Author and law professor, Joel Bakan has a bone to pick with corporate America. In his new book, Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children, Bakan claims there's something far more insidious out there than a clown with big red shoes.
"As parents we're being told, 'Do a better job, monitor these things, control your kids.' While at the same time, there's a multi-billion dollar industry that is driving a wedge between us, undermining our authority, undermining our influence."
Bakan cites websites like Webkinz, Club Penguin, and Neopets -- the 1999 phenomenon which has more than 40 million users worldwide and which sold to Nickelodeon in 2005 for a meagre US $160 million -- for monopolizing on the "deep caring and love kids feel for pets".
"Bottom line," said Bakan, "this is a very calculated way to target kids' emotions and to do it in ways that promotes (sic) compulsive, addictive behaviour in order to sell virtual goods and in order to attract kids to advertising from third-party advertisers."
What starts as an emotional investment in which kids create virtual homes to feed and obsessively monitor their 'pets', gradually turns into a very real financial investment whereby parents must fork out more and more money to ensure the pet doesn't suffer from ill health or unhappiness.
"We've gone from [McDonald's] to kids being basically immersed in marketing and advertising. They're no longer interrupting kids' lives; they're enveloping kids' lives."