A Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health study showed that young children preferred food, even carrots and milk, wrapped in a McDonald’s wrapper over the same food without branding. It’s a clear win for marketing, and an indication of how susceptible children are to branding and marketing messages.
In education, we tend to hear messages like this as a call to add relevance to lesson plans, like adding “hip hop” to word problems and hoping kids are fooled by this into liking math more. In technology, we like to talk about “engagement” as a goal rather than an outcome, which confuses the issue in a similar way.
The idea that children are swayed by marketing messages should not be a call to educators to use the same tactics, but to provide children with deep exposure to ideas so that they can see past marketing sleight of hand.
Children should learn about food, make food, grow food, and be taught to analyze marketing messages. They will get it, but they need time to taste it, to feel it, to see a flower change into a pea pod, and have a hand in it. Eventually they will read the calorie counts on the tray menu. Then they will annoyingly recite them to you when you are trying to enjoy a milkshake.
Children should also have the opportunity to live and learn with technology that puts them in control. Control does not mean pushing a button or clicking on the “right” answer. Control means using open-ended tools that allow for meaningful interaction with data, people, ideas, and concepts. It means programming and simulations. It means making, not consuming. It means giving students agency and responsibility for their work.
If not given that chance, they are more susceptible to seeing technology only serving trivial purposes, not a way to understand the world better.