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Unethical Advertising Targeting Children

Updated on July 6, 2014

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.

Smoking ads target Kids

Research studies

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:

  1. Due to the influence they have on their ‘parents’ purchasing patterns.

  2. Because of their own money spending

  3. Due to the money they will spend as adults

    (Beder, 1998)

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.


  1. ASC Clearance Services, (2007), "Broadcast Code for Advertising to Children,” Available from: ASC Clearance Services.
  2. 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.
  3. Canadian Toy Testing Counsel (2001), Part A: Television Advertising (Media Monitoring).
  4. Dumont, P. (2001), "Temptation-free Television for Children?” UNESCO Courier.
  5. 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.
  6. Mitchener, B. (2001), "Sweden Pushes its Ban on Children’s Ads. ", Wall Street Journal., Vol. 29
  7. O'barr, W.M. (2007), “Ethics and Advertising. Available from: Advertising & Society Review
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

© 2013 Chris Achilleos


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    • Chris Achilleos profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Achilleos 

      6 years ago

      Thank you very much for your kind comments Sarra. I am glad you have found this hub useful. This is actually a very important issue because such advertisements could have a negative effect on a child's well being.

      Your votes are truly appreciated!

      Have a nice day,


    • profile image

      Sarra Garrett 

      6 years ago

      Voted up and useful! very well written hub for sure. I totally agree with you regarding how advertisements affect children and their decision making growing up. Targeting adults does target the children as our children learn from their parents and outside influences. Thank you for sharing this with me.

    • Chris Achilleos profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Achilleos 

      6 years ago

      Thanks for the support roxanne, I will be looking forward to receiving your feedback.

    • roxanne459 profile image

      Roxanne Lewis 

      6 years ago from Washington

      I look forward to all future hubs from you!

    • Chris Achilleos profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Achilleos 

      6 years ago

      @tillsontitan: Thank you very much for reading. It is very important that we all start fighting for our children's well-being, which is currently being threatened by advertisers. It might not make a difference straight away, but at least others will follow, and the fact is that we can make a difference at some point :) Right?

      Your comments and votes are truly appreciated. I hope you find my following hub on this subject as interesting!

    • Chris Achilleos profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Achilleos 

      6 years ago

      @ roxanne459: I am very glad you have found this subject interesting. It is a very crucial issue especially for children. It would be great if you could have discussions with them about this, at least they can begin to gain some awareness. And of course the best way to help a child learn something new could also be done with games :) Thank you for reading.

      I will be posting a new hub very soon about how advertisements could affect a child's well-being, I hope you find it as interesting.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      6 years ago from New York

      Ad Men....going for the buck! You've made some good points here and its about time we find a way to leave our children out of the high pressure tactics, but I don't think it'll happen any time soon.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • roxanne459 profile image

      Roxanne Lewis 

      6 years ago from Washington

      Most people underestimate or are simply unaware of the enormous influence and power advertisers have. We are influenced all the time and don't even know it. Thank you for bringing this to everyone's attention! The manipulation of advertisements would be a great ongoing discussion to have at home with children. Everyone who finds a sneaky or inappropriate commercial gets a gold star, who has the most at the end of the day? :)

    • Chris Achilleos profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Achilleos 

      6 years ago

      @Minnetonka Twin: Thank you very much, I will be looking forward to your feedback.

      @aviannovice: Yes advertisers will always try to get people's money one way or another, and the issue here is that they are targeting and affecting children because children will be their future consumers. Thank you very much for reading and for your comments.

      I hope you find my next hub about the negative effects certain advertisements could have on a child later in life.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Advertising has always had its questionable nature, but even more so that we are in a recession. People are holding onto their money even more now, so advertisers want to get out the big guns and try to get people's money any way that they can. You did a fine job on this piece.

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 

      6 years ago from Minnesota

      I totally agree Chris~I'll look for your next hub on this. Very important topic~

    • Chris Achilleos profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Achilleos 

      6 years ago

      Thank you very much for stopping by to read Minnetonka Twin, your comments and votes are truly appreciated.

      Unfortunately, unethical advertisements could also have a negative effect on kids later in life. I will be posting a hub in the next couple of days on this issue. It is really important for more people to gain awareness concerning this matter.

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 

      6 years ago from Minnesota

      I found this hub very informative. It's amazing the length's advertisers will go to sell their product. Our kids are so bombarded by these ads and it really affects their taste's in clothes, toys, etc.. I hit many buttons and voted up on this important article.


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