How do my kids know about brands and products I've never bought?

It seems as though kids absorb advertising through the atmosphere, but it's actually more calculated than that. Companies spend about $17 billion per year marketing to kids, and they make use of every available space -- from television to the Internet to clothing to food to books -- to establish a bond between consumers and products.

Sure, you can attribute some brand awareness to your kids' friends, other families, and relatives. But rest assured that the long arm of marketing never rests in its efforts to reach your kids. You may never buy My Little Pony dolls, let your kids drink Coke, or watch Sponge Bob SquarePants. But just look at some of the ways advertisers get these products in front of your kids' eyes:

Sheer volume. Kids age 2 to 11 see about 25,600 TV ads per year -- and that number doesn't account for advertising online, in print, or elsewhere. Repetition of ads also is highly effective at grabbing attention.

Product placement. The glasses of Coke placed in front of the judges on American Idol are the perfect example. In 2008, Coca-Cola accounted for 15 percent of all product placements that occurred on television and 70 percent of all placements viewed by children.

Branded accessories. Characters from movies, TV shows, games, and popular toys are emblazoned on all kinds of products, including backpacks, bed sheets, sneakers, and sippy cups.

Books. Brands license characters, products, and toys from TV shows, movies, and games to publishers.

Marketing in schools. Marketing extends even to schools. In fact, most kids get exposed to food and beverage marketing at school.

Food marketing. Lego Eggo Waffles, Sponge Bob SquarePants-shaped Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and even the Pillsbury Dough Boy all are designed to get kids' attention.  

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