A survey of the impact of marketing on children’s taste preferences has revealed the power of McDonald’s. Sixty-three preschoolers from low-income families in California were presented with five samples of identical foods and beverages, one in McDonald’s packaging and the other in unbranded packaging. They were then asked “to indicate if they tasted the same or if one tasted better.” The results? “54.1 per cent of the children said baby carrots served on top of a paper bag bearing the McDonald’s logo tasted better than those on a plain bag (23 per cent) – even though McDonald’s does not have carrots on its menu,” reported Kate Benson in the Sydney Morning Herald. The study authors concluded that the results are “consistent with recommendations to regulate marketing to young children.”
Of course, parents should have the ultimate say in what their children eat, but doesn’t the power of such brands to influence young children make you uncomfortable?
Huge sums of money are spent by those in PR and marketing to target children stimulate “pester power.” Child psychologist, Dr Pat Spungin, argues in favour of this approach say children should learn to be media aware.
The history of PR in the UK is closely aligned to John Grierson‘s thinking which L’Etang says “could be described as the role of propaganda in social or democratic education and social responsibility.”
Grierson created educatory films to influence public attitudes; leading the Documentary Film Movement from the 1930s. The “public information film” was further developed by Richard Massingham who established Public Relationship Films (see archive videos from 1930s/40s at BFI).
Today, educational campaigns increasingly target children with messages about the environment, world poverty and more complex issues.
For example, the Eco-Schools initiative (supported by electrical retailer, Currys and co-ordinated by ENCAMS, the charity behind Keep Britain Tidy, which is part-funded by government) “empowers” children through “green teaching” to challenge the behaviour of their parents.
PR Week [subscription] notes there are no specific guidelines for PR practitioners in relation to targeting under-16s whilst reporting political calls for regulation on editorial targeting children in relation to online tactics by “unhealthy” food brands.
The thinking is that children are too young to make informed decisions – so does that make it okay to use the same persuasive techniques for “socially good” reasons?