CCFC’s Susan Linn: $17 billion Spent on Marketing to Kids

ccfc-logo.jpgWe interrupt this High School Musical 2 post (delayed for a day) to bring you an update from Shaping Youth’s latest happenings. Why? Because I said so.

That’s right. The parental phrase that seemed to fossilize to near extinction from child-rearing lexicon of yesteryear is being brought back in this blog post…just because I’m ornery.

For starters, I’ve just come back from Los Angeles, home to high stim media overload premieres and children’s consumption patterns that mirror Mickey’s mousetrap and wretched excess, so needed an evening ‘off’ to attend the CCFC fundraiser in Sausalito, listening to Harvard hero and author of Consuming Kids, The Hostile Takeover of Childhood speak about the dilemmas of parenting in a 21st century media blitz.

CCFC is formidable in its advocacy endeavors, often teaming with other orgs we love like Dads and Daughters, so if you’d like to help their cause, you can do so here.

Meanwhile, some might ask, “what’s the big deal?” I remember bugging my mom for Fizzies, a Crissy Hair Growing Doll, (omg, I had Rod Serling “Night Gallery” flashbacks with those gleaming teeth of hers, egad; had to give her away) an Easy Bake Oven, Strawberry Quik, and Hostess Ding Dongs and Ho-Hos (having a retro video moment here, “It’s a cake, it’s a candy, it’s two taste treats in one! A big delight in every bite!”)

So what’s the difference in kids’ marketing these days? Why all the power whining on poor nutritional value and consumerism run rampant? Short answer? Plenty. Dr. Susan Linn cited that in 1983 corporations spent $100 million marketing to children. Now? We’re at $17 BILLION. Advergaming, Mobile/social. Virtual worlds. Digital engagement. “DVD Ready” coded subliminal Tivo tricks.

As my celebrity interview of the day, Danica McKellar said today, “Do the math.” Whew. That’s a lot of zeroes in differential. To segue a bit, I interviewed mathlete whiz and actress Danica McKellar today as the first in our series of Shaping Youth celebrity profiles which I’ll be writing the first week of every month, to highlight POSITIVE ROLE MODELS for youth.

It’s my way of giving you something other than Paris’ jailhouse jumpsuit or Lindsay’s rehab wear to focus upon in the entertainment world.

Frankly, I wish we could get kids to focus on OTHER parts of the world, but I’m reminded, “baby steps count” and everyone walks before they run in terms of natural progression much less behavioral modification.

Danica just launched “Math Doesn’t Suck” to engage middle school girls in mathematics on their own terms, and tomorrow, 8/21/07, Danica’s taking it from the mind to the BODY with her own “Daily Dose of Dharma,” a new mother/daughter yoga and meditation DVD for time-crunched opportunists seeking a respite from the media mayhem! Sounds divine. I could use some balance…

I’ll report on this in full when we premiere our profile piece on Anastasia Goodstein’s YPulse each month, but meanwhile, I thought I’d put in a plea to our own readers for celebs YOU feel are worthy of the spotlight from a role model perspective.

Who do YOU feel is contributing to the planet? Who would YOU like to see profiled?

Whether turning heads as an animal rights activist like WorldHeart founder Linda Blair (of Exorcist fame) or walking the walk with bio-diesel fossil fuel queens like Daryl Hannah (Splash) we’re interested in finding “People Shaping Youth” in positive ways. So bring ’em on!

We’re nominating…Jamie Lee Curtis, Claire Danes, Natalie Portman, Jodie Foster…keep ’em comin our way…Ideas? Suggestions? Vote!

p.s. Note to scoundrel opportunists: Our nonprofit has locked up the People Shaping Youth website domain, along with 56 others in the Shaping Youth realm, so back off or I’ll trademark your hide! I’m getting very annoyed by wasting money on USPTO legal expenses when we’re just trying to do good things here…

That said, CCFC reported that legal beagles sometimes can do GOOD things…like the CSPI litigation and Kellogg’s pressure that actually resulted in some POSITIVE precedent setting of nutritional guidelines and pledges for Nickelodeon, and Disney and other cable channels as it pertains to ethical self-rein.

So, bravo! I guess lawyers can help or hinder depending on your vantage point…



  1. >>So what’s the difference in kids’ marketing these days? Why all the power whining on poor nutritional value? Short answer? … 1983 corporations spent $100 million marketing to children. Now? We’re at $17 BILLION.

  2. ==So what’s the difference in kids’ marketing these days? Why all the power whining on poor nutritional value? Short answer? … 1983 corporations spent $100 million marketing to children. Now? We’re at $17 BILLION.==

    Where to start?

    Compared to the marketing budgets in other areas, and to gross marketing budgets, overall, where does kids’ marketing stand? If overall budgets went up in the same degree, then it doesn’t say anything other than our standards of living (fiscally) have grown.

    My much-better-half, a SAHM, complained to me the other day that she was watching an age-appropriate program for our 4 yr old when an advertisement for a women’s’ hygienic product came on screen. She asked me which was worse: encouraging kids to ask for sugary cereals, or deflecting questions about products they don’t need?

    I guess I stand on the position that parents need to be more responsible in dictating what their kids see, buy, and consume, and not attack the companies that provide the goods. CCFC is well-intentioned, to be sure, but I believe they are going about things in the wrong way.

  3. Amy, I’d love to know where Susan Linn got the $17 billion figure — do you know? That’s a powerful number.

    Also intersted in your comment to “scoundrel opportunists” . . . something I have to worry about when securing my new domain?


  4. Hi Lisa, yes, absolutely, the number vaulted to $17 billion from $15 billion which was a compilation of resources evidenced in her book Consuming Kids, but I’ll ping CCFC directly to get the updated $2 billion bump in detail and post it asap.

    As for the opportunists, I’ve forked out $10,000 in USPTO branding of our nonprofit, and my Board has had a hissy due to some ‘piggybacking’ on our name, Shaping Youth…

    I’ll explain it offline in an e-mail if you wish. Let’s just say, Shaping Youth has been all about Media & Marketing since we started testing our programs with kids in 2004 but we never had the need to officially ‘brand’ and trademark protect, being a small nonprofit.

    Now, our Board insists on same due to our credibility in the marketplace, and others creating “brand confusion” to usurp search engine bleed…

    As a nonprofit, our visibility is our survival, so this presents a problem…especially since we’re in this for the long haul, and launching by year’s end.

  5. Oh! And Charlie, I’ll post a response to your comment soon too, but my short answer is I applaud CCFC for creating an advocacy system of “checks and balances.”

    It may FEEL like they’re going about things the wrong way, (and as a marketing/media type, we clearly view the issues differently here as well from a realistic standpoint) but I support them FULLY as a counter-balance and equalizing lever.

    CCFC’s zealous advocacy and policy drivers have gained traction and worth, dramatizing the need for these issues to be put under the ethical microscope. I shudder to think what we’d do without them, as self-rein has been bogus in effectiveness, especially since advertising is so ambient these days.

    Their actions enable companies to react with accountability, while building awareness and cogent thinking as to the direct impact our highly commercialized society is having on our children and on our planet as a whole.

    More on this soon…gotta post an update!

  6. Susan Linn & Josh Golin at CCFC just responded…so here ya go!

    The figure comes from James McNeal, auhor of The Kids Market, Myths & Realities, “who always seems to provide these figures”–He’s quoted on the CCFC site here: ($1.4 billion per month = $16.8 billion per year)

    And here’s a link to his book as well:

  7. Thanks so much — yet another book to read! Lisa.

  8. Actually, the one you REALLY need to read, (and Charlie, too, above, since it explains ‘the difference’ in terms of parents being undermined by corporate hawks mining wee ones (if I sound like I’m ‘attacking’ these companies, apologies, but this book will help you SEE why) is called, “The Great Tween Buying Machine” by David Siegel et al…

    By age, it strategies how to target kids and motivate action using psychological tactics for behavioral stimulation…Think Pavlov’s dog wanting Froot Loops. (see “preoperational thought 3-7 years, concrete operations 7-11 and even, yes, ‘sensori-motor intelligence’ at 0-2)

    Here’s a little snippet, “one of the most important reasons to study and target tweens is that it’s the stage in their lives when branding begins to take effect. Of the 9-11 year old surveyed in the 2003 Yankelovich Youth Monitor, 71% reported that they tend to stick with a product or brand they like.”

    And Lisa, by the way, though Susan Linn is using the $17 billion kids’ figure, which is VERY sound…it’s low. I wouldn’t get too attached to it, because Siegel’s book would blow your socks off if you add the amount of spending/targeting/projections…

    For starters, Siegel quotes TWEENS ALONE spend $11 billion annually, tween parents spend an additional $176 billion ON THEM…tweens conservative 20% influence on family purchases hike that figure to $74 billion attributed to TWEEN influence alone. That’s not even factoring in the other ends of the “kids target market” on both sides of the spectrum.

    Charlie, you may say, ‘well tell the parents to stop buying’ and I’d say, ‘yeah’…sure…that’s a given, but these days kids have their OWN spending power as well…and there are entire courses (here’s one at Stanford cont. ed called “shoppers confidential”)
    that TRAIN marketers how to get the most bang for their buck with kids and leverage them as influencers…

    So this goes WAY beyond ‘the old days’ of parents saying ‘no’ to Ho-Hos and Ding-Dongs…ambient ads are everywhere, and as for the ‘gross marketing budget overall’ Google it…and you’ll find that though it’s increased, KIDS marketing is the gold and the prize, and the one they’re goin’ after…

    CCFC is doing us ALL a great service by being on the far end of the ‘no commercialism to kids at all’ spectrum. (again, I’m not saying I feel it’s realistic, which is why we opt for deconstruction, media literacy, counter-marketing, and pressure on corp. accountability w/harmful messaging) but it’s a HUGE start to take a large whack at the policy level to be able to call attention to the issues on a granular one.

    CCFC does this brilliantly, and that’s why they’re an advocacy regulatory rabble rouser, and we’re an educational intervention nonprofit for critical thinking. We all have our strengths, and we NEED each other to function collaboratively toward sustainable change.

    We share the mutual goals of making the world a healthier place for children…with the right to grow up and define themselves rather than have media and marketing brandwash every synapse along the way.

    And yes, I’m passionate on this issue. Feel free to zap me an alternate view. I appreciate all respectful pro/con dialogue, that’s why we’re a centrist entity. Have at it! And many thanks for taking the time to comment, one and all!

  9. 8-24 Update: Again, we’ve already reported on this one, but it’s nice to see Nickelodeon following suit with Kellogg’s…this is what I mean by ‘industry pressure’ having positive outcomes…it’s Peer Pressure in a POSITIVE way among industry giants who need to ‘follow the leader’ in accountability/responsibility in order to self-rein…

    “Nickelodeon Limits Use of Licensed Characters for Junk Food Advertising

    Aug 16, 2007

    Nickelodeon officials on Wednesday announced that the company will prohibit use of its licensed characters on packaging for unhealthful food products, the New York Times reports. In a letter to U.S. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s telecommunications subcommittee, Nickelodeon’s president said the network’s characters will appear on packaging only for food products that meet “better for you” nutritional standards established by the company’s marketing clients in association with federal recommendations. The licensing ban will take effect in January 2009, when current two-year licensing agreements expire, but will not apply to products marketed for special occasions, including birthday cakes and Halloween candy. The Times notes, however, that the potential impact of Nickelodeon’s new pledge remains unclear because some food and beverage companies that use Nickelodeon characters to market unhealthy fare have already agreed to stop advertising junk food to children. In addition, the networks’ marketing partners may have varying interpretations of the “better for you” criteria. Still, Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, believes that, given Nickelodeon’s status as a major player in children’s programming, the network’s pledge represents “a very important step for children’s health, assuming the criteria are reasonable.” Rep. Markey also lauded Nickelodeon for its announcement but reinforced the need for additional interventions, saying “it is vital that the media companies join food and beverage marketers in adopting socially responsible marketing strategies” to address childhood obesity (Martin, New York Times, 8/16/07 [registration required]; Teinowitz, Television Week, 8/15/07). “

  10. Sorry for the delay in my response (I was unavoidably offline).

    First off, Amy: I never would ‘zap’ anyone for their views. And as for you having the ‘alternate view’, it would seem that I am more in that category than anyone else here.

    Kelloggs and Nick will limit their advertising: that probably explains (as I noted above) the un-kid friendly ad my 4 year old saw with mom. This is progress?

    And further to my 11 year old Tween, he doesn’t make purchases without consulting his parents. That doesn’t mean we rule with an iron fist and say ‘no’ to everything he wants, but with oversight we maintain our responsibility as parents.

    So to restate my ‘alternate view’, I fail to see why companies – which are providing jobs and tax revenue across the board – are targeted when the focus should be on why parents aren’t taking a more responsible role.

    (and I won’t be surprised if these comments cause ‘zaps’ at me)

  11. Hey there! No ‘zaps’ here, as I said, I LOVE respectful discourse. I’m having tech probs w/akismet spam big time, so just realized I never formally got back to you…sorry, Charlie.

    First, you’re right, on this particular blog, you’re probably in the minority in terms of folks who believe the plethora of products targeting kids is a ‘just say no’ parental issue of personal responsibility.

    I’ve got kids AND parents in our counter-marketing sessions who genuinely BELIEVE they’re drinking ‘juice’ with SunnyD, CapriSun, and the HFCS concoction du’ jour, and those that truly BELIEVE they’re ‘doing the right thing’ with vitamin fortified water and sports drinks laden with sugar/salt, not to mention the “Smart choices made easy” self-awarded green seal for healthier food from PepsiCo.

    So you tell me…is unethical marketing doing ANYONE any favors fiscally or physically?

    Confusing nutritional claims and glamorized health and fitness vitamin fortified claims have created a Tower of Babel that even PARENTS buy into, much less kids, from product packaging snipes to the ingredient panel and portion distortion.

    This creates market confusion even among those that are TRYING to eat better, much less those who approach junk food with ‘bring it on’ carefree cluelessness.

    Sure, you could argue ‘nanny-state’ and say people ‘should know better’ and get media literate, but then you’re opening up a real can of worms balancing misinformation if not DECEPTIVE advertising with human gullibility.

    On your jobs and tax rev fiscal point, I’d argue that corporate coffers will indeed make a killing, while we TAXpayers end up paying triple-fold for the obesity mess which has become a public health nightmare. It’s more than a ‘nuisance’ it’s a death sentence to an already broken healthcare system that will be bankrupt in a heartbeat if this level of obesity continues unchecked.

    We’re ALL going to end up paying for it through our work force/labor sick days, taxes, govt, disease control from back, heart, diabetes, podiatry and every other body part prone to obesity foul ups, so call it economics if you want, but the ‘just say no’ parent bit is clearly NOT working. I think it’s ABSOLUTELY APPROPRIATE that Kelloggs and Nick limit their advertising…and wish they would’ve done it sooner, but hey…baby steps…

    Now, to your other point, again, you’re right, ads for everything from Viagra to feminine hygiene are being sold for parent’s eyes by targeting KIDS these days instead of the other way around. (as it used to be)

    See my article here on Theraflu/big pharm being sold via Happy Feet’s cartoon penguins in a subversive bait and switch disguised as “Flu Facts” to reach cough-concerned families in time for flu season!

    For the record, I’m against that too.

    Just leave the flippin’ kids out of it. Let ‘em be kids without playing dodgeball for eyeballs as marketers try to make brands ‘stick.’

    Finally, yes, parents SHOULD take a role in responsibility, absolutely and unequivocally. But so should marketers. Up until the threat of a massive lawsuit, they hadn’t self-reined for beans. Why should advertisers rate a “get out of jail free” pass and leave parents stuck with the nightmare of 24/7 deconstruction and counter-marketing toxic crud?

    As one of our readers said, “Will there will come a day when we PAY marketers to go away and stop mining our kids? Can’t we create a ‘do not call’ list for our children? Don’t we have a right to live life in peace without constant harassment, undermining our own parental values creating conflict by bombarding our children with undesirable “stuff?”

    Seems to me the answer is “no,” we no longer have that right, nor that freedom. Everything has become ‘for sale’ including the minds of our kids…$17 billion aimed at their cerebral cortex is far from chump change, eh?

  12. ALSO—wanted to let you know the ad industry’s doing just FINE without advertising their WORST junk food to kids, by their own admission, so no tears, folks…Here’s the headline in Ad Age dated 8/20:

    “Kiddie Cablers Doing Just Fine With New Diet Nick: Cartoon Networks Have No Trouble Filling Ad Void Left by Sugary Snacks”

    It goes on to say, “Even before this year’s FCC controversy” (um, and CSPI’s lawsuit?)”caused marketers such as Kellogg and General Mills to pull back overall spend on their sugary cereals and snacks, the kids’ networks were bracing themselves for a changing market…”

    Ad Age continues, “Kids’ upfront finish is about 5% higher than last year’s total haul of $950 million. And as the ink dries on what Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and others are reporting to be an even stronger market for children 2 to 11, it’s clear the dollar increase isn’t coming from food companies.”

    “Though cereal money still accounts for a significant chunk of Nick’s change–about $94.4 million was spent on Nickelodeon in 2006 alone, according to TNS Media Intelligence — the network also has been turning to less-traditional categories such as automotive, travel and financial in recent years. In one upfront deal with Starcom alone, valued at $100 million and based on minute-by-minute ratings, the network locked in dollars from a list that included Kellogg as well as nonfood clients such as Lego, Nintendo, Chuck E. Cheese and Buena Vista.”

    (So Charlie, to your point, I guess we need to add ‘Always’ into the non-food client category too, sigh) 😉

  13. Amy, you have been more than kind to engage my minority view here, and I appreciate it. As a final post in this thread, allow me the following observations and comments:

    * In my estimate the parents who blindly accept the SunnyD’s of the world (which, at least at one time, was strangely included as an ingredient vegetable oil!) are just as myopic as those who would have bough snake oil 80 years ago. Buyer beware, I say. If a parent cannot determine the difference, a nanny state won’t help our civilization.

    * I would disagree we have a broken health-care system; too many people have assumed too many services are to be paid by a third-party, and not themselves. I am in favor of safety-nets for the truly destitute (and we have that already), but your suggestion that our health-care system is broken sounds too scarily like the dawning of socialized medicine. And that won’t do us any good at all!

    * On a point of common ground: I am not objecting to Kelloogs/Nick’s decision, per se. Where you and I disagree is that I wish parents would only bother to get engaged in their kids diets. THAT would fuel the marketing that would implement the change, and everyone would be the healthier and wealthier. While their ‘voluntary’ change benefits the kids, it does nothing to educate anyone.

    * On the “Kids’ upfront finish is about 5% higher than last year’s” – that number, in an of itself, is meaningless. Show me the stats for advertising as a whole, and we have something to discuss. For example: if ALL advertising, or even all kids-related advertising is down, but sugary cereals ads are up 5%, then you have a tremendous point. But if all advertising is up 5% across the board, this stat, by itself, isn’t showing anything.

    Lastly, as Nick and others have turned to ‘automotive, travel, and financial’ ads to replace cereal, instead of my 4 year old asking for Fruit Loops I suppose I’ll be hearing about the latest vacation getaway, new car, or sub-prime mortgage offering. If those are my choices, give me a cartoon Toucan Sam, any day.

    I’ve enjoyed the discussion, but I won’t clutter this post any further.

  14. No worries. I enjoy it! I’ll look for the stat you’re seeking as I know it exists albeit in a slightly shifted form in terms of food products and ALL products targeting kids, not just sugary cereals…

    As for the kid-pitch on cars and vacations, alas…marketers are already mining that angle…and I agree with you, it’s less than ideal. When kids are pitching Toyota Scion’s to their families from the branding in virtual worlds like Whyville and travel companies are factoring in kids’ preferences in terms of what consolidator they want to use online for air fare, I’d say ‘Houston we’ve got a problem’ big time.

    Do we really feel children are the purchase power/influencers and decision makers of families? By the looks of it at and the multiple marketing firms targeting them when they can’t even reach the gas pedals for brand loyalty, I’d mark that as a big ‘evidently so.’ sigh.

    And on the healthcare system, we agree to disagree. It’s not a red state or blue state issue by any means, and as a centrist, I have to say I’ve found disappointment on both sides of the debate and many who concur that it IS indeed broken. But since we’re a media/marketing blog rather than a healthcare policy wonk site, I think I’ll leave that debate to the pros…I can only speak from my own medical experiences, which have thankfully been limited…But care all around has been subpar at best. (including for my retired Naval Officer father/family who has had to go to the mat for every reimbursement that was formerly ‘promised’ during active duty) Ah, again, I digress…

    p.s. As to our common ground on the SunnyD/pouch drinks sans label literacy, yes, that one goes far beyond nutritional issues into parenting ones…I’m more concerned about the folks who are TRYING to eat healthy and being MISLED by ‘healthy sounding’ advertising.

    When ‘healthy’ and ‘whole grain’ ‘high fiber’ yadayada are sniped hither and yon and paired with official sounding logos, it sure SEEMS to be a healthier choice until you realize the ‘guidelines and standards’ are set by ‘big food’ players to simply shift the palate to a slightly less toxic offering within their own line. Bleh. Distasteful marketing. I’m not one for obfuscation, as you can probably tell…

  15. Finally someone understands the importance of role models for our kids today, or in my case grandchildren. I’m hoping there can be young people who don’t have to smoke, drink or use drugs to be popular and that they have achieved some kind of stardom so our kids will look up to them. Amy, Keep up the good work…and I’m going to keep reading…if you want to post something in my blog..let me know…we also have a younger audience from time to time. And I know we have a lot of young parents who could use this information.

    Glad I found you or did you find me? Whatever, as my four year old grandson says…glad we did..Dorothy from grammology

  16. maria e montanes says

    SUSAN LINN – Reciba un saludo desde Colombia Sur América. De manera CONFIDENCIAL y URGENTE necesito contacto directo con Usted. Tengo información muy importante que deseo exponerle relacionada con la violacion de los derechos de la infancia y los adolescentes del Planeta por parte de la Disney con sus productos de entretenimiento. Debe USTED Y SU EQUIPO DE TRABAJO CONOCER EL ALCANCE DE ESTA INFORMACION LO ANTES POSIBLE. AGRADEZCO ME CONTACTEN LO ANTES POSISBLE. GRACIAS.

Speak Your Mind