Negative Impact of Advertising to Children

The Negative Impact of Advertising to Children As citizens in the modern world, we are used to being bombarded with over 3,000 advertisements over the course of our day (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2006). Advertisements are so common that we often do not realize we are viewing them. Originally, an advertisement was a way to reach the world. In the early days of television, the programming had to be entertaining for many demographics, because there were only a few channels that targeted a mass audience. During this time, a focus was not placed on audience segmentation, because there were not enough media channels to segment an audience.Today, audiences are segmented through all forms of media.

Through this increased segmentation, advertisers are able to more successfully reach individual demographics than ever before. Children have become an especially lucrative market, but before this practice continues, many changes and regulation must occur. In 2006, there were 73.

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7 million children under the age of 18 in the United States. The child population has increased over 50% since 1950 (U. S.

Census Bureau, 2007). They make up over $28 billion of direct spending and influence $250 billion dollars of family spending.In 2004, over the course of one year, advertisers spent $12 billion to target children (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2001, p. 423). Children have been a target for advertisers since there was a channel to reach them, but the effects are harmful. As a result of the lucrative market, advertisers are constantly seeking new ways to target younger and younger children to establish a brand name preference, at the earliest age possible. Advertising is a pervasive influence on children.

They are being exposed to advertising on the internet, in schools, magazines, television and outdoors.When advertising is so ubiquitous, it is impossible to assume that a child is not influenced. For this very reason, several European countries have prohibited or restricted advertising to children, “in the UK, restrictions exist on ads that ‘might result in harm to children physically, mentally or morally’ and on ads employing methods that ‘take advantage of the natural credulity and sense of loyalty of children” (Peace Pledge Union, 1997).

However, advertising to children is perfectly legal in the United States and has very limited restriction. Although advertising to children creates business for any, it is harmful and its long term effect should be considered. Greater restrictions must be placed on the age of children that advertisements target and the content that they are sold, because young children lack the ability to cognitively process an advertisement, many advertisers are not concerned about the effect their product or message has on a child and children are often accidentally or purposefully influenced by alcohol and tobacco advertisements.

To fully understand the negative effects on advertising to children, the history must first be reviewed.Before there was a direct channel to reach children, youth advertisements were directed at the parents, “Get your boy a gun. He will develop steady nerves, keener eyesight, health and boyish happiness. ” Comic books were one of the first direct channels to target children.

Comic books often used deceiving advertisements that displayed the product in an unrealistic form such as, “The world’s most terrifying rubber snake. ” Radio was also a huge medium to reach children. In February of 1922, AT;T began selling toll broadcasting, which today is called sponsorships.

Through sponsorships, advertisers would buy an hour or half hour program and use that time to promote their product. A radio club was beneficial to both the advertisers and the radio networks because a child would listen to the radio program and buy a specific number of products to join the club (Children and Advertising, 2010). With the creation of television, advertisers built on the practice perfected by radio of weaving sponsorships into the programming. In 1955, Mattel was one of the first companies to advertise to children on television. Mattel bought a year worth of sponsorships on the Mickey Mouse Show.The sponsorships often included an advertorial and plugs from the programs characters. Today, advertising is everywhere and directed at nearly everyone (Table and Home, 2004).

A 1999 study found that children, on average, spend three hours per day watching television and six hours and thirty-two minutes per day in front of a screen. As this study was presented over ten years ago and technology has rapidly advanced, these numbers have undoubtedly grown. At this rate, by the time a person reaches seventy years old, they will have spent 7 to 10 years just watching television (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2010).Advertisers reach children through all of the media they access and just about everywhere outside of that media as well. A young child is not mentally equipped to understand point of view and persuasion like a fully developed adult, yet many advertisers target very young children without regard for this scientific fact.

To understand at what age children are able to comprehend various stimuli, Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development will be reviewed. From birth to age 2, during the sensorimotor stage, a child demonstrates intelligence through motor activity.Development begins mainly though interactions and experiences.

A child recognizes that he or she is the agent of action and understands object permanence (an understanding that an object will not disappear once it is out of sight). During this stage, Children utilize skills and abilities they were born with, such as looking, sucking, grasping, and listening. During the pre-operational stage (age 2-7), thinking is done in a non-logical egocentric manner, memory and imagination are developed, language use matures and intelligence is demonstrated through the use of symbols.During the concrete operational stage (age 7-11), a child begins to diminish egocentric thought and a greater focus is placed on the behavior of others.

In this stage, operational thinking develops, point of view can be taken into account and the seven types of conservation are developed (mass, number, length, liquid, mass, weight, area and volume). During the formal operational stage (age 11-adulthood), abstract concepts are developed and a concern is placed on the hypothetical, the future, and ideological problems (Duveen, Perret-Clemont, Psaltis, 2009, p. 292).The way these cognitive effects relate to advertising is based on the level of attention given to advertisements, an understanding of the advertiser’s point of view, interpretation and memory of the advertisement, and the ability to understand advertisings persuasive intent. Through Piaget’s four stages, “it has been argued that an approximate age of nine or ten is crucial in explaining children’s understanding of advertising intent” (Lawlor, 2009, p. 23).

However, many advertisers target children below the ages of nine or ten without consideration for their understanding or the effects that they impose.At an early age, it is unclear if a child can distinguish between an advertisement and the programming. It is argued that around the age of five, children can use a number of cues to determine the difference such as, humor, music, an understanding of program length versus commercial length and a comprehension of genre. The results of Rubin’s 1974 study of two seven year olds and Kunkel and Robert’s 1991 study of children under the age of five, suggested that young kids were unable to make the distinction between programming and advertisements.The fact that many children cannot make a distinction between an advertisement and a program shows that they are clearly not developed enough to understand the content and reason for an advertisement. Conversely, a 1981 study of four and five year olds showed that the children were able to tell the difference, but unable to explain why (Kapoor, 2005, p. 31). Even though a group of children were able to make a distinction, the fact that they could not explain why the programming and advertising were different makes it clear that they are not cognitively able to process the advertisement.

Therefore, children under the age of the age of ten, who can’t take into account point of view and persuasion, should not be advertised to under any circumstance; unless that advertisement is created by a non-profit organization to impose positive societal values. Restrictions should be placed on only targeting after the age of ten years old, when advertisements and their intention can be fully comprehended. When a company is not concerned about the effect that their product or message has on children, many issues arise.One of the biggest problems is that many products targeting children promote un-nutritious “junk food”. Not only is it a problem that the food is generally unhealthy, but that a growing child needs to eat well-balanced, nutritional meals.

A study of the effect of nutrition on brain development of young children found that, “nutrition can directly modify gene structure and mediate the expression of genetic factors by providing the specific molecules that enable genes to exert their potential or targeted effects on brain growth and development” (Reznick, Rosales, Zeisel, 2009, p. 91). A study by Brown and Pollitt found that poor nutrition causes a delay in intellectual development by causing brain damage, enhancing the risk of illness, inducing lethargy, and delayed physical growth. Through eating foods with poor nutrition, an immune system is broken down and can cause illness, which delays the development of motor skills. Children learn from their external environment and if junk food causes lethargy and delayed physical growth, than a limitation on new knowledge can occur (Reznick, Rosales, Zeisel, 2009, p.

93). When a generation of children grows up eating junk food, they will be severely limited; physically and mentally. This could impact the rest of a child’s life because children given proper nutritional meals will have an advantage. Self-regulated restrictions or federal legislation should be placed on foods sold to children, based on their nutritional content. Childhood obesity has more than tripled in 30 years. In America, 16-33 percent of children are obese (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2008).Advertising healthy foods has been shown to increase wholesome eating in children between the ages of 3 and 6, but health food advertisements make up less than 3 percent of food advertising.

Recently it was found that 20 percent of fast food restaurants mention a toy in their commercials, which clearly indicates that children are their targets (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2008). The Center for Science and Public Interest, a public health watchdog group, recently accused McDonalds of using happy meals to exploit children to eat their food, causing obesity, at key stages in a child’s development.McDonalds defended their products, by stating that they offer apples and milk, as healthy alternatives to French fries.

However, these options are only given upon request and are still paired with chicken nuggets or a burger. McDonald’s chicken nuggets contain only 44 percent chicken and are made up mostly of salt, corn and preservatives. Overall, there are 38 ingredients in the chicken nugget.

Due to extreme processing, modified cornstarch is added to hold the nuggets together, emulsifiers are added so that the fats and moisture do not separate and chicken broth is added to give it a flavor (Navreet, 2007).Home cooked chicken, assuming that it is organic, contains only one ingredient; chicken. These over processed chicken nuggets are a product that is clearly unsafe for anyone to eat; not to mention a young child. McDonalds uses licensed character promotion, happy meals and Ronald McDonald to target children and influence them into eating their food.

Unfortunately, the problem does not only lie within McDonalds, there are many other fast food companies targeting children through similar methods. Through the sale of over processed foods that lead to obesity, fast food orporations are clearly not concerned about the long term effects of their products. Not supplying a child with the knowledge that a great deal of this food is unhealthy and through advertising, persuading the cognitively underdeveloped to eat this low quality food, is poisoning America’s youth. Fast food restaurants are not the only group targeting children and encouraging them to eat foods with little to no nutritional value. Vending machines in schools are becoming another problem for children. This is contributing to the obesity epidemic that is not only plaguing the children, but adults as well.Soft drink companies have signed exclusive agreements with over 200 school districts nationwide. These agreements give the soft drink companies the power to determine the placement and number of vending machines throughout the schools.

Pizza Hut and Taco Bell have nearly 7500 chains in school cafeterias throughout America. The benefit from vending machines and licensed restaurants is the funding that the schools receive. A contract with a soft drink company can net a school $30-$35 per student.

This adds up to around $100,000 to $300,000 for a district (Chaika, 2006).Although the school is able to generate more funding to support the students, they are hurting them by providing snacks that are high in fat. A school is supposed to educate students and prepare them for the future.

If a child disrupts a class, he is sent to a detention, which is done to place a negative emphasis on their behavior. By providing vending machines and unhealthy foods in an institution that is supposed to influence positive behavior, schools are sending a message that regularly eating these snacks is acceptable.Corporations advertise these products to children and know that the schools are reliant on the funding and will carry them. Soft drink and snack companies need to focus on more nutritious foods to advertise to children and re-evaluate the products that are placed in their vending machines. Children are highly influenced by licensed characters.

A recent study by Yale University tested children between the ages of four and six years old. In the study, the children tasted 3 pairs of identical foods. These foods were presented in packages, where some contained a popular cartoon character and some were a generic brand.The children were asked if the foods tasted the same or if there were specific foods that tasted better. The study found that children were more likely to choose a package with a cartoon character over those without (Yale Office of Public Affairs and Communication, 2010).

In 2001, Coca-Cola paid $150 million for the global marketing rights to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Asquith, 2009, p. 42). Many corporations recognize the influence of licensed characters and cartoons on children and take full advantage by unfairly using them to sway the child’s opinion of an advertisement.In 1991, The Journal of American Medical Association published a study of five and six year old children to determine what character was most recognized between Mickey Mouse, Fred Flintstone and Joe Camel. The majority of children recognized Joe Camel over both cartoon characters (Reichert, 2008, p. 75). After this study, the American Medical Association requested that R.

J. Reynolds stop the campaign, which R. J. Reynolds refused.

In that same year, Janet Mangini, a San Francisco-based attorney, filed a lawsuit against R. J. Reynolds on the grounds that children were being targeted.

As a result of the campaign, the number of teenage smokers rose from 0. 5 percent in 1988, the year Joe Camel was launched, to 25 to 33 percent in 1992. Mangini alleged that in 1992, teenage smokers accounted for $476 million of Camel’s sales, compared to $6 million in 1988. During the trial, internal documents were released that demonstrated R. J.

Reynolds interest in targeting children as future smokers, “As this 14-24 age group matures, they will account for a key share of the total cigarette volume – for at least the next 25 years. ” Throughout the life of the Joe Camel campaign, R.J. Reynolds denied that Joe targeted children, stating that Joe Camel only targets 25-49 year old males and current Marlboro smokers.

In 1997, R. J. Reynolds settled out of court and voluntarily ended the Joe Camel campaign (Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, 1994). Through the campaign and trial, it is made clear that R. J. Reynolds was purposefully and unfairly targeting underage children to become smokers. In the infancy of this campaign, surveys should have been completed by R. J.

Reynolds to determine the age group that Joe Camel is most popular. Alcohol manufacturers spend $5. billion a year on advertising and promotion. America’s youth views more than 2000 beer and wine commercials per year, with most advertising concentrated in sports programming (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2006). Children make decisions about their view on alcohol during their grade school years. Exposure to alcohol commercials tends to shape adolescents attitudes toward alcohol, their intentions to drink and underage drinking behavior. Alcohol advertisements appeal to youth through non-product related elements such as, a character, the use of humor and the use of popular music (Donovan, Fiedler, Ouschan, 2009, p.

1158).A 1996 survey found that children between nine and eleven were more familiar with the Budweiser frogs than Tony the Tiger or the Power Rangers (The Marin institute, 2002). Alcohol advertisements influence young people by associating the drinks with attractive symbols, role models and positive expectations. Through this association, children are made more comfortable with consuming alcohol by the positive consequences that the advertisements display.

The evidence that cartoon characters influence children is clear. The tobacco and alcohol businesses should refrain from using cartoon figures because they unfairly target children.As a result of alcohol and tobacco companies purposefully or accidentally targeting children, a review board should be developed that evaluates the effects of these campaigns on children. Growing awareness of the negative impact of advertising on children has called for more strict advertising practices. The food and beverage industries have taken voluntary steps in the right direction by limiting school vending machine products to low-fat snacks and diet beverages, but there may be a need for more strict government regulation.Currently there are two legislations that limit advertising to children. The Children’s Television Act of 1990 limits ads to 10.

5 minutes per hour on the weekends and 12 minutes per hour on the weekdays. The act also requires that advertising content is made separate from the television program. The second legislation is the Children’s Privacy Protection Act, which requires advertisers to get parental permission and disclose how the information will be used before collecting children’s information over the internet.

Another form of regulation is done by the Children’s Advertising Revue Board, which monitors advertising directed at children under the age of twelve, for unfair and deceptive content. If an advertiser does not comply with the CARU guidelines, they are referred to the FTC (Reichert, 2008, p. 95). If more government regulation was not an option, through an incentive, the FTC could make voluntary initiatives by industries selling to children more meaningful. Advertisers target children of all ages through many forms of media.Targeting children under the age of ten, where they are not cognitively able to process an advertisement, is essentially the same as putting an adult into a wrestling ring with a young child and allowing them to fend for themselves. Advertisers should not sell to children under the age of ten, unless those ads are for a non-profit organization such as, an anti-smoking campaign.

Restrictions should be placed on the types of products children are sold and more incentives should be in place for fruit and vegetable advertisements.Alcohol and tobacco companies should never target children and surveys on the target market of their campaigns should be required to ensure that children are not accidentally targeted. However, even with greater restrictions and more strict guidelines, there is no way to determine the exact age group an advertisement is targeting and there will almost always be a way for a company to slip through the cracks. Ultimately, children’s greatest defense against advertising will be from their parents. Parents should be concerned that advertisers are targeting and manipulating their children into wanting their products.More regulation can be put in place, but parents educating their children on proper nutritional meals, the harmful effects of alcohol and tobacco and explaining the persuasive intent of advertising will be the most effective method.

Author: Mark Lambert


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