A Brief Review of the Influences that Advertising can have with Children
Advertising plays a substantial role in modern society. Marketing messages have become ubiquitous and can be found in new places all the time. Some of the common sources are TV, radio, billboards, and online ads; however marketing professionals are constantly reinventing the media in can display their messages. For example, new technics such as product placement and tribal marketing allow marketers to send a message that doesn't not always get filtered in the same way that traditional marketing messages would. These messages can permeate an individual's defenses and influence them without them ever being aware of it. Furthermore, the problem is compounded in regard to children. Young children do not have the capacity to be able to put the marketing message in context and thus they are even more vulnerable to advertising than adults. However, marketing to children has also been found to be able to relay positive messages in the same fashion. This paper will provide a brief review of some of the issues that are salient in regards to advertising to children.
Food Advertising in Children
It is argued that children do not have the capacity to effectively differentiate fiction and reality during their development; especially early in their development. Therefore children are especially vulnerable and can be easily influenced by the modern day robust advertisements. Food advertising is a good example of how children can be influenced by marketers. In the U.S. alone, the number of children classified as overweight has doubled in the last couple decades, while the number of overweight adolescents has tripled by rough estimates. The World Health Organization, and an Expert Committee convened by the American Medical Association, has recommended restricting children's consumption of energy-dense foods as a strategy to prevent and treat obesity. To this end, countries such as Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Italy, and Sweden all restrict advertising that targets children (McGuire, 2002).
Americans have the lowest-cost food supply in the world and spend the lowest proportion of disposable income on food and until fairly recently, few have seriously questioned whether a low-cost food supply brought anything but social benefits to the United States (Drewnoski & Darmon, 2005). The efficiency and low cost of foods produced in the U.S. are a result of greater production yields, higher surplus rates, and in some cases there are massive farm subsidies paid to farmers from public funding which in turn artificially drive the prices of many different types of food products. Unfortunately such market interventions have artificially lowered the prices of some of the unhealthiest foods in the U.S.
Despite the perceived benefits of having access to inexpensive foods, the reality is that this situation may not be as beneficial as previously assumed. Roughly two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese and in general, rates of overweight and obesity are higher for African-American and Hispanic women than Caucasian women, higher for Hispanic men than Caucasian and African-American men, higher in the South and Midwest, and tend to increase with age; research also shows that the heaviest Americans have become even heavier the past decade (Food Research and Action Center, 2012). Since marketing commonly displays unrealistic images of health and food, it is commonly suspected as a component that fuels the trend.
It can be argued that adults should have the ability to exercise their freedom of choice in the selection of their diet and exercise habits, but children are a special case. Children, especially young children, have not adequately developed the cognitive mechanisms that make the filtering of marketing messages possible. When children see popular television figures like Ronald McDonald for example, they can be easily swayed by the message such a character promotes. Many people have compared this to other historical advertising campaigns with other dangerous products such as Joe the Camel who used to promote smoking of a certain brand of cigarettes.
One study examined the use and effects of fantasy in food advertising targeting children (Rose, Merchant, & Bakir, 2012). The study used a content analysis documented the prevalence of fantasy appeals, including fantasies that center on product ingredients, animals, and adventures. A qualitative analysis of 8- and 9-year-old children's responses to food advertisements revealed substantial variability in their understanding of advertising, inference of manipulative intent, and use of persuasion knowledge. This experiment among 8- through 10-year-old children found that fantasy was associated with positive attitudes toward an advertisement when perceived manipulative intent was low and negative evaluations when perceived manipulative intent was high (Rose, Merchant, & Bakir, 2012). This provides evidence that marketing does have a substantial role in influencing children's dietary habits.
Another study considered the parents perceptions and their role in monitoring children's exposure to marketing. Since parents are responsible for the nutrition of their children and are an important factor in the children's choice of food the purpose of his work was to research the attitudes of the parents about food adverts to children on television (Nefat & Benznic, 2011). The empirical research conducted via a questionnaire to the parents does not confirm the connection between the time spent in front of the television and the behavior of children, but it does indicate at the negative attitudes of parents about advertising of food that influence their moderately restrictive attitude on the prohibition of such advertising (Nefat & Benznic, 2011). This study suggests that parents are for the most part unaware of the effects that marketing can have on their children and are most likely unqualified to understand the dietary influences that marketing has on their children.
The effects of the cheap and unhealthy food in modern society and the health consequences are fairly straight forward. If you eat unhealthy food then you will likely gain weight and have a higher probability a contracting a range of obesity associated diseases. Despite the problem becoming clearer with a mounting compilation of data, the solution to solving the obesity problems in children is less obvious. Companies such as McDonald's have made the case that individual's choice to consume should be the priority and that parents are ultimately responsible for their children's diets. However, others have argued that fantasy food marketing should be regulated similar to tobacco products, which are subject to banned advertisements, restricted sales, and levied hefty taxes. These efforts have led to a reduction in the consumption of tobacco products. Despite all of these efforts however, there are many smokers who continue smoking regularly although the proportion of the total population has been significantly reduced.
Contemporary marketing messages have a great deal of subliminal material that is systematically developed to target the psychological desires of the target market (Murphy, Laczniak, Bowie, & Klein, 2005). If parents are ill-equipped to protect their children from these effects, many argue that their needs to be another form of intervention. For example, some commercials will demonstrate participants of their target market relishing their products in hopes of them identifying themselves as part of the group and children are readily vulnerable to such tactics. Others advertisements are even more aggressive and depict loud, action packed music and show children playing with some toy with the hopes of the children watching it with the intended purpose that the child begins nagging their parents to purchase the good or service for them (Kurnit, Responsible marketing to children in the U.S., 2005). With such evidence it is reasonable to understand why some many governmental bodies all over the world have enacted regulations to prevent this.
However, the case can also be made that there are other forms of interventions that can have also have mitigating or positive effects. Some advertising research on the effectiveness of public service advertising aimed at children on child nutrition and eating habits (Hota,…