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Branded for life?

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Children's loyalty to a particular brand often depends on the product's day-to-day visibility inside the home. The effect is strongest among products that are typically used out in the open, such as boxes of cereal. Compared with Cheerios, instant oatmeal is far less likely to win the affection of a child, according to Richard Lutz, a marketing professor at the University of Florida.

Companies such as Kraft, Mr. Lutz says, even recruit homemakers and watch them prepare lunch to observe the dynamic of product placement.

In a study of mothers and their college-age daughters, Lutz found that future generations often inherit the loyalties of their parents. That's true among some products – such as tuna, mayonnaise, and toothpaste – more than others.

Pitching directly to kids

Competition for consumer loyalty has led many marketers to bypass parents altogether. "Two years ago, the industry was talking about marketing to the youngest children, the zero-to-3 demographic," says Enola Aird, director of the Motherhood Project at The Institute for American Values. "They decided that they would go after this demographic directly, instead of going through mothers and fathers."

Consumer-advocacy and parent groups point to the growing presence of advertising in schools, from textbooks to field trips (see story, below), as evidence that retailers are intensifying their efforts to market directly to children.

"The desire to brand consumers has unleashed tremendous fervor to get these kids early, often, and for life – and it's causing serious harm to kids," says Ms. Aird.

Still, Aird cites growing awareness of advertising among parents. One example: CNN recently scuttled plans to include logos of commercial sponsors in its "Student News" broadcast after organized protests by parents.

"There was a lot of discussion back and forth, and we wanted to maintain that trust and credibility that we have with teachers and parents," says CNN Student News spokesperson Mitch Leff.

Kindergarten shoppers meet 'retail field trips'

PEABODY, MASS.– Katherine Gasper's students are among the first to experience what could become a staple of public education: field-trip retail.

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