Advertising to children

Advertising to Children

Today we are all bombarded by various forms of advertising. On the way to work or school, we see billboards with flashy ads; we read magazines filled with colorful ads and watch television, saturated with advertising. Advertising has become as common in our everyday life as a bowl of cereal in the morning. One of the most alarming and growing trends in advertising is targeting the most vulnerable group of our society, children. It seems like the adds for sweets, fatty foods and other items are everywhere; even schools and school transportation are subjected to this trend. However the most popular way of reaching young audience is through various media channels, such as TV, Internet and others. Advertising to children is an alarming and troubling issue that needs to be addressed and regulated; otherwise our unhealthy society will get worse with each passing year.

To be able to talk about the impact of advertising, and especially advertising to chhildren, we have to look at the media impact on children.

Media has a very important place in people’s life, whether we like it or not. Exposure to media has increased tremendously in the last fifty years. The way in which it

t influences our lives is especially evident in children’s development.
Much of children’s formative development is spent interacting with television and computers. Just as many violent acts by kids can be linked to violence in music and video games, other problems are emerging, that are linked to such a lifestyle.
Obesity can be caused by a sedentary lifestyle in which much of the time is spent watching television. Lack of interaction with family can lead to inadequate development of social skills. According to the Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation “children are consuming vast amounts of media, from television to music to books to video games and Internet” (Kff.org). It is obvious that with the advance in technology and its availability, thhe time children spend in front of TV or computer increased exponentially in the last decade.

Most of children’s television is filled with advertising geared towards kids. The food industry spends millions of dollars promoting unhealthy food products. “These are processed foods which contain high levels of fat, sugar, salt and include crisps and savory snacks, soft drinks and other so-called ‘fast’ or pre-prepared ‘convenience’ foods. Children are persistently exposed to commercial messages promoting these foods: on television and radio, on th
he internet, at the cinema, in comics and magazines, on packaging, and even at school.” (Sustainweb)

Most of the companies use cartoons, and popular children’s movie characters to promote their products.” The nation’s landscape is littered with junk food masquerading as health food, candy and candy like cereals featuring kids’ favorite cartoon characters and toy like packaging.” (Wallis). Thus kids, especially
the ones of young age, are unable to tell the difference between the television program and the advertising. According to Sustainweb.org an organization that “advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals” (Sustainweb), “advertising which is geared towards kids has higher repetition rate, thus imprinting even stronger and more memorable images of many products into young minds” (Sustainweb).
As mentioned before, most food advertised is usually unhealthy. Companies that are selling healthy products have only a small share of on-air advertising time. This is due to the high cost of the ads, and smaller profits from the products they sell. In addition to that, a lot of product packaging information contains misleading or incomplete nutritional information on the product label. In today’s increasingly obese society, this is a growing problem as
s a whole; even the adults are not capable to fully comprehend the labels and the food additive codes printed on the packaging.

Advertising of tobacco products is also increasingly geared towards teens. Although sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products to minors under 18 years of age is illegal in all 50 states, more and more young adults are beginning to smoke. According to The Food and Drug Administration “Each day, almost 3,000 young people in the United States become regular smokers, and nearly 1,000 of them will die prematurely from diseases related to tobacco use” (FDA).

It will not be easy to start changing those advertising trends, this is simply due to the huge market, and the tremendous profits it allows companies to
generate by selling products geared towards children. As Daren Fonda of Time Magazine claims in his article Pitching It to Kids, “In the past decade, corporate America’s annual budget for advertising products and services to kids has more than doubled, to an estimated $15 billion. The pot of gold: $600 billion in family spending those children fewer than 13 are said to influence, along with $40 billion in pocket money that they spend on purchases from candy to clothes, an amount projected to hit nearly $5
52 billion in 2008.” (Fonda) In today’s extremely tough and competitive business world this is too huge a market not to be explored and used by big food, toy and, other companies.
Some effort by the government is already evolving. The effort to regulate or at least somewhat limit advertising to children is mostly motivated by economic, political and social factors. New scientific evidence on risks related to unhealthy eating habits is fueling the debate among various groups of interest. However so far it is mostly talk and petitions. Government, especially the Food and Drug Administration and to some extent the Federal Communications Commission, should enact some rules on how the products are manufactured, packaged and distributed. How we do it can make great impact not only on future generations but also on the economy as a whole, by lowering health care costs related to the consumption of unhealthy products and sedentary life styles.
We can also hope that when it comes to the advertising and marketing of food and other products to children, that real restraint will come from within the industries, eliminating the need for government intervention. This may be hard since profits at stake are pretty high. Although some well known companies like Kraft are pioneering the
initiative to promote advertising of healthier foods. To avoid being depicted by the people as the public enemy, and promote the company as family oriented corporation the company recently became more cautious about the products it advertises. ” Since the company was started, with the products like hot dogs and Jell-O sweets it was always family friendly company” (Ellison)

“For years, Philip Morris, which, like Kraft, is owned by Altria Group Inc., disputed a growing body of evidence that showed a link between tobacco and cancer. After the tobacco industry agreed to pay more than $200 billion in 1998 to settle lawsuits with 46 states, Philip Morris broke ranks with other tobacco firms to push for government regulation of the industry.” (Ellison)
Kraft learned from the mistakes of inaction by its sister company, Phillip Morris, which has had problems with advertising and tobacco consumption, which eventually ended up costing a lot more than it would have if some sort of action was taken earlier. In order to keep the reputation of a family friendly company, Kraft decided to cut on advertising of its high sugar, salty or fatty products to children. Instead it focused on its healthy food brands. Some may argue that it is another marketing strategy, it may be true, but even if it is, it is definitely welcomed one.
Unfortunately corporations like Kraft are only few and far in between, but we can only hope that the others will follow its example; or with the help of government agencies some sort of regulation will be passed to protect children. Initiatives to limit the amount and the content of advertising geared towards children, would greatly benefit our society as a whole, and help cut the expenses on future health care costs.

Works Cited:
Ellison, Sarah “Why Kraft decided to ban some food ads to children”, The Wall Street Journal (November 01, 2005)
Fonda, Daren “Pitching It To Kids”, Time (June 28, 2004)
Food and Drug Administration, http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/896_tob.html
Sustain, TV Dinners – What’s being served up by the advertisers? Sustain (2001)
The Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation http://www.kff.org/entmedia/entmedia102803nr.cfm
Wallis, Claudia “The Obesity Warriors”, Time (June 7, 2004)

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