Unethical Advertising Targeting Children
Helping Children Understand Toy Ads
Children may be exposed to Unethical Advertisement
There is a number of ethical concerns about advertising, especially when an advertisement is being exposed to children. The Canadian toy testing council (2001) has argued that children’s fantasy may lead them to consider that in fact a toy can do much more than it is able to do due to exaggerations made in advertisements. Therefore, when an advertisement is aimed for children it should be made clear to the children, what the product actually is and what the product is for. This is because children may occasionally misunderstand or get the wrong impression about what has been said or shown in an advertisement.
Misinterpretations of ads are more likely to occur when the child is less than twelve years old. Advertisements to children at times are created in such a way to make the child feel that he or she ‘must’ have ‘it’, be it a game or some service that is been advertised. Thus, there are those who support, that it is unethical for an advertisement to be aimed to children under this age, as they are more likely to misinterpret it and view it by their own perspective. Others have suggested (Beder, 1998) that children don’t really understand what persuasion actually is until the age of eight or nine and that any advertisements that target younger ages are considered unethical.
In addition, advertising to children has been strictly reduced in several countries, some of which are Canada, Sweden, Luxembourg and Belgium.
Country restrictions for advertisements to children:
- Sweden is probably considered the strictest country, banning any advertisements that are aimed to children under the age of twelve (Mitchener, 2001)
- Luxembourg and Belgium have gone even further, forbidding advertisements during the time children programs are aired on television, as well as five minutes before the programs start and also five minutes after the programs have finished (Dumont, 2001)
- Advertisements in Canada are shown every half hour during children programs are on television thus, these are only allowed to last up to four minutes and no more than this time (ASC, 2007)
Are children exposed to adult ads?
‘Unethical’ advertising could be directed at children or adults. The advertisements of Alcohol and cigarettes adverts are directed to the adult population and advertisements like cereals and junk food ads are mainly aimed at children. But this does not mean that a child will not see an advertisement aimed at promoting alcohol.
Ethical issues, take place when advertising Cigarettes and alcohol as well as when advertising toys or junk food to children. Whether alcohol or tobacco advertisers target children directly or not, children are still exposed to these advertisements either these are displayed on television, in printed media or even the radio.
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Smoking ads target Kids
The relation between alcohol consumption and exposure to alcohol advertisement
Wyllie Zhang and Casswell (1998) carried out research to explore the relationship between alcohol consumption and exposure to alcohol advertisement. The study’s findings suggested that those who were exposed to alcohol advertising were more prone to developing earlier and higher alcohol consumption at a young age.
A similar study was carried out (Stacy, Zogg, Unger & Dent, 2004) supporting similar findings. These suggested that exposure to alcohol advertising had an association with following beer consumption. Therefore, it has been suggested that children exposed to alcohol or tobacco advertising may develop earlier use or even misuse of such substances.
The ‘world’ of advertising, has its own values about what is good and what is bad, as well as what is true and what is dishonest (O'Barr, 2007).
Three reasons that may explain why children are the targets of numerous advertisements:
Due to the influence they have on their ‘parents’ purchasing patterns.
Because of their own money spending
Due to the money they will spend as adults
Children’s influence on their parents
Where advertisements for children were mostly focused on sweets or toys, advertisements now involve clothes, sportswear and equipment such as, shoes, footballs, bicycles, fast food, computer, video games even perfumes.
With this, we see, car advertisements even involve targeting children. It is considered that children can influence their parents when they, (the parents), are considering buying a car (Beder, 1998). This practice can be seen in, several car advertisements that include children.
Peer pressure and family conflicts
Moreover, with products aimed at children, advertisers try to make the child believe that they ‘must’ have all the products advertised and the child may feel that having the product or products, is necessary in order to be ‘accepted by their peers’. Not having the product or products may make the child feel inferior to his or her social group (i.e. peer pressure) and may even result the child to feel depressed or angry.
This results children to create the expectation that parents ‘must’ purchase the product or products, which are advertised (Goldberg & Gom, 1978; cited in Hoek & Laurence, 1991, p.1). A simple no by the parent will probably be followed by the child’s “But all of my friends have it, why can’t I?” Children, frequently ask for ‘things’ they want without recognising the cost incurred to their parents. Parents, consequently, may not be able or may not want to meet all of their child’s desires due to lack of money or perhaps because they may disagree that the product is a necessity for their child. Moreover, a parents’ refusal or failure to purchase the product requested by their child may create conflict between them or may even damage their relationship (Hoek & Laurence, 1991, p.2).
Unethical advertisements could affect a child's well-being!
If you are interested in finding out more about the negative effects that unethical advertisements could have on a child, please read my hub "Unethical Advertisements and your children's well-being".
In addition, children may be exposed to an unethical advertisement one way or another. Although there are countries which may have made certain restrictions in order to protect children from harmful ads, unethical advertising is everywhere and advertising companies will always try to push the boundaries of what is ethical and what is unethical.
- ASC Clearance Services, (2007), "Broadcast Code for Advertising to Children,” Available from: ASC Clearance Services.
- Beder, S., (1998) 'A Community View', Caring for Children in the Media Age, Papers from a national conference, edited by John Squires and Tracy Newlands, New College Institute for Values Research, Sydney, 101-111.
- Canadian Toy Testing Counsel (2001), Part A: Television Advertising (Media Monitoring).
- Dumont, P. (2001), "Temptation-free Television for Children?” UNESCO Courier.
- Hoek, J. & Laurence, K. (1991), "Television advertising to children: An analysis of selected New Zealand Commercials", Marketing Bulletin, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 19-29.
- Mitchener, B. (2001), "Sweden Pushes its Ban on Children’s Ads. ", Wall Street Journal., Vol. 29
- O'barr, W.M. (2007), “Ethics and Advertising”. Available from: Advertising & Society Review
- Stacy A.W., Zogg J.B., Unger J.B. & Dent C.W. (2004), " Exposure to televised alcohol ads and subsequent adolescent alcohol use. ", American Journal of Health Behaviour, vol. 28, no. Pp. 498-509.
- Wyllie, A., Zhang, J.F. & Casswell, S. (1998), "Responses to televised alcohol advertisements associated with drinking behaviour of 10–17-year-olds", Addiction, vol. 93, no., pp. 361-371.
Related Hubs by Chris Achilleos
- Unethical advertisement and childrens well-being
Ads have been targeting children for several years. Therefore there are a number of concerns related to certain types of advertisements, as these may have a negative effect on a child's well-being.
- Sex in Advertisements
For many years advertiser's have been using sex to promote their products as sexual images in ads appear to attract and hold a persons attention for longer.
© 2013 Chris Achilleos