- Family and Parenting
The Influence of Advertising on Children
What is the Influence of Advertising on Your Children?
The influence of advertising on our lives, for both children and adults, has changed over the years. In the early days, advertising for toys and other products for children was primarily targeted toward parents and their message was direct. Today however, things have changed. Marketing messages are more sophisticated, more pervasive, and are aimed directly at "hooking" kids at a very early age.
Learn more about how advertising has changed over the years; its target, the subtle messages, its prevalence, and pervasivenss. Find out about the influence of advertising on children and what you can do to counteract or avoid it by reading more here on this page.
The Prevalence of Advertising in Our Children's Lives
There have always been advertisers who market to children. Clearly products such as toys and sugary cereals have been around since before our grandparents were small. Just as today, those who made such products developed ad campaigns to promote them to an interested audience. Many years ago however, it was a bit easier to recognize what was an advertisement and what wasn't. Advertisements were limited to displays in a store, a newspaper ad, or a brief spot on TV or radio.
Some merchandising was creeping in during the 60's with Beatles lunchboxes and similar items. Today however, half of the clothing that kids wear include an advertisement of one sort or another. Backpacks, shoes, and many accessory items also display the most popular brands for a child's peers to see. The influence of advertising is increasingly far reaching.
Today, ads are much more pervasive and less recognizeable as a sales pitch. For instance, while eating at a favorite child oriented fast food restaurant, a child may receive a toy. That toy may also be tied to a movie, a cartoon, a video game, or to a website that offers additional games, toys, and related products. Books, clothing, accessory items, backpacks, cell phones, scooters and more are all tied to the same theme. There are a seemingly limitless number of products that are then presented to the child.
These ads for children, just as those targeted toward adults, create a need where none existed previously. They also hook children, and subsequently their parents, into an endless loop of buying more and more products.
Advertising is no longer limited to store displays, radio and TV commercials, and newspaper ads. Some childrens' literature is developed for the primary purpose of marketing. Movies, cartoons, video games and more are also developed for the purpose of marketing additional products. Some schools even allow advertising on books, educational posters, on the sides of buses, and more.
As we are bombarded with ads from every direction, even as adults these games, movies, children's meals, websites etc. are seldom recognized as the mere marketing methods that they are. With increased prevalence and subtlety, the influence of advertising has grown enormously.
Other Factors that Increase the Influence of Advertising on Our Children
Children today watch far more television than children did in the early days of TV. In addition, they are online (via computer or smart phone) where advertising is prevalent as well. The influence of advertising has permeated much of what our children do and see.
Some experts indicate that the average American child views over 40,000 television commercials each year. This doesn't even cover some of the more subtle advertising such as the use of specific products in the shows that kids watch.
More and more children spend time online as well. This Marketing to Children paper discusses the fact that marketers are targeting children as young as 4 years old via the internet, often with the parents being unaware.
Clearly, many parents have concerns about the amount of marketing and the pervasiveness of advertising messages directed toward children. However, there is another disturbing trend that has emerged in recent years; the promotion of "adult type" products to children. Vehicle manufacturers for instance know that children influence what parents buy but even more importantly, they know that if they can "hook" a child on their brand name while young, they may have a customer for life. Whether it's the Porshe ad that shows the grade school boy recognizing the car as the epitome of "cool" and success, or the Chevy that wins the NASCAR championship; these brands are sealed into a child's mind at a young age.
The dolls that little girls play with may promote brand name make up, board games may make use of a specific credit card, and an HO racetrack often includes a specific brand of car. All of these promotions are paid for by manufacturers and serve a very specific purpose. These messages often have the effect of making kids consumers of such products at an increasingly early age and assures that they develop their brand loyality earlier.
Is Advertising Really That Influential?
There are a number of studies that support the idea that advertising is particularly effective with children due to the fact they don't have the same critical thinking/judgement as an adult. This brief from the APA highlights this thought and discusses how such advertising can lead children to unhealthy food and lifestyle choices.
Advertising has also been shown to greatly influence a child's body image and sexual development. This National Institutes of Health article covers many of the related issues. Children today often feel the influence of advertising's subtle messages more strongly that those provided by schools and even parents.
Certainly many child development specialists have argued that advertising has taken a disastrous turn as far as the welfare of children. This letter from a group of psychologists expresses their concern regarding the use of psychology in the marketing of products to children. It indicates that such knowledge is now often used in designing ad campaigns to the detriment of children. This more recent APA task force (American Psychology Association) has also called for restrictions based on such concerns. It appears that the professionals who deal with child development have grown increasingly concerned about the influence of advertising.
Watch and Learn: Advertising and Children
How Credit Cards Are Marketed to Kids
Cradle to Grave Marketing
Tell Us What You Think
Do You Think Advertising to Kids Has Gone Too Far?
What is the Best Way to Deal with the Problem of the Influence of Advertising on Kids?
What You Can Do to Counteract the Influence of Advertising on Children
There are a number of things that you as a parent can do to reduce the influence of advertising on your kids.
- Restrict television viewing time and time spent on the internet.
- Get your kids involved in other activities.
- Become informed through the various websites and articles referenced on this page.
- Educate your kids to be more media savvy and to critically think about the purpose of many media messages. This CNN article provides tips.
- Get involved. Learn more below about an organization that works to provide an environment free from excessive advertising.
Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood
Working to Reduce the Effects of Advertising
Concerned parents are obviously the first defense in counteracting the influence of advertising. Educating children and restricting access are great first steps. However, for those who want to do more, there are resources available to allow such individuals to become more involved in efforts to influence advertisers and government regulators.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood describes itself as:
"a national coalition of health care professionals, educators, advocacy groups, parents, and individuals who care about children. Headquartered at the Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston, CCFC is the only national organization devoted to limiting the impact of commercial culture on children. CCFC's staff and Steering Committee are activists, authors, and leading experts on the impact of media and marketing on children. Most of us are also parents.
A visit to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood website gives individuals access to educational materials on topics such as media violence, sexualization, ad creep, body image, materialism, obesity, and more. Visitors to the site can become involved by:
- sending letters to corporations which target children in their marketing campaigns
- working to influence proposed legislation
- signing CCFC petitions regarding additional governmental regulations
- learning more via upcoming events such as movies and lectures
- reporting ads to CCFC
- making tax free contributions