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Commercialization of Childhood

Commercialization of childhood is a process by which children "are being turned into consumers almost from birth, and by adolescence, their social worlds are almost totally constructed around cool commodities, brand names, and the latest trendiest commercial music, films and lingo"

According to Sociologist Juliet Schor (2004), this commercialization is especially prevalent in the United States, a country with 4.6 percent of the world's population that consumes almost half the toys produced in the world each year. J.Schor points to corporate research showing that 6- to 12-year-olds shop with an adult two to three times each week and put six items in carts on each occasion.

Schor draws attention to the corporate construction of childhood, a term that refers to the reach, power, and influence of a small number of corporations that sell and/or market most of the things children buy or want their parents to buy for them. Those corporations include Disney, Viacom, MTV Networks, Fox, AOL/ Time Warner, Mattel, Hasbro, Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, McDonald's, Burger King, Coca-Cola Company, and PepsiCo.

In her study, Schor conducted 25 interviews, shadowed market researchers conducting focus groups with children, sat in?on industry meetings, attended professional child marketing conferences, and read as many related publications as she could find. She describes a new kind of intrusive research that takes places in settings previously off-limits to strangers. According to her marketers began using these new intrusive methods in the 1980s because they were not satisfied with the limited information survey questions yield. These new research "scrutinizes the most intimate details of children's lives"?in naturalistic settings. That is, marketers videotape, interview, and observe children as they play, eat, take baths, do homework, and get ready for bed. Studying children in this way allows corporations to learn about the intimate details of children's lives and, based on information gleaned, develop strategies to market their products to them. Schor learned that industry researchers visit playgrounds, stores, schools, homes, clubs, and any setting that attracts children. These researchers pay parents for private time with children in a bedroom, bathroom, or playroom.

Some marketing firms plant hidden cameras on children ages 6 to 9 before placing them in a store setting and instructing them to "purchase" a designated number of products.

The researchers are interested in how easy it is for the child to see a particular brand on a shelf with other brands, how long the child gazes at a product relative to another, what part of an advertisement loses a child's attention, and at which of two monitors a child looks when two different shows or ads are playing.

Eye tracking offers valuable insights as to what product and packaging best captures children's attention.