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Last week I challenged you to actively identify Internet marketing techniques in preparation for teaching your children and teens to be educated consumers. Below are six powerful marketing techniques you may have recognized:

6 Ways Internet Marketers Are Grooming Our Kids To Be Paying Customers

Neuromarketing Strategies 

Neuromarketing refers to the application of brain science to predict customer motivations, preferences, and buying behaviors. With customer data collected from brain scans (which areas of the brain engage with certain ad content) and about eye movement tracking, marketers design their products and advertisements for best appeal. This means that advertisers know what we respond to and how we respond better than we even know! 

Illusion of Scarcity

Illusion of scarcity refers to the marketing ploy of only offering a product or a discount for a limited time. By using terms like BUY NOW or LIMITED-TIME OFFER, marketers make the buyer anxious to hurry and click the buy button. If a marketer can make you anxious to buy quickly, you’re less likely to think through if you want to spend your money or even need the item. Young people have particularly poor impulse control and a limited ability to stop and think before they buy. 

Pester Power

Once a child wants something, they will beg their parents to buy it for them. Sadly, that boils down to more unnecessary buys and stress and conflict within the family. 

Packaging Tricks

We buy things if they look great and if we think they would be fun or good for us. That is why marketers spend a lot of money on design and certain words and images that suggest the product is healthy, like calling sugary flavors “fruit flavors.” 

Specific Reward Sequences

We will keep doing something if we are rewarded for it. For video gaming companies, that means dolling out certain rewards at certain times during gameplay so we keep playing and keep spending. Psychology studies have shown that the best way to keep somebody playing is by giving them a variable ratio of reinforcement. This means the player is rewarded after an unpredictable number of responses (e.g., sometimes after three clicks, sometimes after one, and sometimes after twelve). There is no set pattern; it’s variable. Slot machines are set with a variable ratio of reinforcement because it keeps people playing longer. Gaming companies apply a variable ratio of reinforcement within gaming design to keep players playing longer and more willing to spend money on in-game purchases. This can lead to compulsive gaming at the expense of other activities and overspending.

Aspirational Marketing

Aspirational marketing refers to the dynamic of making the customer aspire, or wish, to be like the celebrity selling the product or to be happy like other customers seem to be. Children particularly respond to products sold by older children, influencers, and celebrities. Parents need to look out for ads that sell inappropriate things to young kids like sexy clothing, make-over products, rated-R movies, violent or sexual video games, music with inappropriate lyrics, processed and high-sugar, high-fat foods, and other things that are typical of a materialistic celebrity culture. 


What do psychologists have to say about this?

In the last twenty years, people within and outside the field of psychology have begun to speak out about concerns that young children are being specifically targeted by advertisers, particularly on the unregulated Internet. In 2004, the American Psychological Association (APA) released a special task force report on children and advertising addressing these concerns. They concluded, among other things,

“Advertising that is unfair or that promotes the use of harmful products does a disservice to children”. “Given the significant role played by advertiser-supported media in the lives of the nation’s children, it is time to move forward with new policies that will better protect the interests of children and new research that will address the vast array of unanswered questions in this important topic area. The stakes are too high to ignore these issues or their impact on the nation’s youth.”

The APA task force made several recommendations to address the marketing to children problem, including restricting advertising primarily directed to audiences of children 8 years of age and under and to develop media literacy curricula for all school grade levels from third through twelfth.

Despite effective regulation instituted in other countries, including television marketing to children banned in Norway and Sweden, junk-food ads banned in Britain, and war toys banned in Greece, American regulation is nearly nonexistent. This leaves our kids virtually defenseless in the face of sophisticated marketing strategies. Parents and educators are our children’s only real line of defense. Although educating kids about Internet marketing is a start, there is a limit to how effective this is and may put unfair expectations on children. Even knowing the tricks, they simply can’t stop themselves. Supervision and restriction to inappropriate ads and products are key.

We Can Make a Difference

Recent changes in child nutrition are excellent examples of how change can start at home and lead to effective progress within the broader community. For example, due to parents determined to make positive change in California elementary and middle schools, soft drinks were banned and healthier food choices were offered. We can impact what happens to our kids on the internet too! What do you think about formal advertising regulations? Should the government step in or is it the responsibility of the parents? How much regulation is too much? Is there enough regulation already?

If you are ready to reduce the marketing aimed at your kids, check out our Screen Safety Toolkit. Designed to offer tried-and-true links and descriptions of free and for-sale safety products at the device level, this course gives you what you need to increase online safety for your family.

Onward To More Awesome Parenting,

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty

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Dr. Tracy Bennett
Dr. Tracy Bennett
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