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Banishing the Marketing Monster
by Liz Parnell

Banishing the Marketing Monster

Advertising is everywhere but nowhere is it so prevalent as it is in the city. No time of year is so full of marketing as the lead-up to Christmas. Even a short journey in the city results in children being exposed to all sorts of advertising on billboards, buildings, taxis, buses, even other people’s clothing! Catalogs fill our mailboxes. The television is a constant stream of advertising – through the advertisements themselves and through tie-in products to children's TV programs. Even a trip to the grocery shop is fraught with “media-danger:” Cereal boxes are plastered with images of the latest movie character and cookie packages bear your child's favourite TV character. What is a parent to do?

The marketing strategies used by advertisers are effective – they wouldn't use them otherwise! Children have been shown to be especially vulnerable to advertising, however adults are far from immune. Signs like “3 for $5” increase sales of the particular item dramatically, regardless of whether the product is really any cheaper at the advertised price and regardless of the purchaser’s intent prior to entering the store. We go into stores intending to spend $50 each on four presents and come out of the store $500 poorer. What hope is there for our children if their parents are not immune?

Prevention is always better than cure. Reduce your child's exposure to TV advertisements will go a long way towards curbing the desire for more “stuff”. Avoid unnecessary trips to the shops, as being in the shops looking at the desirable items will weaken even the strongest of resolves. Filter the advertising material you allow into your home via the mail. Throw out any toy catalogs or any other type of catalog that will arouse dissatisfaction and desire for more “stuff” in your household.

Educate your kids on the purposes of advertising. Even very young children can understand. In my family, we have been telling our children for years (and they are currently five, three and one) that ads are there to make you want things you don't need. This is a basic enough understanding of advertising for a young child and your descriptions could become more detailed as your child's understanding grows. Sitting with your children while they watch TV or are exposed to other forms of advertising allow you to discuss the ads with them. You can talk about how the ad makes them feel, what the intent of the ad is and how it arouses the desire for more.

Setting an example in your own life will also go a long way towards helping your children not to be influenced by marketing. Look at your own Christmas wish list: Is it filled with the latest gadgets or is it filled with a few items you know will bring you satisfaction? Do you continually buy more than you had intended? Write a list and stick to it. Write down the names of those you need to buy a present for, how much you intend to spend and any suggestions you have for gifts including places you may have seen these items advertised at a good price. Show your children that you can make advertising work in your favor. Stick to your agreed list and budget. If you see items that are not on your list, write down where you saw them and for what price and wait at least a week. It does happen on occasion that you simply forgot to put Great Aunt Maude on the Christmas list, so some purchases are worth going back for.

At Christmas time, focus on what is truly important about Christmas for your family. If you celebrate Christ’s birth at Christmas, then plan your activities to have that focus. If Christmas is all about shared meals with family and friends, then put the focus on that and not the gifts. If you haven’t already, consider the role that Santa plays in Christmas and whether that meshes well with your own values. Does Santa encourage traditions and heritage and a shared experience or does he inflame greed and desire?

Another way to take the focus off “stuff” at Christmas time is to be generous and reach out to others in need. Spend time talking about what you will give, and not what you want to get. Find ways to serve others. Some may be able to volunteer time at a soup kitchen or shelter on the day. Others may pack hampers for donation to charities. No matter what your stage of life, there is some way you can reach out to others. A young family could bake cookies to give to a shelter for distribution on Christmas Day or you could purchase gifts for children who would otherwise miss out – there are charities all over the world that accept this sort of donation. You could invite a homeless person or someone you know who has no family to celebrate with to your home to share a meal. One of my most treasured memories of Christmas was the year my parents invited an acquaintance from their church to celebrate Christmas Eve with us. Our Christmas Eve tradition was to celebrate with my mother’s siblings and children. We (being in Australia) had a barbecue, played backyard cricket and generally had a lot of fun, before jumping into our cars to drive around looking at Christmas lights. The acquaintance said to my parents, “Thank you for showing me how a real family celebrates Christmas.” While we gave to this man, he gave us much more than we anticipated.

In the “post-Christmas fallout”, spend a little time pondering about how this Christmas went. Did the focus of the season align with your personal and family values. What worked? What didn't? How could you improve on it next year? January is the time to start planning your next Christmas!

Liz Parnell is a wife, mother and homemaker who lives in Australia. She enjoys reading non-fiction, cooking, writing short articles, making their small living space a home and being a present mother to her children.


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