William M. O’Barr (Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University) interviews Paul Kurnit (President and Founder of Kurnit Communications and Kidshop) about children and advertising. Topics include the special issues and problems associated with advertising directed to children and the effects of advertising on children. The published interview is the product of two lengthy sessions that took place in Kurnit’ss office while he was President of the Griffin Bacal Advertising Agency. Kurnit speaks frankly in the interview about techniques as well as some of the concerns he has about advertising to children. In the latter part of the interview, Kurnit places a reel of TV commercials and comments on the issues they raise.
I’d like to talk with you this morning about children and advertising. This is a subject that is current in American society. The Kaiser Family Foundation recently issued a report suggesting that children in America see far too much television. This is true in other countries as well, but it’s a particular indictment of the way that television has made its way into children’s lives and how TV competes seriously as one of the instructors of our children — about life, about themselves, about values and aspirations — with other things, like parents and school in particular. I’d like to talk about your views of this issue and about advertising to children. The reason I bring up the Kaiser Report is that when we make a reference to the fact that children are watching a lot of television, the fact of the matter is that most of this is sponsored television and therefore is filled with commercials — some of which are intended for children and some of which are intended for general audiences but children see them anyway. Let’s not start with the most problematic area. Let’s start with something a little simpler. I’d like to ask something about the work you’ve done on children and advertising, or rather advertising to children, over the years. I know that your company, Griffin Bacal, does a lot of work with products that are pitched towards children. Could you give me some sense of your background with regard to this issue?
Well, Griffin Bacal is twenty-one years young. We’re an agency that was founded, really, in the children’s arena. Our first client was Hasbro. I did not join the company when it was initially formed, but I joined the company seventeen years ago, so much of the adventure that has been Griffin Bacal and the work that we’ve done in the children’s market is something that I’ve shared the joy and ownership of. The longer view, for me, is what’s interesting — having started in the business initially at Benton & Bowles, which then became D’Arcy, Masius, Benton & Bowles, and is now part of Bcom3. The business has changed so dramatically. Having worked in non-children’s advertising, what I kept finding was that every time I touched children’s marketing and children’s advertising, not only was it a lot more fun than advertising toilet paper and toothpaste, but it was much more dynamic and there was a much more exciting response in the marketplace to products. What we have found over time working in kid’s advertising is that kids are a remarkably open and honest group of people in terms of the way they respond to advertising and products. If the advertising and products don’t deliver, kids will reject you outright and the word of mouth that they have will similarly do major damage to the product opportunity.
How’s that different from adults?
I think that the kid network is perhaps more dynamic, and the child audience, especially in the world of media today, is more together, more readily reached. The sub-culture of children is a more cohesive culture than a lot of the adult cultures that we see in the United States and around the world.
So you think that kids talk to each other about what they see?
Oh, we know that...