Advertising for Children

Children are a tasty morsel for many advertisers. Not only are they easily swayed by advertising, but they are great at encouraging parents to buy them cherished products. Observe a child and parent in a store. That high-pitched whining people hear coming from the aisles is more than just pleadings of a kid begging to get a packet of Cheerios into the shopping cart. It is the sound of thousands of hours of market research, of an immense coordination of people, ideas and resources all rolled into a single, “Mommy, pleeease!” It has been a while since the corporate world realized that children are real participants on the market and their desires can influence corporations’ profits. Being the most vulnerable groups in terms of advertising influence, the children between the ages of 6-13 are in fact powerful consumers because they can exercise their influence over their parents and their money. Given the fact that a large number of elementary and middle school children have TV sets in their bedrooms and tuned to commercial channels such as the Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel, and others, advirtisement aimed at young children should be restricted by the governement because at this age they do not yet have a fully developed critical thinking and the influence of advertisement can be damaging morally, psychologically and phisically.

Children are innocent and not so mature. They are in the process of forming their personality. So all they see and hear is molding their world perception. Because of brightness and dynamics, the eye-catching and attention grabbing commercials have a major influence on them touting the latest and greatest toys, fast food restaurants and high-sugar snacks. While it is obvious for everyone that children younger than 8 years are cognitively and psychologically defenseless against advertising, not everyone may realize that middle school students are also in the process of forming their critical thinking skills. Children don’t understand the notion of intent to sell and frequently accept advertising claims at face value. Therefore, they must be protected by their caregivers, as well as government.

 
 

Naturally, having had a TV in your home, it’s difficult to avoid commercial-packed screen time. many parents view the quite time when their kids are parked in front of another TV show as the only time they can relax and get their bearings. But it comes with a price. Product branding is very effective since young children demand a product right after that commercial wrapped up. While parents zone out at 6 a.m. when their brood gets up bright and early, morning commercial TV advertisers bombard children with ads for sugary cereals, salty snacks, and junk food. Then, children are able to raise the hairs on the back of their parents’ neck with their bellowing to eat synthetic rubbish in garish-colored packaging instead of a hearty helping of healthy porridge. He would walk into the kitchen, open a fridge, spot healthy choices of carrots and broccoli and let out a yuckfest of protests, ‘Do we have normal food in here?!’

Advertising crept into all areas of children’s lives, from TV commercials, to ad placement within programs (and video games), to toys and mobile telephones, to the Internet and movies, etc. Even if wise parents are able to safely guard children from extensive use of TV and saturate their life with outdoor activities and other recreational pastimes, there is still a danger of bright packaging that can lure a child even without aggressive advertising methods. In his article “What’s in a Package,” Thomas Hine says, “[T]he package makes the final sales pitch, seals the commitment, and gets itself placed in the shopping cart. Advertising leads consumers into temptation. Packaging is the temptation. In many cases it is what makes the product possible”.

Therefore, even when parents carefully negotiate what and when will be bought, a seductive packaging can ruin the whole scheme. For example, Mattel Corporation introduce a new toy – The 12 dancing princesses carriage. Even if a child had avoided the commercial before and is not aware that such a toy exists, spotting it in a supermarket will make one desire to have the carriage right away. While it is a natural desire and one can do nothing about it, the packaging can play a trick on parents. Buying a toy carriage a child sees the packaging and the modeled variant of six, and in some cases even twelve princesses, sitting in the carriage. The child’s natural reaction will be to ask parents for more Barbies to fill in the carriage (“Barbie”).

There is an opinion that from TV commercials children learn about new things, start to navigate in a large world of products, understand their functions, advantages and disadvantages. Not even realizing how much they are being targeted, somehow children know the jingle to every fast food commercial or gadget on the air. A youngster is usually informed about the assortment better than their mom and dad, they can tell one bubblegum from another, always know about new products. It is not that bad, as a child is involved in the adults’ life and begins to understand about the price, earnings, discounts, and quality. For example, in France, advertising is seen as a part of preparing children for future life in the consumer society. But it is rather an exception than a rule. Several European countries forbid or severely curtailed advertising to children; in the United States, on the other hand, selling to children is simply ‘business as usual.’

An average American child sees more than 300 commercials and advertisements a day (“The Merchants of Cool”). While some may argue that parental influence is crucial, with such amount of exposure it is impossible for parents to withstand the pressure. If a parent models healthy eating behaviors, does not abuse soda consuming, their child is more likely to choose high-nutrient foods. However, sometimes a TV character carries more weight than mom. Parents use all their assortment of tricks of trades for getting their child to eat healthy, and then it gets only one commercial to slide back to salty crackers and heavily promoted bars of chocolate with loads of Es. It prompts to think that some restrictions are necessary.

Whereas a complete ban on TV commercials might not work in overtly capitalistic America, there should be some limits. Given a concern with the growing obesity trends among young children, it is simply a matter of health to ban fast food, sugary products and processed products from TV. Maybe some types of food can be advertised past time when youngsters can be around TV screens. For example, children are not able to fully develop critical thinking skill until the age of 11. Therefore, advertisement and commercials should be strictly limited until then.

In society, there is always a group of people that does not buy into luring and seducing promises of commercials. These people have character and independent-thinking. In the article “What We Are to Advertisers,” James B. Twitchell calls them Actualizers: “They don’t need new things; in fact, they already have their things. If not, they already know what “the finer things” are and won’t be told. They don’t need a new car, but if they do they’ll read Consumer Reports” (179). Obviously this type of thinking requires a deep knowledge of self and probably life experience. For younger children parents can just start teaching them the basics of critical thinking but that would not be enough to protect children from the aggressive influence of TV commercials.

When I was two, and four, and even five years old, I knew little about burgers, fashionable outfits, spidermen and barbies. I had to enjoy simple things – playing with my cats instead of computer games and savoring my granny’s strawberry pie instead of supermarket sweets. And I was a truly happy child. Inasmuch as the parental main concern is usually happiness of their children, restrictions on advertising would not result in a narrower worldview for their children, not it will invoke unhappiness. I would like to say that not viewing commerials would keep people from being too materialistic. But that is unfortunately a battle that people continue to fight. Being content with what people have should be easy, but for some reason it is not, so it would be a good thing that people do not add TV commercial influence on top of the weak human nature. Waiting for the government to tune in, parents at least can turn the volume off during the commercials using them as “teachable moments” to help their children learn to be a better consumer.

Young children are gullible and easy targets for the corporate America and they can develop consciousness and withstand the pressure from mass media only over time. Therefore, children need assistance from their parents and the government to be able to stay afloat in the ocean of seductions and lures until they develop their own critical thinking.

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