All over the world, attention is now being drawn to children as constituting a group that has an impact in marketing-related issues both at the family level and even in the society at large. The reasons for this are not farfetched. The extant literatures consistently emphasize three reasons which point to the significance of children in family purchases.
These are – they constitute a primary market for goods and services spending their own money to fulfill their needs and wants; they influence the family decision making; and they are a future market for all goods and services that if cultivated now will provide steady stream for new customer when they reach adulthood when the particular goods and services are relevant (Berey and Polay, 1968; McNeal, 1999). This last reason is further supported by the view of Bejot and Doittau (2004) who affirm that children’s brand preference often remains unchanged throughout life. Therefore, children constitute a key target market for advertisers.
Furthermore and with specific reference to the scope of this paper, it has been shown that Nigerian children influence their family purchases through the use of four major tactics which are direct request, emotional tactic, persuasion, and reference to others (Gbadamosi, 2007). Hence, this implies that children cannot be regarded as being totally naive to marketing as a whole (Hill and Tilley, 2002) and should be given proper consideration in the formulation of strategies and policies associated with marketing of goods and services especially for those relevant to them.
Furthermore, it is claimed that children as customers or potential customers are being influenced by parents, peers, and mass media in their consumption of goods and services (Ward, 1974; Wimalasiri, 2004; Marquis, 2004; Chan, 2006). Given that mass media constitute a major tool in advertising and exert great influence on children’s consumption behaviour, exploring the issue of advertising ethics in relation to them becomes very significant and deserves proper attention by the relevant stakeholders.
As a key background to the discussion of the issue of advertising to children in Nigeria, it appears logical to explore the link between advertising and children. As reported by Volz et al. (2005), during the middle ages, children were not accorded the desired value even in Europe, but nowadays the level of protection of children is now considered an indicator of maturity in civilized societies. This attention being diverted to children’s protection and care also pervades marketing activities, which include advertising. In general advertising plays multiple roles both to the sponsor and the target audience.
To the sponsor, it is very common to associate advertising with creating awareness of a new product or brand, informing customers of the features and benefits of the product or brand, creating desired perceptions of the product or brand, creating preference for the product or brand, and persuading customers to purchase the product or brand (Bendixen, 1993). To the target audience, advertising provides information about the product, its use, and sometimes reassures them of the efficacy of their choices among the available alternatives.
Specifically, advertising plays many positive roles in the lives of children such as in their socialization process. This is emphasized by Preston (2005: p61) who states that ‘advertising is part of the socialization process, as it educates children as to the meaning associated with consumption’. The seminal works of Piaget (1966), McNeal and Yeh (1993), and John (1999) on children’s developmental stages add to the fascination inherent in how children make sense of marketing activities such as advertising messages.
Preston (2005: p62) states further that ‘children use [advertising] to find out what brands means (and sometimes, when an explanation is necessary, what they do, or what they are for). ’ In corroboration of the foregoing, Goldstein (1999: p113) adds that ‘advertising offers youth entertainment, diversion, a way to manage their mood states, and information on how to satisfy personal needs. Its first-class graphics, music, and humour give advertising the potential to teach children language, cognitive, social, and artistic skills.
What children like most about advertising is its use of humour’. In Nigeria for instance, it is very common to see children, especially in urban centers where advertising media are widely available such as Lagos, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, and Kano playing in groups and singing advertising slogans and sharing the humors that accompany many of these messages. A good example is the Etisalat television advert with ‘Saka’, and the Indomie television advert ‘Mama you do good’.
This thus indicates the sociological benefits associated with the use of advertising. Nonetheless, the question of ethics often wades into the discussion of advertising to children as there is a key argument that marketers are only interested in the economic motives for sponsoring the advertising messages. Hence they often lead the vulnerable children to mount undue pressure on their parents regarding the purchase of the associated products or services.
In summary and from a broader perspective, it is usually argued that advertising messages are sometimes offensive, false, misleading, unfair, or socially irresponsible (Harker, 1998). According to Niss (2002) television provides one of the most powerful media for the transmission of commercial messages to children. In a similar vein Postman (1985) refers to television as a curriculum, “a specially constructed information system whose purpose is to influence, teach, train or cultivate the mind and character of youth”.
Like a curriculum it is assumed that television contains information about the world we live in and at the same time it acts as a vehicle of socialization where knowledge about social roles and cultural values is acquired. From the advertiser’s point of view, television offers unique possibilities for reaching a young audience. Most children love films, television and any moving pictures with sound. These electrical equipments kindle their imagination and bring into play many more of their senses than do the written word or still life pictures.
Consequently television can be described as an extremely powerful medium for getting commercial messages across to children. A review of some literature indicated that in the 1950s, studies were focused primarily on children’s recall of television advertising (Brumbaugh 1954), buying habits (Guest 1955), influence on parental purchases (Munn 1958) and so forth.
There are recent studies which also reveal that advertisements and the values they promote are often described as a reflection of culture (Pollay 1986), children were more likely to avoid a toy if they are shown a child of pposite sex playing with it on a Television toy commercial (Ruble, Balaban, & Cooper 1981). Children who are heavy television viewers have a more stereotypical view of sex roles than do light viewers (Greenfield 1984), males and females in children’s television commercials are present in dramatically different numbers (Sternglanz and Serbin 1974), children do not relate to television in the same way as adults (Anderson and Levin 1976).
Advertisers’ use of a number of devices, including a rapid format and various special effects to gain and hold children’s attention (Biggens 1989, Houstonand Wright 1989), the relationships children draw between television and real life (Biggens 1989), the effect these relationships have on their gender role perceptions and development (Courtney and Whipple 1983), their expression of antisocial behaviour, including violence and aggression (Goldberg and Gorn 1978; McNeal 1987), and their expectation that parents should provide products advertised (Goldberg and Gorn 1978). Advertising presents information that enhances children’s social development (Schneider 1987).