Children are the most vulnerable to advertising. They are the most susceptible because their minds are immature and are unable to distinguish good advertising versus bad advertising.
Television commercials have a huge impact on how it affects children. Commercials are the biggest form of advertisement geared toward children. “Children between the ages of two and eleven view well over 20,000 television commercials yearly, and that breaks down to 150 to 200 hours” (MediaFamily, 1998). Television advertisements geared towards children have the biggest market by far. “The advertising market in 1997 showed that children under twelve years of age spent well over twenty-four million dollars of their own money on products they saw on television” (Kanner & Kasser, 2000). Kanner and Kasser go on to say that advertisers have even hired psychologists as consultants to help the advertisers come up with fine-tuned commercials that attract children (2000).
In 1999, a group of psychologists wrote to the American Psychological Association asking them to restrict the use of psychological research by advertisers to help sell their products to children. This letter also called for, “an ongoing campaign to probe, review and confront the use of psychological research in advertising and marketing to children” (Hays 1999). “Some child advertisers boldly admit that the commercials they use exploit children and create conflicts within the family” (Kanner & Kasser, 2000). Kanner and Kasser also say that, advertisers work very hard to increase their products “nag factor”. This term often refers to how often children pressure their parents to buy the item they saw advertised on television (2000).
The effects on advertising to children can be very noticeable. There have been numerous studies done that document that “children under eight years old are unable to understand the intent of advertisements developmentally, therefore they accept the advertising claims as true” (Shelov, S., et. al., 1995). “The American Academy of Pediatrics continues to say that children under the age of eight cannot distinguish commercial advertisements from regular television programming. In addition, advertisers have become sneaky about the way they convey their product” (Shelov, S., et. al., 1995). For example, when the announcer says, “some assembly required” for a toy, it is at the end of the commercial and the announcer speaks very quickly.
Sometimes, the disclaimers are written in small print and shown at the end of the commercial, and are not understood by most young children. Excessive television viewing often times causes higher obesity rates among children. Children often see foods that are high in fat and calories advertised on television and end up consuming too much of these foods. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that the bombardment of advertising for food and toys to children may result in the increased number of conflicts between parents and children. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that, “advertising directed toward children is inherently deceptive and exploits children under eight years of age” (Shelov, S., et. al., 1995).
Cigarette advertisements seen in magazines or billboards are an area that is in need of change. “In 1988, teenagers alone spent well over $1.26 billions on cigarettes and smokeless tobacco” (Shelov, S., et. al., 1995). This number has rose significantly since 1988, and continues to rise rapidly. Although there is an advertisement ban of cigarettes on television, logos and billboards are prominent in televised sports. This makes television advertising of cigarettes very prominent. There were two studies down in the early 1990s on cigarette advertisements. This study looked at how familiar children were with the Old Joe Camel logo on Camel cigarettes. “These studied revealed that nearly one third of three-year-old children, and almost all of the children over the age of six could identify the Joe Camel logo. By the age of six, the Joe Camel logo was as familiar to children as Mickey Mouse” (Shelov, S., et. al., 1995). The advertising campaign for Camel cigarettes was more effective among children and adolescents than it was among adults. “In 2000, a study showed that on average, eighty-two percent of children in the United States see the numerous magazine advertisements for cigarettes” (Siegel, 2001). Alcohol advertisements on television are another touchy area.
“American children view nearly 2000 beer and wine commercials every year on television and these ads specifically target young people by showing the “advantages” of drinking” (Shelov, S., et. al., 1995). There is a public health interest in trying to protect children from alcohol and cigarette advertisements. “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends banning all tobacco and alcohol advertisements in the media, but some researchers believe that counter-advertising advertisements are more effective” (Shelov, S. et. al, 1995). Recently though, there have been counter-advertising campaigns aimed reducing the number of young people who smoke. In 2001, the “I Decide” campaign started airing on television. “This anti-smoking campaign, sponsored by the Illinois Department of Public Health, is the current anti-smoking campaign in Illinois.
The “I Decide” advertisement aired on local ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and the WB networks in Winnebago, Macon, Champaign, Tazewell, Sangamon, Peoria, and McLean counties. I Decide advertisements also run on the following cable networks, ESPN, MTV, BET, Comedy Central, and TBS” (Illinois Department of Health, 2002). Alcohol and cigarette advertisements are still around and promote the wrong message to children. The effects on advertising to children can be very evident.
There are laws and organizations out there to help protect children from advertisers. Advertising is a powerful tool in American culture today; it exists solely to sell products and services. Advertising to children has not always been legal. ‘In 1750 BC, the Code of Hammurabi made it a crime to sell anything to a child without obtaining consent” (Shelov, S. et. al, 1995). Things in the advertising industry have changed significantly since then. In 1978, Michael Pertschuk, the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, tried to restrict television advertisements aimed at children under thirteen. Due to a ferocious lobbying campaign, his proposal did not pass (Kanner & Kasser, 2000). In the last fifteen years or so, there have been a few laws passed about advertising to children on television. “The Children’s Television Act of 1990 mandated that all broadcasters must show either educational or instructional children’s programming in order to renew their broadcasting license.
This act also limits commercial time to ten and a half minutes per hour on weekends, and twelve minutes per hour on weekdays” (Shelov, S. et. al, 1995). Shelov and others continue on to say that, the main problem with this law is that television stations can cite public service announcements to fulfill the Children’s Television Act. They also said that this Act also established the Children’s Television Endowment Fund, which encourages the development of new educational programming for children (1995). There is currently an organization called the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) that is part of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. CARU reviews advertising and any promotional materials directed at children in the media (Council of Better Business Bureau, 2000).
The Council of the Better Business Bureau continues on to say that CARU’s main duties are to review and evaluate child-directed advertisements in all forms of media, and to review the online privacy practices if they affect children. “If the advertisements are inconsistent or misleading with CARU’s Self-Regulatory Guidelines for Children’s Advertising, they seek change through the voluntary cooperation of advertisers” (2000). They work closely with advertisers to promote educational messages to children that are consistent with the Children’s Television Act of 1990. The CARU’s Self-Regulatory Guidelines for Children’s Advertising gives criteria for evaluating advertising that is child-directed. There continues to be many more organizations out there that help protect children from advertisements. Until advertisers stop targeting children, there will always be a need for organizations that help protect children from advertisements. It seems to me that the best ways to protect children from what adults fear will harm them- alcohol, drugs or advertising, is to set an example by our own behavior. We can talk with them and encourage them to talk about the subject. The effects of media are minimized when parents talk to children about them. Whether we like it or not media education begins at home.
The Internet is also another medium where children are at risk. Numerous web sites feature advertising to children. ” In fact, many web sites are set up exclusively for children, such as, Nickelodeon’s and Disney’s. A growing number of web sites are now eliciting personal information. Some even use incentives and gifts to get e-mail addresses or other personal info” (DeFalco 1996).
There is a very important law that helps protect children on the Internet. In April 2000, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) took effect. “This Act says that if any personable identifiable information about a child under thirteen years of age is collected online, a privacy notice must be posted” (Federal Trade Commission, 2000). “Website operators must also get parental consent before collecting, using, or disclosing any personally identifiable information. In addition, this Act allows parents to review any personal identifiable information collected from their children.
When the parents review their child’s personal information, they have the right to revoke their consent and ask that the information they collected about their child is deleted from that website” (Federal Trade Commission, 2000). The Federal Trade Commission also says that site operators are required to list any third parties that the website operator gives information to, about a child. If the list of third parities changes, the website operator must have parental consent again (2000).
The Center for Media Education (CME) is an organization that is dedicated to protecting children online by visiting websites to make sure that the COPPA rules are being enforced. CME is a national nonprofit organization, which dedicates itself to creating quality electronic media culture for children and youth, for their families, and for the community. Their research focuses on the potential for children and youth in this rapidly evolving digital media age. “Over the years, CME has been the leading force in expanding both children’s educational television programming and fostering television and Internet safeguard for children and teens” (Center for Media Education, 2001). The Internet is an area that is growing rapidly, and is one area where children are the most vulnerable to advertising.
Advertising to children also has many positive benefits, for both the marketers’ pocket and for the development of the child. “Kids are little human beings that need to grow up and learn valuable lessons, that throughout their lives they are going to want things that they can not have” (Fletcher and Phillips 1998). Also, in the media demanding society that we live in, learning how to decipher the truth of advertising messages is critical. Likewise, advertisers argue that parents still have ultimate control over household purchasing decisions. This presents an opportunity for children to learn to respect authority, which is another step critical to a child’s development.
Additionally, advertising money helps pay for educational opportunities. “Without advertising there would be a lot less toys and a lot less children’s programming such as Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network” (Fletcher and Phillips 1998). Marketers are also using their advertising dollars to benefit education in other ways. “Cadbury, Pentax, C&A and Coca-Cola are advertising in textbooks and other learning materials such as wall charts” (Marshall, 1997). Due to under-funded school budgets, money may have not been otherwise available to pay for these supplementary educational materials.
Advertising to children definitely has both positive and negative benefits that help and hinder the development of the child. Regardless of the effects that marketers have on our youth, advertisements will continue. Mainly in part due to the high amount of dollars involved. New areas of the ethical debate will also continue to grow. Some of these new issues are the controversies that are arising from the exponential growth of the Internet and of global marketing. Both governmental agencies and parents need to be aware of this continuing debate as these new issues arise.
Also, awareness needs to be developed on how these new issues affect children based on existing psychological research so that parents and the government can react in the best approach possible. The boundaries in media and advertising are rapidly changing. Young people will benefit more by learning to make intelligent media (and consumer) decisions than by attempts to limit their exposure to information that they will inevitably be exposed to regardless of the regulatory climate.
Center for Media Education. (2001). About the center for media education (CME). Retrieved March 20, 2002, from Http://www.cme.org.
Council of Better Business Bureau. (2000). About the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU). Retrieved January 30, 2002, from Http://www.caru.org/carusubpgs/aboutcarupg.asp.
Federal Trade Commission. (2000). How to protect kids’ privacy online. Retrieved January 31, 2002, from Http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/online/kidsprivacy.htm.
Fletcher, Winston and Phillips, Richard. (1998, May 29). “A children’s character for advertising; analysis of advertising which targets children.” Campaign, page 28.
Hays, C.L. (1999, October 31). Group says ads manipulate children with psychology. New York Times, p. C6.
Illinois Department of Health (2002). I decide. Retrieved March 20, 2002,
Kanner, A.D., & Kasser, T. (2000). Stuffing our kids: Should psychologists help advertisers manipulate children? Retrieved January 30, 2002, from http://www.commercialalert.org/
Marshall, Caroline. (1997, September) “Protect the parents; exploiting parents and children via advertising.” Management Today, Page 92.
Mediafamily (1998). Children’s advertising and gender roles. Retrieved January 31, 2002, from Http://www.mediaandthefamily.org/research/fact/childgen.shtml.
Mediascope (2000). Children, health, and advertising. Retrieved January 31, 2002, from Http://www.mediascope.org/pubs/ibriefs/cha.htm.
Shelov, S., Bar-on, M., Beard, L., Hogan, M., Holroyd, J.H., Prentice, B., Sherry, S.N., & V. Strasburger. (1995). Children, adolescents, and advertising. American Academy of Pediatrics, 95(2), 295-297.
Siegel, M. (2001). Tobacco ads still aimed at kids, experts advise stronger protection. Ca, 51(6), 324-326.