How “Pester Power” Marketing Seeks to Control Your Child (And What You Can Do About It)

Okay, new mom here. So please forgive my naiveté in just now becoming aware of this issue. But I just had my first run in with “pester power” marketing not too long ago, and holy cow! This marketing tactic is no joke.
It started when I was strolling through the food section of a local health food store, looking for some on-the-go snacks for my 13 month old. Now that she is eating solids, (and demanding to have a bite of whatever anyone else is eating) I’ve reached the stage of motherhood where a fully stocked diaper bag now includes “healthy munchies”.
We were in the snack aisle, and as I was perusing the organic, healthy and minimally processed goodies, Tessa lit up with excitement. At first I thought she was just on the same page as mom.. we’re at the store, to buy treats for her. That’s really exciting for a one year old, right?!
Then I realized it wasn’t the options I was prattling off to her. She could care less that mommy might buy her baggies of dried fruit, or kale chips, or old fashioned gingerbread snaps. No, it was the big, googly eyes of the cartoon characters gawking at her from cardboard boxes of pre-packaged treats. Yes. The marketing and advertising beasts had gotten their claws into my wee one. And she can’t even talk yet!
I’m no stranger to the concept of marketing to your audience – and children’s snacks are just one of the many products that will market to their targeted audience. But when that audience is so tiny, so new, so vulnerable and so susceptible to influence (both good and bad), watching my daughters face light up, and her tiny hands extend to the boxes of she knew not what, I felt assaulted. I felt protective. Even though the treats in question were relatively healthy, they kind of pissed me off.
Because it’s not the douchebag in his comfy office job spinning marketing ploys with the guys at corporate that have to tell my little daughter no. It’s not the men and women assaulting my child with imagery she can’t resist that have to keep walking down the supermarket aisle with an emotionally distraught and confused toddler. It’s me, the mom, the mean denier of cartoon covered boxes.
These ethically questionable and intentionally crafted advertising tactics not only targeted me, the potential consumer, they targeted my daughter whom they used as a tool to get to me. This isn’t just one overprotective crunchy mom on a conspiracy theorist rant against “the man”. Check it out:

According to The Public Health Advocacy Institute (click here to read the full article):

Pester power marketing targets children who, unable to purchase products for themselves, nag, pester and beleaguer their parents into purchasing unhealthy food products for them. In 2004, it was estimated that children between the ages of four and twelve directly influenced $330 billion of adult purchasing.
To capitalize on this market, the marketing industry has developed an entire set of strategies for enhancing “kidfluence”, the nag factor, or pester power. As noted by Story and French, “a childʼs first request for a product occurs at about 24 months of age and 75% of the time this request occurs in a supermarket.” This is no accident. In 2007, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) used its compulsory process authority to obtain food industry marketing research regarding the appeal to individuals under the age of 18 of any particular types of advertising or promotional techniques.
Internal food industry marketing research indicated that marketers recognize that childrenʼs requests to parents to buy a product, sometimes called the ʻnagʼ factor, are important in driving purchases.
Within advertising and marketing realms, the very real targeting and attempts at emotionally manipulating kids as a tool to get to parents isn’t even a secret. Papers are regularly given at industry conferences on fostering “pester power”. A session at the 2003 Kid Power Conference in Sydney was entitled “Harnessing Pester Power” and included information on the “role of the gatekeeper”! No joke!
Pester power marketing is a highly effective, highly sophisticated, and well-funded marketing tactic that enlists children as third parties to induce parents to purchase unhealthy food products. With the brightly colored boxes of sugary cereal displayed at children’s eye level with enticing cartoon characters, it’s no wonder that (according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry) between 16 and 33 percent of children and adolescents are obese!
The majority of these foods marketed to children – like breakfast cereals and snacks – are laden with high-fructose corn syrup, starch, empty calories, fat, salt, and chemicals. But as I discovered the other day, even health food stores and healthy options aren’t immune from this low down, shady tactic!

What You Can Do About It

While there watchdog groups out there to keep “Pester Power Marketing” in check, as a parent and a consumer, the most influential thing you can do on an activist level is to avoid overly cartooned out boxes, and let the company know why you will not / did not purchase from them. You don’t even have to make it a big, flowery formal letter, a simple Twitter message to the company with a few carefully worded hashtags will suffice. Don’t underestimate the influence your voice has on for-profit companies, especially in the social networking realm!

As to how you can protect your children from being another statistic in the pester power marketing schemes, try these tips:

– Offer your kids healthy fruits and vegetables instead of prepackaged snacks whenever possible.
– Talk with your children about pester power marketing, and explain how it all works. Kids are so stubborn, they may just pull the “you can’t control me!” card and wise up to the advertising schemes.
– Limit television viewing, which is a huge source of pester power marketing, and when your kids do have TV time, watch along with them. Discuss any commercials they see, and get them critically thinking regarding advertising.
– Talk to your children about healthy eating and explain what constitutes healthy foods. Teach them which foods will make them feel good and keep from getting sick.
– Eat and prepare dinner together as a family, and offer healthy, homemade foods instead of dining out.
– Don’t give in to your child’s marketing-triggered demands and don’t use unhealthy snacks as a reward.
– Shop at farmer’s markets and natural food stores when possible. If you go to the grocery store, keep an eye out for the kiddie traps, and try to avoid the temptation they present your child by skirting around those sections as much as possible.
– Ultimately, be an example to your kids, living a healthy lifestyle and making healthy eating choices!
Marketing companies exert a strong influence, but as a parent, you can be an even stronger force in your child’s life. While it may be a little more of an effort, the payoff is that your children will be healthier for it, and ultimately, happier!

Have you experienced “pester power marketing”? How do you handle it? Share below!

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Gingi Freeman
Gingi Freeman
Gingi is a photographer, cosplayer, amateur chef, crazy cat lady, anime otaku, bookworm, generic geek, world traveler, conservative Christian, homeschooler, devoted military wife and stay at home new mother of two little girls.

Gingi blogs about anything and everything that is relevant to being a supermom, stay at home wife, homeschooler and geek girl! You can contact her at or via the contact form on her website at

Gingi Freeman

Gingi is a photographer, cosplayer, amateur chef, crazy cat lady, anime otaku, bookworm, generic geek, world traveler, conservative Christian, homeschooler, devoted military wife and stay at home new mother of two little girls. Gingi blogs about anything and everything that is relevant to being a supermom, stay at home wife, homeschooler and geek girl! You can contact her at or via the contact form on her website at

6 thoughts on “How “Pester Power” Marketing Seeks to Control Your Child (And What You Can Do About It)

  • 30 October, 2014 at 11:56 pm

    Don’t you remember “Cheater Toys”? We were lucky that there was a tv special that tested toys and showed how real kids played (or didn’t play) with all those toys that commercials made look so fun. You were appalled that those ‘mean people’ would make you think the toys were good when they were just ‘cheaters’. I guess you can try that with Tessa when she’s older…but for now, I think avoiding all those colorful packages would be the best thing. Poor little sweetie, she’s so dang smart!

    • 31 October, 2014 at 12:56 pm

      I vaguely remember that.. it just seems so shady!! Like… don’t these guy have kids themselves?! Holy cow. I think at this young age, avoidance would be best. Hmph.. but yeah, she’s a smarty so I’m sure she’ll understand when she gets older…

  • 31 October, 2014 at 5:18 pm

    This is an ongoing problem of mine. My kids would insist/beg that we get this certain cereal all because it has cartoon characters that they know and a promise of a toy. They don’t even play with the toy for more than 2 hours before it gets lost in the basket. Tsk

    • 2 November, 2014 at 2:40 pm

      I’m lucky that right now it’s just captured attention and outstretched hands.. no full on tantrum or begging yet.. but I’m not looking forward to this stupid marketing ploy invading our shopping life. Hmph. Disgruntled new mom here, haha. I never even considered this when daydreaming about life as a mommy. ^_^

  • 1 November, 2014 at 11:25 pm

    This is very interesting on a psychological level. I always assume that I am being manipulated by advertisers, but I don’t take into account that advertisers will manipulate someone else who can in turn manipulate me. It’s like a very sophisticated billiard shot.

    Have you run across any studies that show how or if this kind of marketing effects adult relationships?

    • 2 November, 2014 at 2:43 pm

      I haven’t, but that would be a super interesting research project.. I think when I have some down time / browse around the interwebs time I’ll check that out… I know there are a number of studies concerning the parent / child relationship.. the link to the quote from above in the article has a lot of info on that aspect..

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