Deck the halls with boughs of holly: 'tis the season to be jollied into buying excessively expensive children's products.
But Christmas is no longer merely about fearing that your credibility as a parent hangs on being able to supply your offspring with shiny gadgetry. Increasingly, it is also about the power of the pre-pubescent pound.
Advertisers are now directly targeting children at younger and younger ages, government-backed research will reveal next week.
David Buckingham, of London University's Institute of Education, was commissioned by the Government to examine the effect of consumer culture on modern children. His study, which will be published on Monday, examines the history of advertising to children, as well as contemporary marketing tactics.
At a recent seminar organised by Goldsmiths College, London, Professor Buckingham told delegates: "It's a growing market. Children are seen as consumers in their own right, spending their own pocket money and disposable incomes.
"And retailers are marketing to children, because they will influence family spending. Children are being directly targeted at a younger age. Catch them before age seven, and (advertisers) have them for the rest of their lives."
Children only emerged as a separate market in the 19th century, when the introduction of compulsory schooling created a definite notion of childhood. "Children came to be seen as economically worthless, but symbolically priceless," Professor Buckingham said. "They became objects of expenditure."
Early advertising targeted parents, presenting them with idealised conceptions of what their children should be. Later, with the advent of popular psychology, parents were encouraged to spend money on toys that would enhance their children's development.
"Children's consumption often tells us as much about parents' emotional investment as it does about children," Professor Buckingham said. "Children are an object of parents' conspicuous consumption: books, edutainment, out-of-school learning."
But it is only relatively recently that children have been considered consumers in their own right. Pocket money has increased by 600 per cent over the past 20 years, with British children today receiving an average of #163;40 a month.
Doing it for the kids
The children's market in the USA:
- Children between the ages of four and 12 collectively spend $36 billion a year.
- Their direct influence on family expenditure is estimated at $187 billion.
- Their indirect influence on family expenditure is estimated to be between $300 billion and $2 trillion.
- $1 billion a year is spent on marketing to children.
- $3 billion a year is spent on child-targeted packaging.
- Around 3 per cent of TV advertising is aimed at children.