In a typical American household, the television can be on anywhere from two to eight hours a day. This makes TV a strong marketing tool not just for adults, but also for kids, who often watch TV out of boredom or because parents need a “babysitter” while finishing tasks around the house. Television is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does affect how your child sees and handles money and therefore must be treated carefully.
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Message #1: There’s a right and wrong time to buy.
Although marketers produce television advertisements all year, they pay particular attention to the general calendar. For example, during Christmas, a company might promote products or services as good gifts, while during summer, a company might promote their products as ideal for vacations and relaxation. Over time, this teaches your child that there is a right time to buy (during the sale, which is only happening because of a specific event or holiday).
On one hand, ads can show your child that paying attention to the calendar might result in significant savings or the ability to buy in greater quantity. On the other hand, because kids respond emotionally to marketing, your child might be so enticed by the sale prices and sense of urgency in the ad that it’s challenging to think about whether taking part in the sale is truly necessary.
Message #2: More is better.
Marketers capitalize on the fact that consumers like to get more for less money—some ads even stress how the sales are good in light of economic difficulties. Ideally, kids learn to share, but they’re still learning how much of various items is appropriate. In some cases, getting more is the better deal, such as if your child can get two shirts for the price of one. In other cases, getting more may be wasteful, such as if your child goes to a restaurant because of a meal deal and then can’t finish his portion. Television shows and ads are much more likely to promote consumption rather than conservatism, because conservatism translates to fewer profits for the companies that generate the ads.
Message #3: It’s simple.
When marketers produce television ads—especially those related to kids—they are very careful to make getting the item or service seem simple. For example, if your child sees an advertisement for a car, he might see that a person can close with a dealership for as little as x dollars per month. Your child does not hear anything about the fact that x dollars really depends on multiple factors such as employment, length of the financing loan, credit and debt level. Subsequently, kids often think it’s easy to procure or use something, when in fact it can be complex.
Marketers do this with children’s items and services in particular because children respond more emotionally than adults—the more facts your child sees, the more necessary it is to use logic in a purchase decision, and not all children yet have the ability to rationalize well, depending on age, biology and experiences. Keeping it simple is as much about generating emotional response as it is the limited amount of air time available.
Message #4: Money comes easily doesn’t hurt.
Contemporary television is riddled with reality television and game shows. Almost all of these shows offer money as a prize. These shows can be negative for your child’s financial education because they get away from the idea that money is something that is earned through sufficient work, instead promoting funds as being easy to obtain. Worse, contestants or participants usually are shown parting from the show in high spirits even after losing the game, which doesn’t show children how socially, physically and spiritually devastating financial loss can be.
On the positive side, reality TV and game shows show your child that taking the occasional risk can mean a big financial payout—some of the best companies in the world started because an entrepreneur took a chance. Some classic television shows such as Jeopardy even connect money not with pure chance, but with intellect and strategy.