“Better” Marketing?

Visiting a buddy the other day, we got to talking about how marketing is influencing kids today.

Even as recently as my childhood, everything was mass-market: growing up without television limited the amount of marketing I was exposed to in general, and what marketing I did encounter was pretty generic. Advertising Frosted Flakes to kids is like advertising beer or soda to adults: there’s an debate worth having about the ethics of selling unhealthy products, but eating Frosted Flakes in the 1990s was only going to make you a normal kid, not a member of a special tribe.

Now, that’s clearly not the case. With more and more kids online at younger and younger ages, they’re getting the same kind of targeted, tribal advertising that we adults have been learning to live with over the past couple of decades.

The options don’t seem attractive: limit your kids’ electronics, which feels like the end of the world? Limit their ability to purchase what’s being advertised to them, which makes the social angst of adolescence even more acute? Sigh and give up?

Or maybe start a conversation about what kind of society would run this sort of experiment on its children to make a short-term buck.

Sure, we’ve gotten “better” at advertising in the internet age. But Frosted Flakes might have been better for kids than what such cynical advertising is doing to them.

After all, most kids grow out of Frosted Flakes. How many people do you know who have grown out of Google, Apple, or social media?