Those of us untutored in the dark arts of marketing would not think to ask kids what kind of car the family should buy. Without being sexist about it, the little girls likely would pick a fully loaded, shocking pink Barbie convertible and the little boys would go for something in a monster truck with hood-mounted machine guns.
But what if the youngsters’ choices could be manipulated — by the car companies?
According to The Wall Street Journal, the automakers are advertising and doing product placements aimed at touting their cars to kids who will presumably then influence their parents’ purchase. And, indeed, surveys show a substantial percentage of families where children as young as 3 have at least some input into the choice of family car.
This summer, GM and McDonald’s arranged to give out toy Hummers with Happy Meals. Nine carmakers advertise on Nickelodeon; Honda is planning to advertise on Disney ABC Kids Networks.
And, the Journal reports, on Whyville.com, a social networking site that some 2 million children visit, kids can buy a virtual Toyota Scion xB and if they don’t have enough virtual money, a Toyota Financial Services adviser will arrange a virtual loan. If the payments aren’t kept up, the virtual car is virtually repossessed.
Child advocates have misgivings about manipulative marketing to kids, but with all the ads children see, they become hardened little consumers by about age 10. Buying and selling cars is part of the American way of life, and there’s no reason the youngsters should be shut out just because they can’t drive.
To make the kids’ automotive experience authentic, when driving their virtual cars on a virtual vacation the children should be required in response to the virtual ruckus from the back seat to recite in a virtual adult voice:
“We’ll get there when we get there.”
“Don’t make me stop this car.”
“I told you to go at the rest stop.”