Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Fast Food Nation (Chp 2)

I almost forgot what day it is! That's right: Tuesday, aka Fast Food Nation day. As stated previously, the book has ten chapters, an introduction, an epilogue, and an afterword, so this feature will go into December. I'm hoping to make the posts a center for thoughtful discussion about the issue, but if that doesn't happen at least I know I'm getting the word out. :) Oh, and to read previous posts on the book, just click on the "fast food nation" tag at the end of this one.

Last week, I promised that this post would get people's blood boiling. Let's see if I can make good on that promise

Chp 2: Notes

+"Walt Disney and Roy Kroc [the guy who made McDonald's a nationwide franchise. -Eva] were masterful salesmen. They perfected the art of selling things to children. And their success led many others to aim marketing efforts at kids, turning America's youngest consumers into a demographic group that is now avidly studied, analyzed, and targeted by the world's largest corporations." (33-4)

+Kroc donated $250K to Nixon's reelection fund in return for presidential support of a bill allowing companies to pay sixteen and seventeen year olds 20% less than minimum wage. Not only did Nixon oblige, he also "permitted McDonald's to raise the price of its Quarter Pounders, despite mandatory wage and price controls restricting other fast food chains." (37)

+"[Kroc] liked to tell people that he was really in show business, not the restaurant business. Promoting McDonald's to children was a clever, pragmatic decision. "A child who loves our TV commercials," Kroc explained, "and brings her grandparents to a McDonald's gives us two more customers." (41)

+"Twenty-five years ago, only a handful of American companies directed their marketing at children-Disney, McDonald's, candy makers, toy makers, manufacturers of breakfast cereal. TOday children are being targeted by phone companies, oil companies, and automobile copmanies, as well as clothing stores and restaurant chains. The explosion in children's advertising occurred during the 1980s. Many working parents, feeling guilty about spending less time with their kids, started spending more money on them. One marketing expert has called the 1980s "the decade of the child consumer." After largely ignoring children for years, Madison Avenue began to scrutinize and pursue them. Major ad agencies now have children's divisions, and a variety of marketing firms focus solely on kids." (42-3)

+"The bulk of the advertising directed at children today as an immediate goal. "It's not just getting the kids to whine," one marketer explained in Selling to Kids, "it's giving them a specific reason to ask for the product." Years ago sociologist Vance Packard described children as "surrogate salesmen" who had to persuade other people, usually their parents, to buy what they wanted. Marketers now use different terms to explain the intended response to their ads-such as "leverage", "the nudge factor," "pester power." The aim of most children's advertising is straightforward: get kids to nag their parents and nag them well." (43)

+"Today's market researchers not only conduct surveys of children in shopping malls, they also organize focus groups for kids as young as two or three. They analyse children's artwork, hire children to run focus groups, stage slumber parties and then question children into the night." (44)

+In the late 80s, the Federal Trade Commission tried to ban TV advertising for kids under eight, arguing that they couldn't make informed decisions and were being exploited. However, lobbyists from the TV, advertising, and toys killed it. (46)

+Some stats: average American kids spend 21 hrs/wk watching TV (equals 1.5 months/yr), the only thing they do more other than school is sleep, see 30,000+ commericials. 25% of kids 2-5 have a TV in their bedroom.

+"...fast food chains are now gaining access to the last advertising-free outposts of American life. In 1993 District 11 in Colorado Springs started a nationwide trend, becoming the first public school distrct in the US to place ads for Burger King in its hallways and on the sides of its school buses....For $12K, a company got five school-bus ads, hallway ads in all fifty-two of the district's schools, ads in their school newspapers, a stadium banner, ads over the stadium's public address system during games, and free tickets to high school sporting events." (51)

+"The nation's three major beverage manufactureres are now spending large sums to increase the amount of soda that American children consume...Eight-year-olds are considered ideal customers; they have about sixty-five years of purchasing in front of them. "Entering the schools makes perfect sense," the trade journal concluded." (53-4)

+"...sodas provide empty calories and have replaced far more nutrious beverages in the American diet. Excessive soda consumption in children can lead to calcium deficiencies and a greater likelihood of bone fragmentation." (54)

+"Soft-drink consumption is now common among American toddlers. About one-fifth of the nation's one and two year olds now drink soda...."Pepsi, Dr Pepper and Seven-Up encouraged feeding soft drinks to babies by liscensing their logos to a major maker of baby bottles..." A 1997 study published in the Journal of Dentistry for Children found that many infants were indeed being fed soda in those bottles." (54)

+"The spiraling cost of textbooks has led thousands of American school districts to use corporate-sponsoed teaching materials. A 1998 study of these teaching materials by the Consumers Union found that 80 percent were biased, providing students with incomplete or slanted information that favored the sponsor's products and views. Proctor & Gamble's Decision Earth program taught that clear-cut logging was actually good for the environment; teaching aids distributed by the Exxon Environmental Foundation said that fossil fuels created few environmental problems and that alternative sources of energy were too expensive; a study guide sponsored by the Americna Coal Foundation dismissed fears of a greenouse effect, claiming that "the earth could benefit rather than be harmed by increased carbon dioxide."" (55)

+"The money that these corporations spend on their "educational" materials is fully tax-deductable." (56)

+"The American School Food Service Association estimates that about 30 percent of the public high schools in the US offer branded fast food. Elementary schools in Fort Collins, CO, now serve food from Pizza Hut, McDonald's, and Subway on special lunch days." (56)

Chp 2: Thoughts

If you're not screaming mad by the end of reading those notes, then I don't think you'll be ruffled by anything. For me, it's almost enough to make me not want to have kids! Of course, I know that I can try to raise them as aware consumers, and of course send them off with packed lunches to try to avoid fast food in elementary school (!), but it'll take some strong swimming to go against this tide. I wonder what kind of parents let their little kids participate in the focus groups Schlosser mentions ad agencies run; would you have your son or daughter go to a sleep over with adults? Kind of weird, imo. I cannot believe that corporations can not only create biased textbooks, but do it for free! Meanwhile, public schools are facing such a budget crisis they create advertising packages. There's something very wrong with that picture.

You'll note that my thoughts aren't very coherent this week. Basically, I think it's wrong, immoral, and should be illegal. These companies take kids and treat them as money-making machines. So sad.

I can't wait to see y'alls reactions to this, so even if you don't normally comment, please share any experiences/opinions about this one. So many of you are parents, which would be an interesting view.

6 comments:

verbivore said...

The out of control consumer culture does make me extremely angry. A lot of the information you put above is new to me - I didn't realize that advertising was allowed on school property and even in textbooks. How terribly sad and I agree with your view that this poses a huge burden on parents who want to educate their children to be careful and responsible consumers. The task seems rather daunting doesn't it?

Christopher said...

I highly recommend reading Benjamin R. Barber's newest book Consumed. I have started it and will continue to read it after I finish Animal Liberation.

It has newer data to back up the same problem: the corporations are using ad agencies to court and earn early consumers as early as age 1. They target children, hope for fit throwing and tantrums to coerce the parents to buying something just to keep their child happy.

With total corporate control over the airwaves consumerism is starting to ejaculate all over our sacred institutions. When will it end? With what Marx predicted so long ago, revolution.

Gentle Reader said...

It makes me hopping mad, too. I have three kids and I see how easily swayed they are by advertising (obviously, because it's targeted right at them). I try to keep them away from commercial TV, etc, but it all seeps in anyway, because they are bombarded so many places, and as a parent, there's only so much you can control.

The only time I've seen a positive side to marketing to kids is when it regards a public health issue. For the same reason kids make passionate consumers, they also make passionate advocates.

For example, I know my parents quit smoking solely because I bugged them until they did. I came home from school with pamphlets from the American Cancer Society on the dangers of smoking, and hounded my parents until they quit.

My children are hounding me about the environment. Their school has a "green team", and they are teaching kids about reducing, reusing and recycling, and have provided reusable aluminum drinking bottles for each kid in the school. My kids have gotten me to get reusable shopping bags and send their lunch items packed in reusable containers, or in biodegradable waxed paper bags. They also convinced my husband to buy a hybrid car!

So I guess what I'm saying is if we can educate kids and keep them motivated, the same enthusiasm that makes them avid consumers can help them save the world.

Whew, I'm glad you asked for comments, because I sure commented! Sorry for the longwindedness...

Dewey said...

I knew kids were targeted this way, and I tried to protect them by, as you mention, packing their lunches every day, not having TV in our house until they were old enough to have been taught to be savvy about consumerism, and teaching them about good food, and how to prepare it using fresh, mostly organic ingredients. Plus I never bought them advertising toys/clothes, such as Disney products and clothes with the brand announced on the chest, etc. I think the only solution for individual parents and their kids is to educate them.

Eva said...

Verbivore, I didn't realise the school thing either. Especially textbooks! I think the saddest part is that it results from a luck of funding for public schools. :(

Christopher, thanks for the recommendations. Thank God for PBS!

Gentle Reader, thanks for your long comment. :) I think you made a great point there, and very positive! I bugged my friend's family into wearing their seatbelts (and her dad was a doctor and her mom a nurse!). You reminded me of the good as well as the bad, which was helpful.

Dewey, the no TV thing is a good idea. I prefer DVDs anyway! I agree about the advertising toys/clothes. It's frustrating, because my sister is obsessed with Disney princesses, so my niece's room is decorated that way, and whenever she's buying something she picks the Disney princess version. I want to explain why it's a bad idea, but I don't think my sister would take it too well. :(

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