"Mommy can I get this?" and "Daddy! I want a Happy Meal" may
echo frequently through the shopping aisles or from your back seat.
Why do they want this stuff?
Advertising and branding influence kids at a young age. Three-
to 5-year-olds understand brands, and preschoolers can judge
products based on popularity or relevance to their lives, according
to a recent study co-authored by researchers at the University of
Wisconsin and University of Michigan.
"We can't just hold the belief that they don't get it," says
Bettina Cornwell, a study co-author and professor of marketing at
the University of Michigan. "It depends on their level of
Little ones can be perceptive consumers. Children's recognition
rates were as high as 92 percent for some of the 50 brands tested
across 16 product categories, including fast food, pop and
The study showed children use brand cues in choosing toys and
food. They feel marketing pressures similar to teenagers.
Even for some 3-year-olds, it's important to have certain toys
or eat at certain restaurants. Unfortunately, fast food chains
cater to this group.
"(We want to) provide information that can support the right
kind of policy," says Cornwell. "If we understand that these
children are vulnerable, it puts them on the radar."
The information highlights the need to monitor advertising and
may help regulators protect children from marketing pressures.
But Cornwell thinks the family has a lot of influence too. She
recommends parents sit down and discuss with children why they want
"Parents set the rules and for this age there's a lot of
potential for involvement in learning about brands," says Cornwell.
"A parent explaining things is always helpful."
Parenting in a media-heavy world isn't easy. Cell phones, TV and
computers allow advertisers to tell kids what to wear, eat or
Kids who look involved playing with LEGOs could actually be
listening to nearby TV commercials. Cornwell suggests monitoring a
child's media intake and having them watch more DVDs than
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