Sunday, November 13, 2011

Viral Marketing and Kids

Group 3’s presentation on viral marketing was an interesting look at the “non-traditional” ways in which advertising messages are spread. I am somewhat skeptical of the term “stealth marketing” since most of it is not actually that stealthy. Most commercials and billboards don’t have disclaimers saying “this is an ad,” but we can figure it out. The same goes for product placement in television shows, films, and video games. The NBC sitcom 30 Rock often makes fun of what are usually not-so-subtle ads within the media.

But it is certainly true that marketing methods have become more sophisticated. They are always looking to target more specific network. One of the points discussed in class was reasons for why children are targeted. Prof. Hayden mentioned that although kids aren’t making many purchases while they’re young, they can still develop loyalty to a brand that sticks for life. I think an additional reason that was not touched on is children’s desire to fit in with their peers. Most commonly associated with adolescence, this desire seems to begin as early as elementary school and last through college. As a kid when I came home from school, I was constantly telling my mom about the snack everyone else was eating and the sneakers they all had. I might have never been attracted to those products on my own, but suddenly I needed them.

Kids are important advertising targets because word-of-mouth and opinion leadership techniques are wildly successful in their networks. Whereas an adult might observe some friends wearing a Northface jacket and consider buying one, a child would simply have to have it. These network clusters are jam-packed with marketing influence. And now these networks are becoming larger and even more-interconnected as more and more children use smartphones and social media.

The members of Group 3 also pointed out that despite concerns about the ethics of such viral marketing campaigns aimed at children, there has yet to be any real response from the Federal Trade Commission. Will giant corporations continue to have free reign in their marketing campaigns? I believe that they will, at least in the United States, where concerns about privacy are less important than economic success.  


  1. I wonder if telling children that "this is advertising" would change their shopping habits; will they suddenly turn away because they realize they are being influenced by the capitalistic endeavors? My guess is, probably not. I too wonder if they really don't know this is advertising for Doritos or Rice Crispy. I think those playing a Doritos game must be at least 12 or 13 to play a game that advanced, I think "get it" but aren't bothered by it. I also believe this leads back to the issue of increased media literacy. I remember in middle school my English teacher had a lesson on advertising and product placement, I wonder if they still do this in schools. Ultimately I think advertising is here to stay, children are prime targets, but ultimately parents are the ones controlling whether or not to buy the apple or the Mcnuggets.

  2. As long as children have such valuable selling potential they will continue to be prime targets of ad agencies. I think it seems like the government will be slow to responding but in part it may be the result of trying to keep up with ad agencies' new efforts added to a fast-changing media landscape that is increasingly more difficult to regulate. On top of that, as we have seen throughout class, large corporations are increasingly wielding more power and influence over nation-state regulation in the global media environment.

    In the meantime, I think a big part of it relates to how the parents educate their children to react to advertising and influence. Advertising is out there and will continue to be out there and I think a lot can be said by what parents are educating their children to do with these ads or as you said Ginnie, "whether or not to buy the apple or the Mcnuggets". Although of course the issue then is whether parents can be relied upon as aware enough to teach their children about identifying stealth advertising and about making choices that aren't based on these tactics. I'm not saying it's not a difficult battle and that regulation shouldn't address this issue, but I do feel that as you said Ginnie, increased education and awareness can go a long way in helping parents and children make better choices.

  3. Looks like we might be seeing some progress:
    This article does fail to mention that the former chairman of the FTC, Timothy Muris, is now DC's Facebook lobbyist. I guess the revolving door is not just isolated to the SEC.

    Also I think American adults have the same impulses that you proposed their kids do - need to have it now syndrome. Isn't that after-all the basis of US consumerism? Americans buying beyond their means?