Advertisements Exploiting Children

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Are current practises of advertising to children exploitative? What restrictions should be placed on advertising to children?

Up until recently, parents had been the intended target audience for advertising efforts aimed for children of young age groups. However it is now the children who have become the main focus. The growth in advertising channels reaching children and the privatisation of children’s media use have resulted in a dramatic increase in advertising directly intended for the eyes and ears of children (Wilcox et al. 2004). It is estimated that advertisers spend more than $12 billion a year on the youth market with more than 40,000 commercials each year. The current practises of advertising to young children definitely exploit their lack of understanding and comprehension of the aim of advertising and promotion of products. In the early 1970’s, The Federal Communications Commission originally set out to ban all advertising that was aimed at young children, however ended up settling for a more lenient proposal of limiting the amount of time advertisements were aired within children’s programs and put in place certain restrictions to do with advertising practises (Wilcox et al. 2004). Studies have shown that the age range of 8-12 year olds spend $30 billion directly and influence $700 billion on family spending each year. This can be attributed to a relatively high extent to the fact that 46% of 5-14 year olds watch more than 20 hours of television per week with tens of thousands of TV ads shown per year (Neil 2012). Neil (2012) quotes that a child who watches 4 hours of TV per day over a 6 week holiday period would have viewed a total of 649 junk food ads including 404 advertisements for fast foods; 135 advertisements for soft drinks; and 44 for ice cream products. Until quite recently, advertisers viewed children around and under the age group of 8 as off limits when it came to advertising targets. However, industry practises have now developed and make for greater degrees of age niche advertising (Wilcox et al. 2004). Along with this growth in marketing efforts, there has become a rapid increase in the use psychological knowledge and research to effectively market products to young children. An example of this includes a study that was specifically designed to determine which strategy best induced children to nag their parents to buy the advertised product (Wilcox et al. 2004). Exploitation refers to the idea of taking advantage of something you shouldn’t take advantage of. In relation to ads, advertisers are taking advantage of children’s lack of understanding, their innocence and their vulnerability to persuasion (Neil 2012). Young children tend to be particularly vulnerable to advertising as they do not fully understand the intent of advertisers and the process of creating an ad (Gunter, Oates & Blades 2005). Children are not born with any knowledge of economic systems with their awareness of advertising and marketing developing only gradually later in life. Adults too can be influenced by an ad, which is the reason for ads in general, but they are able to interpret the messages in the context of the advertisers’ intentions to prevent them from being exploited, unlike children (Gunter, Oates & Blades 2005). Neil (2012) states that children up to the age of 4 see ads merely as entertainment, progressing to believe advertisements provide information at ages 6-7. At ages 7-8 they still cannot distinguish between information and intent to persuade and once they reach 10-12 years they can understand the motives and aims of advertising but are still unable to explain sales techniques. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (2007) explain that advertisers may create advertisements that appeal to a child’s cognitive abilities. Research was conducted that indicates different age groups respond differently to formal stimuli in commercial, for example colours attract younger children while...
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