Advertising to children is the act of marketing or [advertising] products or services to children as defined by national legislation and advertising standards. It is often the subject of debate, relating to the alleged influence on children’s consumption. Laws concerning such advertisements have largely evolved in recent years such as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). In most countries, advertising for children is framed by a mix of legislation and advertising self-regulation.

History of Advertising to Children

In the nineteenth century, the compulsory education of children was established. Consequently, children began to be targeted by an increasing number of publications.Commercial appeals to children, however, did not become commonplace until the advent and widespread adoption of television and grew exponentially with the advent of cable television.[1]Also, Comic books started appearing around this period but were not initially targeted to children because they were largely uneducated. However, it was apparent that the majority of readers were children nonetheless. Publishers realized the importance of marketing comic books to teenagers in order to raise their potential sales. This resulted in the rise of comic book promotion to the youth market in the 19th century.

Radio and then television (broadcast media) grew. For advertisers, these tools expanded the ability of communicating to consumers effectively through advanced visual and oral medium.[2] It is described in (Blades, et al., 2014)[3] that, during the 19th century, a broadcasting system was utilised effectively to enhance advertisements within The United States of America.

Spot Advertising

Spot advertising, a novel form of promotion in this era, came to be known as a prodigious way of advertising. Spot advertising is television advertising, which appears shortly between programmes.[2]


However, spot advertising was not the only commercial promotion that came to be popular. Sponsorship arrangements also began to appear. Advertisers linked their name with certain programmes and supported some of the production cost.[4] American advertisers sponsored TV programmes or films in order to promote their products through broadcast media. A significant opportunity arose for advertisers and marketers with increased numbers of internet users due to the invention of the household computer in the early 1990`s. This movement expanded more ways of advertising and intensified the relationship between marketers and consumer. Concern grew that children had a significant disadvantage in this secretive form of marketing. This is because advertising could easily manipulate children as they are less able to comprehend the implicit objective of advertisers.[3]

How Children react to TV advertisements

Studies estimate that children between the ages of 6 and 11 spend on average 28 hours a week watching television[5] and are exposed to as many as 20,000 commercials in a single year.[6] With companies in the fast food industry right through to alcohol and drug industries all using television as an outlet for advertising, organizations are left to decide what is suitable for children to view and how children will react to the messages they receive through their advertisements. Since the 1970s there has been a large amount of concern as to whether or not children are able to comprehend advertisements and the extent to which they do so.[7] A study conducted by Goldberg, M. E., & Gorn, G. J. in 1983 looked at the acquisition of children’s cognitive defences and found that, until the age of 8 most children are unable to understand the selling intent of televised advertisements. Between the ages of 8 and 11 children only have a partial understanding of selling intent, and it is not until at least the age of 11 that a child is able to fully understand the selling intent of televised advertisements.[8] The study concludes that there is a large difference in basic understanding of the purpose of advertising between children of a younger age and of an older age, and as a result different age groups have different reactions to televised advertisement.[7]

Implications of TV advertising on children

There are positive and negative implications to TV advertising on children, for both marketers and the children who view the advertisements. Marketers are affected by the broadcasting laws for advertising on TV to children. There are many stereotypical roles presented to boys and girls within adverting today. These advertisements show children how society views their gender stereotypes in different categories. Young boys can be seen to play in a more active role than girls with diggers and cars, where as girls are displayed in a more nurturing and caring role playing with dolls or in miniature kitchen play sets. Presenting these stereotypes to children at such a young age can have a greater effect on them in their later years.[9] It can effect the way they think about themselves and impact their judgement on others if the standards of society are not met.

TV advertising content has become more restricted because parents are concerned about the inappropriate content that are exposed to children through advertisements on the TV, the messages that will influence a child’s attitude, cognition and behavior, and encouragement of violence or harm. Some countries have broadcast codes that suggest that TV advertisements should not contain exaggerated claims that will mislead or deceive children, abuse their trust or lack the understanding of persuasive intent in an advertisement.[10] Another implication for marketers would be that children do not possess the same attention towards advertising, as an adult would. When children are exposed to the first few seconds of an ad, these seconds are vital because it will determine the attentiveness of the child throughout the advertisement. It is important for marketers who are targeting children, to take into consideration, the actors, entertainment value, and quality of words and images used to keep children engaged throughout the advertisement. Although children have shorter attention spans from adults when viewing TV advertisements, they have better recognition of products and brands.[citation needed]

Studies say that it is common for parents to be pestered by their children for the product they have seen on TV. This is a result of children feeling the need to conform through pressure created by their friends.[11] A study showed that Mothers are more likely to purchase a product for their children due to the emotional appeal of advertisements and marketers are taking advantage of a Mothers response to their children reacting to an advertisement shown on TV. This emotional manipulation is an implication of TV advertising to children because marketers are exploiting the bond between a mother and her child. [12]

An implication inflicted on children through TV advertising outweighs the effects on marketers because the factor that affect a child’s well-being and relationship with their parents. For instance, children have developed aggressive behaviour because parents have denied their request to purchase products advertised on TV, which has created weak relationships between children and parents.[13] Some children may not be able to comprehend the persuasive intent of an advertisement and do not necessarily feel pressured but are at risk of deception. Some argue that companies should stop targeting children with advertisements because children have become brand savvy from being constantly exposed to them on a daily basis and pestering their parents to purchase a certain product.[14] People argue that it is important for children to develop analytical skills of consumerism and children should know the distinction between advertising and other media content, so they are not vulnerable to manipulation.

Different Reactions Between Younger and Older Children

Younger children have different understandings of advertisements they see on TV, in comparison to older children. All children can be influenced and persuaded by the advertisements they see. A study by Moore and Lutz[6] questioned children about TV advertisements and found how young and older children’s understanding of advertisements differs.

Younger children are influenced by what they see and do not have as much understanding of the message behind the advertisement. They are more trusting and believe that the product shown in the advertisement will be exactly how it is show on TV if they were to buy it. An advertisement may show children having fun playing with a new toy; when young children see this they expect that they will have that much fun too if they were to purchase that toy. Surroundings of the product shown in the advertisement also influence how young children view the advertisement. A colourful, fun environment will capture their attention and make the advertisement more memorable to a young child. Young children view advertisements as a form of entertainment; they are often able to enjoy advertisements similarly to how they would enjoy a TV programme. Advertisements also help young children to discover new products that they want and, as found in the study, young children use advertisements to create lists of things they want and wish to own in the near future.[6]

Older children are better able to understand the meaning behind advertisements and can recognise certain aspects of the advertisement, which influence their purchase decisions. They can acknowledge that things aren’t exactly as they are depicted in the advertisement, so their expectations, if they were to buy what is being advertised, are more realistic. Older children recognise that humour, music and action are used to capture their attention, as well as helping them to remember the advertisement. Older children enjoy advertisements that they find entertaining, regardless of whether they are interested in what is being advertised, unlike young children who are more likely to be interested only in advertisements that show things they themselves want or have. Older children look at what is being communicated and are able to focus on the product itself.[6]

"Pester Power"

Advertisements reach out to children, who then tell their parents what it is they want, and with repeat viewing they continue to remind their parents. This is called “pester power”, which means that children pester their parents to buy things for them that they desire.[15] Pester power can be long-term, in particular when birthdays or Christmas is approaching. Children also pester their parents while out shopping, as they see things they recognise from advertisements that they “must have”. Children react with anger, disappointment and frustration when they do not get these products. Advertisements have a strong influence on this as the child’s desire grows every time they see a particular product they want. Although, advertisements are not always the reason for children pestering their parents in stores, as children naturally are drawn to specific items and decide quickly what they do and don’t like. Another reason for pestering is that children want to have what everyone else does. There may be a particular product that many of their friends own, so this influences the desire to own the product themselves. Advertisements are not the only reason for “pester power”, but they are a very strong influence.[15]

How Children react to TV food advertisements

Many companies advertise food and have a tendency to include fantasies when targeted towards children. This is one of the persuasive ways which companies can use to advertise to children, along with promotional characters and premium offers.[16][17] A study from Australia found that the rate of promotional characters in advertisements is twice as high during popular children’s programs compared to popular adult programs. Examples of promotional characters include celebrities, cartoon characters and sports stars, this is as these characters increase the persuasiveness of the advertisements on both children and adults. Premium offers is another persuasive marketing which includes competitions, giveaways and vouchers, the same study found that unhealthy food advertisements contain 18 times as many premium offers during children’s program in comparison to adult programs.[18]

Often children do not have an understanding of the persuasive intent that advertising has. This starts to develop in children by the age of eight and young children lack any insight into the purpose of advertisements.[19] This can lead to a potentially deceptive and manipulative understanding of promotional advertising that may be biased. Evidence of this was seen in a study by the Journal of Advertising who saw that children are more absorbed in the advertisement if it has a fantasy appeal due to children having a preference towards it. Children become absorbed in the fantasy making them more susceptible to these advertisements and placing less emphasis on the facts such as nutritional information or ingredients. Examples of these fantasies would be advertisements which are animal related, adventurous or the product comes alive creating a hyperreality/ fantasy driven world, in which the children are drawn to and associates with the product[17]

Another study found that there are four routes in which advertising can affect children. The first route is the motivational arousal created in the advertisements. This generates expectations which can direct consumer behaviour, occasionally more powerfully that physical consumption does. The second route is the psychological linkage between exposure to advertising and purchasing of advertised products. This aspect refers to the feelings and emotion that accompany the purchase and consumption of the advertised product such as satisfaction and happiness. Resulting in some consumers feeling an emotional connection during decision making which can lead to less cognitive noise. The third aspect refers to the entertainment dimension of advertising which regularly creates a positive mood and increases the possibility of positive judgement. On the other hand, can result in reduced systematic information, this minimizes children’s ability to recognise and understand the persuasive purpose of advertising. The final factor links the 3 other factors together and refers to children’s capability to interpret the persuasive nature of advertising.[20]

Commercial Food promotion to children

Commercial food promotion is the advertisement of food items for the purpose of sales or profit. Commercial food promotion can be found in any form of advertisement from televised commercials to magazine articles. When a product such as a food item is advertised to a child this is commercial food promotion to children.[21]

Why is commercial food promotion to children a problem?

Every day we all are exposed to thousands of advertisements, whether it is a televised advertisement, magazine advertisement, online or even just a brand name.[22] Michael Mink, a professor at Armstrong State University, looked at 3584 advertisements that aired on TV and found that 17 percent of these were directly related to commercial food and a large amount of these advertisements were fast food.[23][23] The large exposure to commercial food has created problems for children worldwide, among these problems the issue of child obesity.[24] In 2015 Centres for disease control and prevention found that the amount of obese children is more than double the amount it was 30 years ago.[25] Although commercial food promotion to children is not the primary reason for this vast increase in child obesity advertisements of food items have played a significant part.

There is an obvious correlation between televised advertisements and child obesity. A study conducted by Frederick J. Zimmerman and Janice F. Bell made the statement that “Commercial television pushes children to eat a large quantity of those foods they should consume least: sugary cereals, snacks, fast food and soda pop”.[26] On average children between the ages of 8 and 12 see 21 fast food advertisements a day through televised media.[27] Children decide their food preference at a young age through preliminary learning process and when they are exposed to large amounts of fast food advertising it has major long-lasting implications on their diet.[28] Children’s innocence and lack a lot of knowledge around commercial food, allows them to easily trust what an advertisement says. As a result, companies are able to falsely display food items to children and what children think to be healthy and nutritious is actually unhealthy being high in fats and sugars.[7]

Possible Solution

It has been a recent recommendation of the World Health Organisation that companies and organisations make a reduction of “food and beverage marketing directed at children that is high in sugar, fat and sodium in order to help reduce the burden of obesity worldwide.”[29] The World Health Organisation recommendation forms a firm foundation for what could be a possible solution to commercial food promotion to children. If government industries and companies worldwide were to begin to place restrictions and regulate advertisements of food industries so that healthier and nutritious foods are shown to be more positive and desirable, then the issue of obesity worldwide may begin to dissipate.

Canada is an example of a country where the majority of advertising is controlled by companies themselves.[29] In April 2007, 16 of the largest food and beverages companies formed an initiative known as The Canadian Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. Companies in this initiative included Campbell company of Canada, General Mills Canada Corporation, Kellogg Canada, Kraft Canada, Nestle Canada, Parmalat Canada, Weston Bakeries Limited, Mc Donald’s Restaurants of Canada and Burger King Restaurants of Canada. The companies together decided that each would require that at least 50% of advertisements targeted at children under the age of 12 years’ old would contain “healthier dietary choices”.[29] What these Canadian companies have begun to do is an example of what sorts of advertising companies worldwide will need to sacrifice to end the problems created by the promotion of commercial food.

The relationship between television viewing and obesity

The instant influence of television on food choice and consumption

It is recognised that the amount of energy consumption increases as one spends more time viewing television. According to a study conducted by Crespo, C. J. from 1988 to 1994, young females who watched more than 5 hours of television intake an additional 175kcal per day, compared to others who only watch less than an hour per day. It is thus deduced that, in general, viewing television influences food choice decision and calorie consumption. For instance, children tend to consume low nutritional value, high calorie foods such as French fries, ice cream, soft drinks, and salty snacks while in front of television. Television influences children depending on how long they watch television for and depending on which country to study. Focusing on America of how television influences food consumption, children in America watch television for nearly four and a half hours each day. Whilst they are watching TV during their time, they are exposed to at least 60 minutes of advertising each day. Half of the advertisements during children programs are of food advertisements, and they display many varieties of food, and eventually will get them into thinking what they prefer to eat just by looking at how tasty the food looks as children tend to be very visual about what they learn. Children between the age of 2 to 7 will see about 12 food ads and those who are 8 to 12 years will see 21 food ads each day or 7,609 ads each year. Taste is a major influence on food factors. Eating habits and taste preference develop early in life will remain relatively the same throughout adulthood. The taste preference developed at the early stage with the repetitive exposure of messages on different varieties of food can make a lifelong influence in the eating habits. The food and beverage marketing is a major influence on children as they are exposed to seeing the messages of those products in the advertisement and with technology growing, the marketing strategies for food and beverage will expand to phones, tablets via Internet. Children are exposed to many devices nowadays and they are more exposed to marketing messages from the palm of their hand. The food and beverage industry spends $1.23 billion on marketing food and beverages to children under the age of 12. In America, their diets consist of inadequate in nutrient-dense foods, and are mainly high in energy-dense foods and beverages. The amount of unhealthy products available in America, children would be exposed to the marketing messages for unhealthy foods i.e. the sugary breakfast cereals, fast food franchises, and candy. Children tend to develop their food preferences during their early stages of life therefore they are at a risk of a lifelong preferences of food that have high calories, fat, and added sugars, which will increase the risk for obesity because of the TV food marketing practices. There was a recent experiment where elementary school aged children who saw unhealthy food advertising while watching a cartoon program consumed 45% more snacks than the group of children who watch the program with non food related advertising. Exposing children to healthy food advertisements had a positive impact on their attitude towards healthy food whereas when unhealthy food advertisements were shown alongside healthy food advertisements had a negative impact on their attitude towards healthy food.[30]

Additionally, several studies have identified that the amount of fruit and vegetables consumed decreases as television viewing time increases.[31] Excessive television viewing often correlates to poor diet quality as a result. It appears that children who spend significant amounts of time watching television have poor eating habits and tend to prefer unhealthy food. It can therefore be deduced that considerable impact on food selection and the level of food consumption is influenced by television viewing.[32]

The effects of television on obesity

There a research conducted by Harvard 25 years ago how watching television is linked to obesity. Studies have shown that children who watch television over a consistent period of time are more likely to gain weight. The long-term effects of TV watching include that TV viewing in childhood predicts obesity risk well into adulthood and mid-life. There are evidence proven by experiment that reducing children’s TV viewing have made improvement in body mass index, body fat, and other obesity-related measures. Some of these TV-reduction trials have been implemented into schools. One of the trials they used for a middle school classroom lessons to encourage less TV viewing, more activity and improving on diets.

There is evidence that adults are more likely to gain weight if they watch TV as well. Adults who become obese by watching TV more, not only they gain weight but they also increase the risk of weight-related chronic diseases. There was a study where nurses followed around 50,000 middle-age women for six years. For every two hours the women spent watching television each day, they had a 23% higher risk of becoming obese and a 14% higher risk of developing heart disease as well as early death increased by 20%, 15%, and 13% respectively. Although the trials on reducing TV viewing was mainly focused on children, and not adults. A small research of 36 men and women would suggest that an electronic TV lock out could help adults with weight control. The way in which that watching TV increases the risk of obesity by making no time for physical activity, TV promoting poor diet, and eating unhealthy snacks whilst watching TV, or come cases they eventually sleep in front of the TV. Studies have given evidence that TV viewing is related to greater calorie intake or the unhealthy food and beverage marketing viewed on TV. Television has shown many food related advertisements that children and youth see each year is primarily for high calorie, low nutrient foods and drinks, which is according to the evidence displayed by the Institute of Medicine.[33]

Food Advertisements link to childhood obesity

Many studies have been conducted indicating an early exposure of food advertising to 2-13 year old children has a link to the increasing amount of childhood obesity cases globally.[34] In a report written in 2008, there is evidence between the television food advertising and children’s behaviour towards food. In a study conducted as part of this report on the quantity and content of advertisements screened during the peak times that children watch television Monday to Friday 7:00am-9am, 3:30pm-11pm and Saturday and Sunday 7.30am- 10:30am, 3.30pm-11.00pm. During these time periods, it was found that of the 20201 advertisement collected, over a quarter of them were food related. Non- core food such as snacks, high sugar cereal, confectionary and soft drinks made up 56.4% of the food advertisements, with fast food restaurants been most frequently advertised.[16]

A possible link between food advertising and childhood obesity can be seen with television advertisements influencing children into changing their purchasing demands for food. Food advertising can create a lack of judgement in children and often health conscious messages such as emphasis on the significance of fruit and vegetable consumption are missed. This leads to a misinterpretation of which products are healthy and which are not. Company’s advertisements can subconsciously influence the viewer inclination to have a meal or a snack even when they are not hungry. Television can affect how children see advertising for junk food, through deceptive advertising. One way of doing this is by using cross-promotional advertisements which use cartoon or toys from children’s shows as a tool to advertise the food product. Advertiser can subliminally persuade children to purchase and eat junk food. While adults can differentiate the true meaning behind an advertisement children are often unable to allowing these ads to influence their perspective toward the product.[35]

Embedded brands in television programs and movies is another way in which marketers can get their message across. This strategy can apply a power message on the child’s memory and choices without having them directly exposed to advertisements. A study conducted by Professor Charlie Lewis involved two groups of children to watch a clip from Home Alone. One group saw a clip where had a cup labelled Pepsi been spilt, the other group saw the same clip but with an unlabelled cup. After watching the clip, the children were then offered a can of fizzy, with a choice between Coca-Cola and Pepsi. The children who were exposed to the branded ad were significantly more likely to choose Pepsi. This proves the effect that of embedded marketing on children can directly influence and motivate there product choice. Food marketing is a prominent feature in children’s lives, with food advertising been predominantly for high energy and low nutritional content foods, having the ability to change the habits and preferences of children. In the United Kingdom, many Non-Governmental Organisations look at food and drink marketing to children. They focus on four key types of food marketing to children: television advertising, non-broadcast marketing in digital media, packaging which includes the use of characters and cartoons and nutrition claims and sponsorship.[36]

Advantages and disadvantages of advergames

The youth market has become expansive and thus accelerates economic growth around the world. It is estimated that approximately $250 billion per annum is spent by youth aged between 2 and 17 years old. Moreover, an additional $500 billion is spent by households wholly for youth between the ages of 2 to 14. Recently, younger generations have begun to spend substantial amounts of time on the internet, coinciding with the increase in development of technology. For instance, in the US, the percentage of household computer ownership by youth, aged of 8 to 18, is 93 percent. In addition, 84 percent of those youth have access to the internet at home. Businesses are taking advantage of this trend and are creating new approaches toward advertising in order to reach to the youth market. This is a vast discipline within the marketing sector. Advergames are considered to be one of the most promising ways to reach out to the youth market. It consists of advertising and online gaming .[3] Its main purpose is to distribute information of the brand, product, and marketing messages to online users by integrating it into gaming process (An et al., 2014).[37] Some of the advantages for using advergames are that the cost of delivering advergames is relatively inexpensive and few legal restrictions envelop them. Another advantage of advergames is that advertisers are able to gauge how long the user is involved with their brand games. This indicates that the use of advergames can simultaneously simplify the process of collecting data and save significant amounts of marketing costs. In contrast, there are also some disadvantages of advergames. An example is that advergames are primarily created by fast food enterprises. Therefore, it leads to a concern that the ratio of child obesity might increase. This is because the majority of advergames users are children and they are easily persuaded to consume fast food because of their undeveloped processing types.[3]

Scope and form

Advertising to children can take place on traditional media – television, radio and print – as well as new media (internet and other electronic media). Packaging, in-store advertising, event sponsorship, and promotions can also be used.

UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – defines early childhood as ages 0–8 years.[38] For the purposes of advertising law, the definition of a child varies from one jurisdiction to another. However, the age of 12 is commonly used as a cut-off point. This cut off point is on the close enough basis of the widespread academic view that by age 12 children have developed their behaviour as consumers, can effectively recognise advertising and are able to adopt critical attitudes towards it.[39]

Regulations for Food Advertising to Children

In Australia, there is a self-regulatory code toward children’s exposure to food advertising. This study was that the proportion of non-core foods advertised decrease by eighteen percent from a previous study from before the self-regulatory code was introduced.[34] This code was created because of the negative impact that the advertising of unhealthy food has on children. The self-regulatory code regulates the use of promotion, popular characters and unsuitable material during time periods dedicated for children’s television programs. The code does not monitor the types of food that may be advertised to children, and does not apply to times when high number of children are viewing such as a sports match. Since the code was introduced the rate of non-core fast food advertising has decreased as seen in the other study mentioned. The self-regulatory code only covers a small time period and range of food. An improved marketing approach would be limiting advertising on a wider range on fast food not just those designated as children’s meals. This study also saw that advertisement which promote healthier alternatives often still have some non- core foods present.[40]

The Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI)[41] is a voluntary program implemented in 2007 in the United States, in response to public health concerns and food companies have promised to advertise healthier dietary choices in child directed advertising. The advertising of candy to children appeared that it would decrease as 4 large candy manufacturers, Mars, Hershey, Kraft and Nestle pledged to CFBAI that they would not advertise any candy product to children. Rather than the reduction of Candy advertising, a 65% increase in candy related advertisements in 2011 than in 2007 before the CFBAI was introduced. A fault with the CFBAI is that it regulates advertising directed at children, many children are exposed to advertisements for candy during programs popular for a wider range of people. Increased participation in CFBAI and a clearer definition of what child-directed advertising is, will be required for a reduction in the exposure of children unhealthy foods.[42]

In the European Union, there was concern for the quantity and type of television food advertising that children are exposed to. In 2010, the Audiovisual Media Services Directive[43] was created as a centre piece of the regulation of advertising unhealthy food and drinks in or accompanying children’s programs. The directive does not imply consistent regulations across Member states. It does state the “Member States and the commission shall encourage media service providers to develop codes of conduct regarding inappropriate audiovisual commercial communications, accompanying or included in children’s programs, of foods and beverages containing nutrients and substances with a nutritional or physiological effect”.[44] Although there isn’t a definition of a child and unhealthy food which is shared within the European countries, there is a consistent want for regulation. Each country implements a variation in the strength of their regulations, based on the framework is created from the directive. Each Country has a different legal point of view toward marketing practices, television regulations and the protection of minors. The individual European Union’s Member States interpretation of the Directive is left to the national regulators to set a clear degree of regulatory protection. This is set by the regulator along with the industry and broadcasters themselves who interpret the previsions. This results in a national regulation of advertising to children that considers the nations legal and cultural traditions as well as economic and political objectives, which do not always compare across member states. Some Member states impose a partial ban on advertising in children programs, where others prohibit the showing of sponsorship logo in children programs.[45]

Ethical violations

Children are arguably the most vulnerable consumers affected by directed advertising. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average child sees more than 20,000 commercials a year in the United States.[46] While this number is not significantly different from the number of commercials that adults are exposed to, children are affected more negatively than adults are. Unlike adults, children cannot be expected to have the proper rational abilities to operate in their own self interests without being unfairly taken advantage of by advertisements.[47] Research done by the American Psychological Association shows that children under the age of 8 are mentally incapable of viewing and interpreting television advertisements with a critical eye. According to the APA, children are more prone to accepting advertisements as truthful, accurate, and unbiased than adults are.[48] Adults are able to recognize that the purpose of advertising is to persuade. Children under the age of 6 have difficulties separating commercials from regular television programming.[49] Thus, these children are more susceptible to being hoodwinked by commercials into craving junk food, having low self-esteem, and developing bad habits.

“Advertising is the structured and composed non-personal communication of information, usually paid for and usually persuasive in nature, about products by identified sponsors through various media.”[50] In modern society today, ads already penetrate into every corner of people's lives. It affects people's values, social outlook, and outlook on life, social relations and cultural psychology. Comprehensive and universal attributes of the television advertising reach determines it is an important source that heavily influences children's morality. Marketers have many approaches to attract consumers by using different media, such as television, network and radio. Many consumers are attracted by those exaggerated claims advertising; especially children who do not possess the mature mentality as adults, allowing them to be more easily manipulated through persuasive advertisements. [51]

According to some researches, there are some negative impacts such as effects on children’s mental health and physical health.It can be argued that advertising creates some immoral logic that his difficult to shelter children from seeing, and may be harmful for children to grow up healthy. With the start of the "information era", newspapers, magazines and radio advertising and other media in people's lives began to play an important role; as did the ethical concern of advertisements as bad impacts on children followed the "information era". [51] A considerable part of children's lives are time spent watching television, movies, and in turn television ads will change their way of life, behavior, values, consumption view, life goals, etc. [52]

Many advertisements bring ethics into question when they market themselves irresponsibly by deeming and insinuating special effects of their product. This is seen through the acquisition of specific knowledge or high test scores on their "magic" products, misleading the children who lack enough judgment to see the advertisement is merely using persuasive tactics. These kinds of ads tend to encourage the opportunistic mentality among children and the idea that they will "reap without sowing". This brings morality and the ethical duties advertisers have in childhood educational development. [52] A lot of misleading ideas from TV ads distort morality for children. For instance, advertising buying a gift for a significant other to show how closet relationship is, leading children to think that the nature of relationships are based solely on tangible gifts or items. This profoundly affects the healthy mental growth of children. Many children may think that "purchases = identity". This concept could cause the child judge a person by their status level and the things a person owns. In addition, this idea of judgment and the value it holds has not yet fully developed in children, often causing the "expensive is better" mindset to rule many of their judgments. This type of advertising can be argued as unethical as it is suggesting a way of life, putting materialistic values at the forefront of relationships, and shaping the way in which children believe the world may be once they are older; deceiving them.

Another form of misleading media is seen in food advertisements. Most junk food companies create very attractive advertising, which leads to children's deep fascinations with these unhealthy foods, and even in developing their unhealthy eating habits. American Psychological Association shows: “Research has found strong correlation between growing in advertising for unhealthy foods and rates of childhood obesity." Children are in the physiological developmental period, and they should have healthy habits and tendencies in their daily lives. However, television commercials and advertisements all around children mostly introduce high fat and high salt food, such as processed, unhealthy foods. False advertising in the food industry is very apparent; some say junk food is “nourishing and healthy food”, which we now accept as an inaccuracy and misleading. Thus, children’s behavior in choosing foods and their opinions on different food brands are influenced heavily by TV advertising with animated characters, bright colors, endorsers, and manipulative slogans. [53] In addition, marketing itself targets emotions, not intellect, and makes it easier for children to be enticed by the brands that are advertised. Advertisements hope children will choose the product through what is on the package or because of a celebrity endorsement and not for the actual value of the product. [54]

The strong, big business atmosphere is the root of many ads that bring negative impacts to children. McDonald's constant strategy to target children has resulted in aiding childhood obesity. In 2012 McDonald's had invested an estimate of $42 million alone on ads for the "Happy Meal". This marketing strategy targeted towards the children eventually played a part in government intervention and the development of Michelle Obama's campaign against childhood obesity, Let's Move. Subway developed an advertising campaign with a slogan “Playtime: Powered by Veggies”, the slogan itself was aimed at capturing children's attention. Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, states that "there is no moral, ethical, or social justification for marketing any product to children." Susan happens to mention that it is the sort of advertisement that children see is the issue, but there could be a debate on how people perceive the brands that are being advertised.

From another perspective, TV ads have negative influence on children's language. The process of socialization of children, the environment and education plays an important role in children's understanding and application of the language. Commercials and advertisement campaigns are able to manipulate children through their specific use of rhetoric. For example, to make advertising more attractive to children, the advertiser will use some vague, exaggerated, or even vulgar words. In addition, some of the children's TV ads attempt to stimulate their child-like desires. When their desire is not satisfied, the colorful world which created by TV ads will be in stark contrast with reality, then disappointment, anger and conflict will causes children dissatisfaction with society and the family.

Some ads not only make children mature much earlier than usual, and increase socialization, but they also boldly and crudely, at times, promote earlier puberty. “From 1976 to 1996, there was a 400% increase in sexual references during the evening television ‘family hour’ viewing time period.” For example, there was a lot of nudity and kissing in the ad. While seemingly meaningless, it actually affects the growth of many children.

This aspect of advertising that is argued as unethical in relation to marketing towards children is the overarching sexualization and maturation of children. As children, and specifically young girls view advertisements on social media sites, magazines, television, and in campaigns that promote the idea of "perfection" among models/lifestyles with unhealthy habits, the impending role of advertisers and marketers is becoming more apparent. This is bringing the debate about the regulation of advertisements and their sexualization of children specifically through fashion branding into discussions internationally. [55] A lot of advertising use some mean ways in order to gain profits and ignore the negative impact of advertising on children. Therefore, many unethical ideas which are created, distributed, and promoted by retailers are imprinted in the children's growth process.

Children are quickly becoming the most targeted group within the advertising and marketing industries. Younger children have an incredible influence over the money their parents spend on them, whilst older children are also targeted because of the money they will spend later in life . Consumer spending habits and brand loyalty are all values that are formed as a child. Advertisers recognise that this age group is important to target because of the certain spending habits that will follow them into adulthood. Children are seen as one of the most vulnerable age groups targeted by advertisers and are constantly exposed to expansive amounts of commercial promotion every day. It comes as no surprise that advertising to children is considered to be highly unethical. Targeting this age group is often noted as highly dishonorable and is a topic of great controversy . The violation of advertising to such a susceptible age group has been seen to have a detrimental impact on the child’s cognitive development as well as behavioural issues that generally lead to poor spending habits and values in the future . It is seen to be an unethical practice as it is obvious that children are not fully aware of the persuasive aim and purpose of advertising, it is unclear to children that it is an advertisers’ job to convince consumers to buy their products. The advertising message shown to children is often obscured and advertisers choose to target emotions, opposed to knowledge and understanding. Therefore, children are exposed to poor spending habits with this type of advertising, including impulse buying and they are not necessarily taught to buy products for value . Not only does this effect the overall cognitive development of a child but also starts to interfere with how they view themselves. Children are so focused on the importance of materialistic items that they convince themselves that what they already own, isn’t enough, resulting in a constant demand for more. This is commonly known as the “nag factor” which puts pressure on parents to unnecessarily spend more on their children . Another unethical practice is observed when advertisers engage psychologists in order to understand how children think and how they receive a promotional message. With the psychologists’ help and findings of their studies, advertisers now have an in depth understanding about children’s developmental and emotional needs, which analyses their behavior, fantasies and their dreams. This strategy is purely to make money instead of protecting children and can be considered unprofessional. Psychologists are able to understand and observe just how a child’s mind works, therefore using this information for a commercial purpose is unethical and ultimately, exploitation .

The legal restrictions placed on advertising to children vary dramatically, based on the country in which you live. The most extreme regulations exist in Norway, Sweden and Quebec, which of whom have legal restrictions in place that have removed the right to advertise to all children under the age of 12. Whereas on the opposite end of the scale in the US, the marketing/advertising industry is fairly relaxed and the legal restrictions that surround advertising to children are self- regulated by advertising companies, resulting in few or zero regulations around what they can show and sell children .

The ethical issues that surround advertising unhealthy food to children have increased over time and have played a detrimental role in the progression of obesity in children. The marketing of food with a high content of sugar, fat and salt raises ethical controversy as it results in incorrect perceptions about food leading to a higher calorie intake and therefore likely to lead to childhood obesity. According to, television promotion of fast food is one of the main reasons obesity is a huge public health issue, with fast food chains being the most recognizable to children. The fast food industry is often heavily criticized for the way they advertise to children and are seen as highly unethical as they are known to promote and offer incentives to buying their unhealthy food such as free toys with your meal, games, playgrounds and competitions .

Advertising is constantly progressing in places that surround children, appearing in places like schools, where children were once never exposed to advertising and consumerism. Schools now allow brand promotion in exchange for technology and resources. Some common ways we see advertising in schools include sponsorship for sports teams, signage on school busses and in the classrooms, sponsored educational materials and sponsored school events. By promoting brands and products in schools, advertisers now have a reach on children as young as 5 years old. It is an ethical violation to advertise to an age group this young, when these companies and brands have the power to influence these children in a much more positive way . Commercial presentation did not become popular for children until TV was present. Emily Carew Article Evaluation

This article focuses on advertising that is directed at children. When first opening the article, the reader is alerted with a message that says the article itself needs help "cleaning up." This means that there are obvious mistakes throughout the actual article itself. The author first and foremost had trouble grammatically and was capitalizing when it was not necessary. The use of information was also very scattered and not cohesive. If the author had spread out the information and analyzed each fact there would have been a better flow to the article as a whole.

The citations used are almost all cited correctly. However, there were a few statistics used that may have been improperly cited. The author used a plethora of sources, especially a lot of research based university studies.


In the United Kingdom, Greece, Denmark, and Belgium advertising to children is restricted. In Norway and Quebec advertising to children under the age of 12 is illegal.[56] The 1991 ban in Sweden was repealed on 1 August 2010.[57]

The European Union also has framework legislation in place which sets down minimum provisions on advertising to children for all its member states. The EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive,[58] due to replace the Television Without Frontiers Directive[59] in all member states by the end of 2009, sets out several EU-wide rules on advertising and children:

Advertising shall not cause moral or physical detriment to minors, and shall therefore comply with the following criteria for their protection:

a. it shall not directly exhort minors to buy a product or a service by exploiting their inexperience or credulity;
b. it shall not directly encourage minors to persuade their parents or others to purchase the goods or services being advertised;
c. it shall not exploit the special trust minors place in parents, teachers or other persons;
d. it shall not unreasonably show minors in dangerous situations

In addition:

e. Children’s programs may only be interrupted if the scheduled duration is longer than 30 minutes
f. Product placement is not allowed in children’s programs.
g. The Member States and the Commission should encourage audiovisual media service providers to develop codes of conduct regarding the advertising of certain foods in children’s programs.

Note that criterion (b) explicitly outlaws appeals to "pester power".

In the United States the Federal Trade Commission studied the issue of advertising to children in the 1970s but decided against regulation.

In Australia there are multiple governing bodies that deal with the legislation of advertising to children. Some of the governing bodies are the Advertising Standards Board, who is appointed by the Advertising Standards Bureau, and Communications Council. Citation “This Code has been adopted by the AANA as part of advertising and marketing self-regulation. The object of this Code is to ensure that advertisers and marketers develop and maintain a high sense of social responsibility in advertising and marketing to children in Australia.” (AANA, 2009) The Children’s Television Standards (CTS) were implemented in 1990 by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal (ABT). This was in attempt to balance:

  • Public interest concerns that children’s special viewing needs are met and they are protected from possible harmful effects of television.
  • The commercial television industry’s reliance upon advertising revenue and the need to fund quality programs for children.
  • The child audience’s lack of earning or ‘Buying’ capacity, reflected in the limited range of product categories in advertising to children, and also in children’s reliance on others (Parents most often) to obtain products they might see advertised on television.(http://www.acma.gov.au/webwr/_assets/main/lib310132/tv_advertising_to_children.pdf)

In the USA, children's advertisings were limited between 1946 and 1983. Legislation then became more liberal throughout the rest of the 1980s.[60] With the Children's Television Act, which was introduced in 1990 and strengthened in August 1996, legislation once again became stricter.[61]

Advertising standards

In many countries worldwide, advertising is also governed by self-regulatory codes of conduct. Advertisers, advertising agencies and the media agree on a code of advertising standards – a set of ethical and behavioural rules they commit to respecting – which is enforced by a Self-regulatory organization, often an independent industry-funded body, responsible for drafting, amending and enforcing the code. Self-regulatory organizations for advertising are increasingly following the best practice model agreed with regulators and consumer and public health groups in Europe.[62] At a minimum, the general aim of self-regulatory codes is to ensure that any advertising is 'legal, decent, honest and truthful', but in most countries detailed rules are in place for different advertising techniques and sectors.

Advertising self-regulation is built on different levels. On a global level, the International Chamber of Commerce has drafted a global code on marketing communications.[63] All forms of marketing communications worldwide must conform to the ICC Consolidated Code on Advertising and Marketing.[64] The code includes a specific section, detailing the special care needed when communicating with children.

Since 2006, a global code of practice on food marketing communications is also in place. The Framework for Responsible Food and Beverage Marketing Communications of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC)[65] sets down global requirements for food and beverage marketing communications on all media, including the Internet.[66] Key provisions include: the need for substantiation for claims or health benefits; no encouragement of excess consumption; no representation of snacks as meals; no undermining of healthy lifestyle messages; no undermining of the role of parents.

These codes provide a minimum requirement for marketing communications worldwide. National self-regulatory codes, based on the ICC codes, are established, policed and enforced by local Self-Regulatory Organisations (SROs) and industry in over 100 countries and apply to a range of media, increasingly also including digital marketing communications. The ICC and national codes are reviewed regularly to ensure that they remain relevant to local, cultural and consumer concerns and that they promote best practice. The ICC Framework is applicable globally but is a minimum standard designed to be adapted and transposed into SR codes at national level. Many countries have implemented SR provisions that use the ICC Framework as a basis, but go further in several respects, depending on local considerations. Examples include Australia,[67] Brazil,[68] Canada,[69] Chile,[70] France,[71] Ireland,[72] The Netherlands,[73] New Zealand,[74] Spain,[75] the UK[76] and the USA.[77]

In the United States the Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) established in 1974 by the National Advertising Review Council (NARC) runs a self-regulatory program that includes a prescreening service for advertisers to ensure they are in compliance with COPPA and the CARU guidelines.

In addition to industry-wide self-regulation, individual companies and industry sectors have introduced a wide range of additional provisions relating to marketing communications directed at children. For example, most multinational food and beverage companies have developed their own policies on food and beverage marketing communications to children, and have announced the joint implementation of these individual commitments.

In July 2007, 10 of these companies (now 13) announced a common pledge in the US – the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative,[78] mirroring a similar initiative by 15 companies in Canada – the Canadian Children’s Food & Beverage Advertising Initiative;[69] and followed by 11 companies in Europe with the EU Pledge.[79] Under these initiatives, participating companies will cease advertising to children under 12, other than products that meet specific nutritional guidelines, based on international scientific recommendations. A similar Pledge programme was launched by leading food companied in Thailand in May 2008 and in Australia in mid-2009.[80]

Media literacy

Media literacy is a relatively new discipline, aimed at teaching individuals and children in particular to understand and use the media to their advantage. Media literacy is increasingly recognised by governments and international organisations such as the European Union and the World Health Organisation as a key tool to help children understand and deal with today’s complex media environment. Media literacy programs are based around the need to “make children engage in media rather than solely consume it”.[81]

MediaSmart is an established media literacy education program focused on advertising. Launched in November 2002, MediaSmart is a non-profit media literacy program for school children aged 6 to 11 years old. MediaSmart develops and provides, free of charge and on request, educational materials to primary schools that teach children to think critically about advertising in the context of their daily lives. MediaSmart materials use real examples of advertising to teach core media literacy skills. MediaSmart is funded by the advertising business in the UK and is supported by the UK government and EU institutions. Since 2002, MediaSmart has been launched in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Portugal and Hungary.

Media literacy allows individuals to access, analyse, interpret and question media messages through the use of integrated skills. There are seven key skills, these are: analysis, evaluation, grouping, induction, deduction, synthesis, and abstraction.[82] Media literacy includes the ability to acknowledge meaningful components, assess the content, and recognise similarities and differences. It teaches people to question what they see in the media and become aware of the underlying messages of what is not being directly advertised. Media literacy is about protecting those who are vulnerable to misinterpreted media messages. It also promotes awareness of opportunities and a positive understanding of the media through communication and learning. Individuals are encouraged to engage with media to enhance their knowledge of the media environment.[82] How individuals interpret advertisements varies, depending on our life experiences, values and roles.[83]

Five Core Principles of Media Literacy

Ciurel[82] outlines four core principles of media literacy. Firstly, “all media messages are constructed”, this means that messages show what they want people to see, and exclude certain things to convey ideas the way they want people to receive them. Secondly, “media message are constructed using a creative language with its own rules, and codes”, meaning media messages use their generic own technical and cultural codes to enhance the message and connect with their audience. Thirdly, “different members of the audience interpret media messages differently”, this means that not all people interpret messages the way they were intended, some people take it at face value, while others question the message and are more critical. Fourth, “media messages contain embedded value and points of view”, they contain direct massages that are easily identified, as well as indirect messages that are not so noticeable to the audience. Lastly, “most media messages are organised in order to gain profit or power”, meaning that profits are the main consideration of media companies, with information and entertainment being secondary considerations.[82]

Media Literacy and Children

Understanding media messages is an important skill to learn from childhood. In schools, media literacy is developed through the development critical thinking and media production skills. Children are introduced to advertising from birth, so it is important that parents and schools help children to understand what is being conveyed and to develop their own opinions of the content. Tools and ideas to help inform children of advertisements can be found in several blogs such as Advertising and Children. It is important for parents to respond to what their children like and ask their parents to buy for them, and discuss that the media content may not properly depict what is being advertised. Media helps children to understand the world, although it is important for them to understand that media may distort images ad have hidden meanings.[84] Children need to engage in media, rather than just consume it and be able to understand that messages are more complicated than they may seem. As they get older, children gain understanding of the intentions and language used in advertising. They learn to see advertising as a persuasive way of selling products, rather than looking at them simply as they appear. Children learn to interpret the meaning and purpose behind advertisements, and how devices such as humour and irony are used to enhance the appeal of advertisements.[83]

Roles of children in dealing with advertising

Bartholomew and O’Donohoe[83] identify three main roles of children in relation to dealing with advertising - ad masters, ad controllers, and ad critics.

The role of ad masters has three subsidiary roles: meaning masters, style master and performance masters. Meaning masters understand the message and that there is a specific point or reason behind the advertisement. Style masters are aware of different approaches to advertising, such as being "Weird",“cheesy” or “posh”. Performance masters enjoy acting out ads, singing jingles, and repeating catchphrases.

Ad controllers are children who want to be independent consumers and to distance themselves from childhood. The role of ad controllers includes: ad avoiders and independent consumers. Ad avoiders claim that they do not particularly watch ads or are very selective of which ones they remember. Independent consumers are those who believe they are not influenced by advertisements and do not have much interest for them.

Ad critics analyse how an ad is being represented and are detached from the content. The role of ad critics includes: precocious planners, tactical technicians and reality questioners. Precocious planners are more advanced and recognise reasons for the way products are represented in advertisements. Tactical technicians are those who discuss and evaluate technical aspects of ads. Reality questioners are able to separate how the advertisement is being represented from reality.[83]

A late-August 2016 report indicated that various Internet streaming services have saved children of the 2010s from 150 hours of commercials every year.[85]

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