This morning we reported a study on the staggering power of advertising. Children, ages 3 and 5, were presented with an assortment of identical foods, half in McDonald’s packaging, half in unmarked packaging. The kids were then asked which tasted better. An overwhelming majority said the foods labeled “McDonald's” tasted best.
To drive this point home… When presented with absolutely identical French fries, 77% of these young kids said the ones with a McDonald's label tasted better. When presented with carrots – yes carrots – a majority of kids said they preferred the McDonald's wrapped veggies. These kids, too young to reason, have been convinced that anything stamped by a Golden Arch is superior.
What can we conclude from this data? At the very least, we can say that by the age of 3, many of our children are already heavily influenced by marketing. At worst, we can say we are warping kids’ minds and creating an army of brainwashed, chicken-nugget popping zombies.
Many have suspected all this long before now, but the stark power of this particular study has renewed the call for government intervention – for regulation that would limit advertising to children. I’m as concerned by McDonald's influence as anyone, but that is most definitely not the answer.
If we limit ad time on TV, marketers will buy online banners and roadside billboards. Trying to shutdown corporate speech is a futile exercise.
If you don’t want marketers talking to your children, don’t dump them in front of a television for hours on end. Counteract advertisers' message with your own, by actually spending time as a family. “Buy a Big Mac” is not the worst thing kids will have whispered in their ear. Which is why parents better be whispering back.