It does not take a couch potato to realize that in modern China, children are becoming the most favored demographic for television producers and advertisers. Turn on the TV and no matter what channel it is, the audience can easily find an innocent face selling products ranging from toothpaste and milk to computers and digital cameras.
Although the presence of a child in an ad can cash in on people's perpetual yearning for family harmony and, in turn, make the commercials more touching, National Bureau of Statistics Chief Economist Yao Jingyuan believes there is actually a more practical reason involved.
One fact not to be neglected is that Chinese children are exerting greater influence on their parents' choices of commodities.
"If you have seen how many moms bring their kids to the supermarkets, you should have a better understanding of the child-centered commercials," Yao explained. "The way to a kid's heart is the way to the pockets of their parents."
Recent studies have shown that the average Chinese child begins to display a desire to control his or her own life around age three. They manifest this by refusing to accept items from their parents. After age 10, children also want a say not only in their own everyday affairs but on the household as well.
Without even taking into account the huge amounts of money that tend to be spent on their behalf, it is easy to see why children are becoming an important target market.
The statistics bureau recently carried out a survey in which it found that most Chinese families have ranked raising a child as their number one reason for steadily saving money. By the end of 2003, the nationwide balance in individual bank accounts totaled more than 11 trillion yuan (US$1.3 trillion).
Zhao Shunyi, former director of the Chinese Center for Children, agrees that kids are exerting more control, but does not believe they are assuming a greater sense of independence at an earlier age than preceding generations. Zhao surmises it was in fact because they are allowed more freedom or given more encouragement to display it.
Most young parents in China are walking a tightrope between traditional Chinese culture, which has them focusing on providing their children with comfortable lives, and the impact of a more open social atmosphere, which allows them to value their children's tendencies for self-reliance.
However, the enhanced market attention given to today's children will not necessarily bring positive results. In fact, concerns have been expressed over the intensifying battle for advertising demographics, saying they might mislead the children and obscure their real needs.
"Peer influences can affect children as much, if not more, than their parents, no matter whether the influence is from the media or from everyday life," Zhao said. "When a commercial is telling kids that it is better to drink this or eat that, and they do so by showing other children seemingly enjoying it, the kids most likely fall easy prey to it. But is that really good for the children, or do they really need that?"
Dong Guanpeng, a communications researcher with Tsinghua University, has urged more caution in "promoting goods" to children.
(China Daily May 14, 2004)