Hot New Marketing Target: Infants

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If you can barely handle the barrage of advertising messages pitched to kids who only recently mastered tying their shoes, brace yourself: The hot new marketing demographic is infants and toddlers under the age of three, according to Adweek magazine. Get this: By the age of three, children in the U.S. can recognize 100 different brands.

That’s an age at which the vast majority of kids don’t even read yet, which shows the pervasiveness of brands and the success marketers have had getting into those little sponge-like brains.

“[Brands] are going younger and younger all the time,” Dan Acuff, a former marketing consultant to Hasbro, Mattel, Nestlé, and others, told AdWeek. “Babies don’t distinguish between reality and fantasy, so they think, ‘Let’s get them while they’re susceptible.’”

(MORE: How to Protect Your Kids From Commercial Culture)

Of course, some of the examples they give — like Versace and Marc Jacobs rolling out clothing lines for tykes — are aimed more at parents who see the basic function of keeping their kid clothed as an opportunity to impress other moms and dads. But the article says other efforts, like the “Disney Baby” brand rolled out earlier this year, intend to target the youngest of the young. The article tells the story of a mother being offered Disney-branded products while still in the maternity ward of a hospital with her newborn.

Two popular vehicles for brands trying to earn the loyalty of customers who might be too young to pronounce the word “loyalty” are mobile apps and websites. Adweek says companies rely on what they call the “nag factor” to sell stuff to kids too young for an allowance, let alone their own source of income.

(MORE: Marketers’ Dream Demographic: The Smartphone Mom)

Child development specialists and leaders of advocacy groups like the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood interviewed in the article fret that this deluge of consumerism aimed at still-forming minds can have a negative impact. The magazine quotes one who says, “[C]hildren under the age of 7 are psychologically defenseless against advertising.” But in a world where screens broadcasting commercials are everywhere and even functional products can come emblazoned with a trademarked cartoon character, keeping kids from being exposed to marketing come-ons is easier said than done.