Essay on Impact and Effects of Advertising on Young Children

Advertising is a major revenue source for mass media. Television networks, newspapers, radio stations, and even Internet sites sell space to advertisers so they may promote their product/service to us, the public. In this report we are going to talk about the effects that advertising has on the younger part of our population, the children. During resent decade this question stroke the minds of many people of various positions- from government officials to regular people that have kids, and until this time we do not have a 100 percent clear vision and understanding of this issue. Holding children’s welfare as a golden cane with which to flog the advertising industry, they seek to place the blame for child obesity and other social concerns in the lap of business. They flaunt statistics about the number of hours children watch television, and the expansion of advertising into schools and homes via computer. They ignore statistics that show the highest correlation to childhood obesity is parental obesity. From these figures and anecdotes, child ad crusaders leap to the unsubstantiated and troubling conclusion that all ads allegedly targeted to the very young should be killed.

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With the number of childbirths rising each year, advertisers are gearing more advertisement campaigns to the younger viewer. If they gain loyalty at a younger age then it is more likely that the individual will continue using the product or service into their later years. Maybe even their family will use the product, forming a new generation of loyalty. With parents being at work it is a safe bet that children are at home watching television. Advertisers place children oriented advertisements in time slots that they know children will be watching to promote their products. Children exercise a surprising amount of influence on purchase decisions, on products that they are the primary consumers of and those that are used by the whole family. Children are growing up in extremely different living conditions than in the past. With one or both parents working, children are now faced with the new responsibility of becoming consumers. Children are more aware of brands and advertising. They are also receptive to new products, new technologies, and new styles. That is why advertisers create focus groups and present new products to children to see how they react. Then in marketing the product they use activities or celebrities in which children are most fond of. There are questions about the ability of young children to understand advertising and its intent and not be cheated and manipulated by it.

Experts say that children don’t understand persuasive intent until they are eight or nine years old and that it is unethical to advertise to them before then. According to psychologists, young children, in particular, have difficulty distinguishing between advertising and reality in ads, and ads can distort their view of the world. (Berger) Additionally, children are unable to evaluate advertising claims. This is especially a problem when advertisements appear on school walls, posters and book covers gaining fairness from the supposed endorsement of the school so that children think they must be true. One study found that children watching athletes in television commercials thought that the athletes paid to be in the advertisements to promote themselves rather than the products. They believed children in advertisements were real rather than paid actors and they often confused advertisements with news items. Generally they did not understand the commercial intent and manipulation behind advertisements. Older children pay less attention to advertisements and are more able to differentiate between the ads and TV programs but they are also easy prey for advertisers.

In a February 2004 report, the American Psychological Association linked children’s misperceptions about proper nutritional habits to television viewing, and blamed ads for the development of positive attitudes toward tobacco and alcohol. Concluding that young children have a limited ability to recognize and defend against commercial persuasion, the APA believes advertising “directed to … children below the age of roughly 7-8 years should be considered unfair.” The APA suggests a return of jurisdiction to the Federal Trade Commission to regulate children’s advertising under the unfairness standard-the standard under which the FTC tried to ban children’s advertising in the late ‘70s, before being pulled back by Congress. In the same week, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation issued a report concluding that food advertising is a significant contributor to obesity in children. (Douglas) The Kaiser study suggests policy considerations such as banning children’s food advertising altogether, or prohibiting product placement. Congressional hearings to address the issue have been scheduled. And while on the campaign trail, Senator Joseph Lieberman called for a FTC investigation into the practices of companies marketing unhealthy foods to children. (Douglas)

Add to the debate a recent court ruling. In Mainstream vs. FTC, a case involving a challenge to the national do-not-call registry, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals found that restricting commercial speech on the basis of anecdotal evidence was an appropriate legislative initiative. The APA study will likely be seen as being more than just anecdotal evidence. In all this hysteria there’s some good news for marketers in that studies show children’s purchase requests are influenced by ads, characters and celebrities used to sell products and in-store promotions-their work works. Of course the child-ad foes would punish this success. Never mind the obvious solution – that parents, as household decision makers, are capable of monitoring the amount and types of TV programming their children watch, which products are purchased, how often fast food should be consumed, and whether their tot stands to benefit from the latest toy trend. Never mind that no evidence has been presented that children over the age of 8 represent a generation of automatons conditioned by years of unfair advertising during their formative years. Ask any teenager today what he or she thinks of advertising and you’ll hear a skeptical response and a consumer entirely attuned to the purposes behind these messages. Whatever the harm done during those first eight years the APA seems so concerned about, it does not appear to be lasting. Perhaps that’s because there wasn’t any harm.

Never mind the possibility that parents may appreciate that their children have greater programming choices – options that would shrink fast if the advertising that supports them were to go away. The APA acknowledges that banning ads to 8-and-unders would limit marketers to focusing on older children, but blithely points to other countries that have taken this approach, including Australia, Canada, the U.K. and Sweden. Never mind that the statistics in Quebec and Sweden show that bans had no effect on the problems sought to be corrected. (Douglas)

As importantly, do we isolate young children from marketing, and then expect them to become savvy consumers the moment they are deemed mature enough to be exposed to commercial content? Whether it’s candy or fries, there’s no doubt too much of a good thing can lead to harm. But limiting free speech won’t guarantee a reduction in overindulgence. It will ensure more limited competition, fewer consumer options, and invariably, inferior goods and services.

Clearly, the solution is self-regulation, provided it works. And there’s every reason to believe it does. The Children’s Advertising Review Unit of the Council of Better Business Bureaus adjudicated more than 140 cases last year, convincing advertisers to modify content more than 130 times. When one decided to ignore CARU, the FTC fined the advertiser $400,000. Working in tandem, self-regulation with regulatory muscle works. Advertisers should not run from their success, nor should they cede ground to those who would punish them for being effective. Advertisers must diligently defend their right to communicate with American families through the universe of media options the industry helps finance. And they should trust parents to draw sensible lines for their kids.

Bibliography:
Berger, A. A. (2000). Ads, Fads, and Consumer Culture. Lanham: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Berry, J., Guber, S. S. (1993). Marketing to and Through Kids. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc. Kent, F.H.
Stone, E.C. (1984). Legal and Business Aspects of the Advertising Industry 1984. New York: Practicing Law Institute.
Wood, Douglas J. Anti-ad crusaders miss point. Advertising Age, 4/12/2004, Vol. 75, Issue 15.
Artz, N., Munger, J., Purdy, W. (1999, Fall). Gender Issues in Advertising Language. Women and Language, p20. Retrieved March 30, 2001 from Info Trac database (Expanded Academic ASAP) on the World Wide Web Richards, J. I. (2000).
Advertising Laws & Ethics. Austin, TX: Department of Advertising: The University of Texas at Austin. World Wide Web: http://advertising.utexas.edu/research/law/index.html

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