Branding the Kids

 By M.K. Styllinski

“Congress should ban advertising that preys upon children, it should stop subsidizing dead-end jobs, it should pass tougher food safety laws, it should protect American workers from serious harm, it should fight against dangerous concentrations of economic power.”

Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal


With children’s diet currently falling well short of balanced in the USA and many European countries, and cases of obesity rising each year, a recent report has shown that a big part of the problem lies with fast food company advertising.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, published a study in 2012 carried out by researchers from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Kansas Medical Center. Using the demographic children aged 10-14 years old, they showed children 60 logos from popular food brands, and 60 logos from popular non-food brands. A MRI scanner was used to monitor the reaction of the children’s brains when they viewed the brand logos. When images of fast food companies were displayed the parts of the brain controlling pleasure and appetite lit up. Yet, when logos from companies not associated with food were shown there was little response. They also discovered that children showed a marked preference for food which had a logo with which they were familiar. The researchers found that: “When asked to taste a hamburger from a box with no label, and a hamburger from a box labeled McDonald’s, the children overwhelmingly preferred the McDonald’s burger.”

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Photo credit: The Chinese People’s Daily Online

Aside from the high sugar and sodium content of these foods, it marketers are over-stimulating the reward centres of young brains before children can develop the necessary self-control. This was confirmed in the September 2012 report: “I’m Lovin’ It” Fast-Food Logos ‘Imprinted’ in Children’s Brains’ by Makini Brice, in online journal Medical Daily. Exposure to hard core pornography is following a similar process leading to a premature flooding of chemicals from excess stimulation of the reward centres inducing what may be called a “re-wiring” of children’s brains.

Selling, as a 21st Century definition, is the process of convincing us to buy what we do not necessarily need. Advertising follows on from this by manipulating us into believing that the answer to our problems of self-worth and self-esteem can be solved by purchasing a range of limitless products. Once the infant has been caught on the habituated hook of the advertiser, this addiction becomes an immensely difficult one to relinquish. Advertising panders to the same opiates that define the inducements of pornography. Or as social commentator Philip Slater mentioned: “If we define pornography as any message from any communication medium that is intended to arouse sexual excitement, then it is clear that most advertisements are covertly pornographic.” [1]

Advertising, in all its forms, is at the vanguard of a normalised manipulation which requires that people are fundamentally changed into consumer drones that not only embolden materialist illusions but feed unsustainable pyramids of economic control. Multinational led advertising has kept us in a somnambulistic state of denial while feeding on our self-esteem and sense of self. They constantly target our preoccupations and fears that we are not desirable or fashionable enough, that we cannot possibly be comfortable in our own skins without the latest products, be it shampoo or eye-liner, X-box or i-pad.

Advertising works best by absorbing the latest precepts in social issues and ethics, humanitarian, environmental and spiritual concerns, reducing them down to simplistic vehicles for selling. Who knows? Perhaps the colonization of our minds can be extended into space by using electronic billboards? Perhaps even to beam adverts onto the moon? As a matter of fact, this was not beyond the imagination of the admen and an attempt to do just that was made, though their lofty ambitions have been for the moment, unsuccessful. [2]

A key component of advertising is the insistence on conformity, the young being the most susceptible to this targeted messages. If you are cool you belong. If you are not cool you do not exist. The advertisers make sure they go to the heart of our insecurities and then, like a vast corporate cattle-prod, they burn a new insatiable craving into our everyday lives, yet another mask to wear. Peer-group tribalism combined with the habit of instant gratification reinforces such needs, further adding to the loss of perceptual diversity in the creation of original thoughts and ideas. Advertisers send out waves of neuroses to ensure a divided consciousness in the young, and what better way to do it through a constant ever-present selling that invades the last sanctuary on earth – the privacy of our minds?

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The assimilation of the mind into a lump of pliable play-doe has been a particularly 20th century creation. It has proceeded with alarming alacrity as we move into the bewildered 21st. As we all become more aware of the methods by which advertisers lure us into their buyers “paradise” they must then seek new and ingenious ways to literally program us into needing their wares.

If poverty and neglect doesn’t kill them then the mind programming of 21st century America is already making generations of children captive in a virtual bubble of subjective whimsey that provides a fertile ground for programming. As cyber-culture commentator Douglas Rushkoff mentions: “The fresh neurons of young brains are valuable mental real estate to admen” and as such, represent a highly coercive strategy that is designed to take over the child’s mind and fill it with slogans and brands to the point that there is very little desire or room for anything else. [3] The author describes the techniques of the 1936 “bible” of selling: How to Win Friends and Influence People that were used in the US Central Intelligence Agency’s “Kubark” interrogation manual of 1963. With demographics and psychographics, the corporations and their advertising agencies are still conducting military operations for the child’s mind, a battle which has become extremely sophisticated.

The youth of modern America in particular bear the hallmarks of “branding” where personal identity is subsumed into logos, labels and fashion icons. If you wear Calvin Klein underwear and Hugo after-shave you are “sexy” and “cool.” If you have the latest Nike trainers you have your status ear-marked in the gang or at school. The irony is that everyone is ending up the same while seeking to be different. Youth rebellion is just another tag-line to take advantage of in the admen’s war against authenticity.

Teen marketing is the relatively new phenomena taking marketers straight to the heart of teenager’s identity. But traditional teenage revenues are not the only ones to be netted. The expanding market of nine to thirteen-year-olds, now known as “tweens” are being shaped according to the wishes of corporations worldwide, whereby the tweens themselves act as proxy sellers. [4] By nagging their parents to buy everything from cars to game-boys, designer clothes to skin care products, parents become secondary consumers under the insistence of their children. Marketing devices such as these ensure the sales go up while the teenager’s and pre-teen’s identity disappears under a barrage of targeted programming so precise that it can be likened to a large-scale military assault.

So insidious is this attack and so desperate its desire to keep pace with the child’s rising awareness of the media that it has expanded its scope to monopolize the disciplines of psychology and sociology in the quest to tame the wilderness of the child’s mind. Teen marketing has fleeced sciences for the requisite ammunition to better understand how to capture and sell the consciousness of the global youth. Each category of child is noted and assigned a place in the marketing strategy and all have differing types of market potential to exploit. As one advertising executive put it: “It isn’t enough to just advertise on television…. You’ve got to reach kids throughout their day–in school, as they’re shopping in the mall … or at the movies. You’ve got to become part of the fabric of their lives.” [5]


See also: Cultural insanity: Ponerized Western consumer culture is creating a demoralized man in psycho-spiritual crisis


Notes

[1] http://www.philipslater.com/
[2] ‘City Lights and Space Ads May Blind Stargazers.’ By Malcolm W. Browne, The New York Times, May 4 1993: “ A major uproar followed the announcement last month that Space Marketing Inc. o Roswell, Ga; in cooperation with Livermore National Laboratory in California and the University of Colorado planned to launch a one-mile wide display satellite into orbit around the earth. The spacecraft, made of thin plastic film, would reflect sunlight to Earth from aluminized letters or symbols.”
[3] Coercion – The persuasion professionals and why we listen to what they say By Douglas Rushkoff, (1999) Published by Little, Brown and Company. ISBN-0-316-854034.
[4] Branded – The Buying and Selling of Teenagers by Alissa Quart, 2003 | ISBN 0-09-945806-3.
[5] Carol Herman, Senior Vice President, Grey Advertising quoted in ‘Selling America’s Kids: Commercial Pressures on Kids of the 90’s,’Consumer’s Union, consumersunion.org.
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