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Why kids want stuff

Here's a tip for reducing the influence of advertising on your child.

By Karen Datko Dec 17, 2009 1:04PM

This post comes from Trent Hamm at partner blog The Simple Dollar.


Recently, my 4-year-old son was watching a television program at his grandparents’ home. At our own home, we don’t watch much non-PBS programming, so this was one of my son’s first real exposures to advertising.


I came into the room after he had been watching for about 40 minutes and started to get his coat on and get him ready to go. He asked to finish watching the show, so I sat down with him for a few minutes.


At the end of the show, a commercial came on for some toy -- I think it was some sort of mechanized hamster. A couple of seemingly happy children were playing with them. After about 10 seconds, Joe turned to me and said, “Dad, I want one of those,” while pointing at the screen.


I turned off the TV (since we needed to leave) and asked him why he wanted that toy. He said, “Uhhh …” and looked at the screen for a while. Then he said, “I don’t know, Daddy.”

A half hour later, I asked him about it again, just to see what he’d say. He told me flat out that he didn’t want that thing anymore. Of course, this was aided by the fact that we had arrived at our destination and were playing with a big box of building blocks.


Immediately after seeing the ad, my son badly wanted that toy. The urgency in his voice was quite impressive. Yet, even a half hour later, his interest in the toy was nonexistent. (In fact, I just asked him about the toy and he seemed to have no idea what I was talking about.)


His interest in the item was spurred by the situation of the moment, not by any attribute of the toy. The commercial triggered an emotional wave brought on by the children who were obviously having fun with the toy. Yet, when that emotional wave was gone, he didn’t really want the toy at all.

That’s really the point of marketing, isn’t it? It creates emotional waves. It makes you want something very strongly in the short term. Repeating those emotional waves over and over again can create long-term desire out of thin air -- the kind of thing that makes you wish you had an Escalade.


If you find yourself wanting something for no real reason -- but you can’t shake that desire -- do what my son did: Take yourself out of the situation. Turn off the television. Close the magazine. Shut the Web browser. Do something that doesn’t have a lot of advertising involved in it. Get in touch with who you are.


You’ll find the desire melting away.


It works for me. It works for my son, too. I’m willing to bet it’ll work for you.


Related reading at The Simple Dollar:



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