Advertising to Children

The art of using sound, slogans and images to relay a message which will ignite consumer interest in a certain service or good, is the definition Kirchoff (2009) attaches to advertising. The advertising industry is huge in the United States, accounting for up to 2% of the country’s total output according to some estimates.

Companies each year spend billions of dollars in advertisements, and they spend a huge chunk of this on advertisement specifically targeting children and young people. This paper critically examines various aspects of advertising to children, analyzing its impact on the market and how it affects strategies employed by companies in advertising campaigns.

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Companies that deal in kids-related goods and services are the major players in this aspect of the advertising industry. Advertising to children is, however, not the preserve of these companies as other organizations and institutions with a message to pass on to children also resort to advertisement (Arens, Schaefer & Weigold, 2012).

Creating awareness about certain goods or services among kids is a major goal of advertisements that target them. Once the advertiser creates awareness, it hopes the awareness will trigger interest in children, and they will be more responsive to it when making decisions on consumption.

Advertisers use different media to reach children. Children and kids’ magazines, television shows, movies, posters, billboards among others are the most commonly used modes of reaching the target audience (Arens, Weigold, & Arens, 2010). In the recent past, however, advancement in technology has resulted in a shift towards digital advertisement.

More children are increasingly using the Internet and social networks, own phones or in other ways interact with digital technology. This has seen the advertisers turn to these forms of media to reach more children than before.. They also take advantage of sporting and other fun-related activities to attract the children’s attention and make them respond to the advertisement.

The law and regulatory authorities require advertisements targeting children to be appropriate for such a sensitive audience. They should not be sexually suggestive or carry any sexual overtones. Messages or images that portray or encourage violence and other antisocial behavior should also not be part of an advertisement message to children. Alcohol, tobacco or drug-related advertisements are inappropriate to children and in some countries are aired at hours when children are most likely to be asleep.

In the recent past, however, advertisements targeting children have increasingly been carrying sexual innuendos, connotations of violence and other vices. This has generated a lot of debates and raised concern with regard to the appropriateness of the advertisements to which children are exposed.

Mental health practitioners and psychologists give the opinion that children especially those under the age of 12 years are not capable of discerning truths from mere puffs in advertisement. They take them at face value and do not question anything contained therein.

As a result, governments in most countries including the United States have been debating on ways of regulating the industry without suffocating growth. The advertising industry is huge in any market based and technologically advanced economy, and the state has to be careful not to suppress its growth while at the same time protecting consumers from unscrupulous advertisers. Children are especially sensitive, and their well being is a prime consideration in any government regulation on the industry.

Advertisers use tactics that will reach as many people as possible in the target group. When it comes to children, they want to capture their attention while getting entertained at home through TV shows, games and movies, playing outdoors through posters and billboards, and even when they are at school.

Filtering the content on these advertisements is key to maintaining propriety standards, due to the large exposure they get. Many advertisers target children not only because they are potential consumers, but because they want to create brand loyalty at an early age. The intention is to get the person to identity with a certain brand at an early age. Research findings show that when such an attachment is created in childhood, then the person is more likely to continue using it even in adulthood.

There is evidence that the effects advertisements have on children are far reaching. Some psychiatrists claim that a child’s self esteem is affected by advertisement (Clay, 2000). Children are often made to believe that they have to possess certain products or types of shoes, clothes or toys.

This makes them feel incomplete or that they do not fit in if they do not have them. In a case where the parent or child cannot acquire them, it leads to strained relationships or stress in the family. Health experts are also blaming the increased cases of obesity and weight-related problems among children on advertisements. Sellers of junk engage in vigorous advertisements of their products targeting children, and this has also started raising serious health concerns.

Using and taking advantage of such child psychology facts has in the recent past, raised concerns among child psychologists about some of their peers helping companies to craft advertising campaigns. The argument on one hand is that it is unethical when companies are assisted by mental health professionals, to get children to respond to and purchase their products (Clay, 2000).

They are seen to be taking advantage of helpless individuals since the advert is designed in a way that it will elicit a given response from the children. Those advocating for the involvement of psychologists in advertisement campaigns argue, that the children are at an advantage when a mental health practitioner is involved, since they can determine the information that is appropriate and inappropriate to kids and advice accordingly.

The increased attention focused on the advertisement to children and young persons has led to adverse effects on the industry. Advertisers’ liberty in crafting advertisements is being severely scrutinized and restricted. Regulations on the advertisement to children are stricter, in aspects to do with content and exposure.

The result is that some advertisements targeting kids cannot be aired at certain hours of the day. For example, advertisement for products such as games cannot be aired before 10.00 Pm and in countries like Canada, a ban exists on adverts whose target audience is below the age of 6 years.

Revenues from advertisement to children have been reported to be on a steady decline, partly due to the prevailing economic conditions and the concerns raised by stakeholders. Advertisers are afraid of being involved in controversies involving their advertisements and they are, therefore, being extremely cautious with adverts targeting kids. The situation is so bad such that some children magazines refuse to advertise in their publications.

It is evident, therefore, that advertisers can no longer reach children by relying on mainstream media. The trend has been to change tactic and attract the attention of children using other means. The main object of any business in a market driven economy is to maximize sales and profits.

Decisions made by management and other officers of the enterprise are geared towards these two goals, even when they claim otherwise. When they engage in advertisement, they are usually in pursuit of these same goals, by targeting people who are likely to consume their products or services.

Changing advertisement tactics is among the decisions company managers are inclined to make. Though the mainstream media are still key in their campaigns, advertisers are now turning towards digital advertising, behavior advertising and activities that involve the children themselves (Commission on Communication, 2006).

With increased presence of children in the cyberspace, advertisers now use children’s websites to reach them. They also reach them through movies. For example, the Coca Cola Company is reported to have paid Warner bros hundreds of millions of dollars for the advertising rights of one the Harry Porter movies. The intention of this move was to get kids’ attention and get them to associate themselves with its products.

Being subtle in their advertisements to children is the new practice among advertisers. Companies hope to achieve their advertising objectives by sponsoring kids events such as sports activities and competitions. This is a device that has in the past been turned to by National Geographic Kids. It has over the recent past been sponsoring and organizing kids competitions and in this way, reached them by involving them in its activities or being involved in their activities (Clifford, 2010).

The purpose of advertisement is to influence the consumer’s consumption pattern to favor the advertiser and its products. The advertiser hopes to influence the consumer’s habits to be more responsive to its product by making him/her conscious of the product. The consumer’s interest in it is raised and if he/she continually interacts with it through consumption, brand loyalty may be born. This is the dream of every advertiser. The dream that the consumer will identify with and relate to the product or service at a personal level.

This often happens, especially among adult consumers. Such an effect on children may present itself over a long period of time, but children get easily excited by new things. They may, therefore, keep changing their preferences with each new release. They often think that the newer is better than the old.

For example, a kid will be very excited when presented with a new toy, but will want another one they see later on an advertisement. The new one replaces the old one not because it is in fact, better, but just because it is new. An advertiser targeting children has to, therefore, keep on coming up with new products to advertise in order to keep the child’s attention on its products.

The Committee on Communication of the American Academy of Pediatrics in its 2006 edition on the Pediatrics journal argues that the advertising influences on children are pervasive. The argument is premised on the claim that they lack psychological defense mechanisms against the torrents of ads they are bombarded with every single day.

Since they accept everything said on the adverts, they reportedly influence their parents’ spending to a tune of $155 billion each year (Advertising Education Foundation, 2005). The adverts they are exposed to while still young at times have effects that are felt in their early adulthood and later years. If children positively identify with cigarette and alcohol advertisements, they are more likely to consume those products later in life. This is how powerful advertisements can be on the habits of a consumer.

Clifford (2010) and the Commission on communication (2006) both agree that there is a need to implement ways of mitigating the negative effects advertising has on children. One of the ways of doing this suggested by the Advertising Education Foundation (2005), is through media education, and involvement of parents and others entrusted with their care such as teachers.

Parents and teachers are important in this since they can monitor and to a reasonable standard control the information to which their kids are exposed. They may also play a role in limiting the influence advertisements have on their habits.

Advertising to children is very sensitive due to their mental status, and the effects of advertisement on them are a cause for concern. The government, children’s rights activists and other regulatory bodies and stakeholders all play a role in scrutinizing and vetting the information relayed to children through advertising. However, in ensuring appropriate and responsible advertisement to children, regard is given to the need to maintain the industry’s growth.

References

Advertising Education Foundation. (2005) Advertising to Children. Aef.com. Retrieved from http://www.aef.com/on_campus/classroom/speaker_pres/data/3005 on February17, 2012.

Arens, W.F., Schaefer, D.H., & Weigold, M.F., (2012). M: Advertising. New York. McGraw-Hill Irwin.

Arens, W. F., Weigold, M.F., & Arens, C. (2010). Contemporary Advertising. New York. McGraw-Hill Irwin.

Clay, R. (2000) Advertising to Children: Is it Ethical? Advanced Psychology, September 2000. Vol. 31 No. 8. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/sep00/advertising.aspx on February17, 2012.

Clifford, S. (2010). A Fine Line When Ads and Children Mix. New York Times. February 14, 2010. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/15/business/media/15kids.html?pagewanted=all on February 17, 2012.

Commission on Communication. (2006). Children, Adolescents and Advertising. Pediatrics: Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/118/6/2563.full.pdf+html on February 17, 2012.

Kirchhoff, S.M. (2009). Advertising Industry in the Digital Age. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved from http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R40908.pdf on February 17, 2012.