man walks up to me and says, “Look at these!”  My heart starts to break a little. One, I understand that these are super cool and if I were a 5-year-old boy this is what I would want too. If it were going to be one pair of character shoes, I would be more okay with it, but in my opinion, it is a slippery slope where the more you say yes, the more they will keep asking for these kinds of products. See. The marketing works very well. I, frankly, am going to get tired of having to go there. I don’t want to confuse them and send a mixed message. Ultimately, I want them to have the needed information so that they can be informed consumers and make the decisions that are best for them. So please hear me. I am not saying to not buy character themed items. Who am I to say that? In our family, it is our preference to teach what we value and let our children see how we make decisions based on our values and then they can practice the skill of being a conscientious consumer and hopefully it will stick. 🙂

The last stop is the checkout line. Those marketers and grocery store stagers know exactly what they are doing. Parents are worn out and cursing themselves for deciding to bring their kids (yep, that’s me) and then there are all of the little things your little person has to have like gum, mints, hair ties, small packages of goldfish crackers, small Lego kits, lipgloss and much more.

What is a parent to do?

Learn media literacy. Stay tuned for future post on media literacy tools.

For older children, let them see how far their money will go if they decide to buy a character product versus a generic one.

Have established rules before you head into these stores.

Figure out your family values when it comes to money and what you spend your money on. Start teaching your children these when they are young so they can see them in action.

For children, it is important to teach them how to be consumers at an early age and with that comes the task of teaching them how to be media literate. Media literacy helps us be conscientious consumers and with the skills of media literacy, we can help inoculate children and ourselves against influential media messages that shape our culture.

What are your thoughts about marketing to children? Do you have any similar stories of this kind of battleground? Have any of you considered becoming media literate? What is your stance on purchasing cartoon or character endorsed products? As always, thank you for stopping by. I look forward to hearing from you.

Kindly Yours,


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Jean Kilbourne