Should Advertising to Children be Banned? Essay

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There are frequent debates over whether advertising to children should be banned. The main question asked is “Is marketing to children a harmful or useful tool for teaching them?”. In some cases advertising is already restricted on certain products such as tobacco and betting, mainly to protect the health of consumers or potential consumers but also to prevent items which are illegal to children from being introduced to them at a young age.

Advertisements are made to promote products but in doing so may create misleading and deceptive claims about their product and children who are too young to understand these techniques become an ideal target market. Adverts create a false image which may present things or events in an unrealistic manner which children may be more likely to believe. However, studies show that by the age of 8, the majority of children don’t believe that adverts always tell the truth (Carol Macklin, M and Carlson, L 1999). Despite children identifying the marketing techniques used by businesses, The American Academy of Pediatrics explains that even older children and teenagers who are able to recognise advertising, are sometimes not able to resist it when it is being promoted by celebrity influencers on social media (Radesky, J 2020). Famous influencers can have millions of followers which may encourage children to buy products which they are promoting. Instagram is a very popular social media site for children with over two million users aged 17 or younger in the UK, which makes it the perfect place for businesses to target young customers.

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Children have become a target for marketing due to their undeveloped cognitive skills which older children and adults possess. They often don’t understand the concept of money and therefore advertising to children can be seen as unethical. A concept known as “pester power” is the ability of children to pressurise their parents into buying them certain products which they’ve seen in the media (Proctor and Richards, 2002, cited in Gunter, B et al, 2008). However, it is also argued that pester power is not the result of advertisements, but more a parent-child negotiation (Pilgrim and Lawrence 2001, cited in Gunter, B et al, 2008). It may harm parent child relationships as parents may feel obligated to buy the products which their children request to prevent causing conflict. This may put financial strain on the parent if they don’t have enough disposable income to spend on items which are not essential. Given the increasing amount of advertising, children are exposed to more products which a parent is unwilling to or unable to buy. However, another argument suggests that children who complain are simply badly brought up and undisciplined (Anonymous, 2019). It is not necessarily a result of inadequate parenting however, research has shown that by parents talking to their children about advertising it can help them become more critical consumers (Rasmussen, E, 2016).

Food advertising raises different concerns. It often promotes energy-dense, nutrition-poor foods and even short term exposure can result in children increasing their food consumption (Boyland, E and Whalen, R, 2015). The world health organisation has stated that the commercial promotion of energy‐dense, micronutrient‐poor food and beverages to children is a significant contributor to childhood obesity and chronic disease. As well as the physical health of children, it also increases the risk of suffering psychological ill health such as bullying which can lead to low self-esteem which may in turn lead to a poorer quality of life. Many of the eating habits a child develops at a young age will stick with them for the rest of their lives. The result of this affects everyone, the child may require additional medical support in the future which would increase medical care costs for everyone (Anonymous, 2019). A large portion of food items advertised is often junk food and are very visually appealing. These can influence the eating habits of the child and promote an unhealthy lifestyle.

On the other hand, not all food advertising has negative impacts. Advertising of healthy foods can encourage children to eat better and get active which can encourage a more balanced diet. Child obesity has become an increasing problem, and businesses are starting to adapt by trying to reduce this. Subway released a marketing campaign aimed at children with the slogan “Playtime, powered by veggies”. This ensured all items on the kids menu meet certain nutritional guidelines informed by federal standards, and they also agreed to spend £41 million over 3 years to promote healthy eating. (Elks, J 2014).

Advertising beauty products may also have an impact when being directed at children. Adverts today are more diverse, however most adverts present models as slim and present an idea of natural beauty including white teeth, shiny hair and glowing skin. Children may watch this and think that that is the definition of beauty when many of the models have been airbrushed or photoshopped to look how they are presented in the adverts. It may lead to the child having a negative body image.

However, positive effects have also been observed within the results of correlational studies on media use and body image. Adolescents who have greater exposure to, and interest in, sports media are more likely to participate in physical activities (DiLorenzo, TM, 1998 cited in Borzekowski, D and Bayer, A, 2005). This is an example of using advertising in a positive way as it encourages consumers to get fit and active which will improve their health. Adverts directed at certain products, for example, hygiene products, can encourage good habits in the child.

There are many negative impacts of advertising to children, however if the product is directed at children, for example, toys or games, it would make sense to advertise to children so they know what products are on the market and what products they would like. It would make it extremely difficult for businesses to sell their products if their intended consumer cannot see the adverts.

However, banning advertising completely to children is almost impossible. Advertising campaigns often include multiple channels including social media, websites, magazines, television and many more. It is unrealistic to police all advertising, especially which ones children can and can’t see. Unless it’s made illegal to advertise certain products, children are always going to be at risk from seeing them. Those products which are illegal for underage consumption, including tobacco, gambling and alcohol are restricted and the watershed on television also already restricts certain adverts being shown before a certain time, designed to limit exposure to children. As banning adverts completely is unrealistic, the control often rests with the media channel owner in determining the content and frequency of any advertising and particularly those which are targeted at children. Business owners have a duty to advertise responsibly and this can be enforced by official bodies including the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) who have specific codes controlling advertising to children, such as marketers should not make a direct appeal to children.

Parents have different views and approaches, and they should be the ultimate arbiter of what is and what isn’t appropriate for their child. For example, should McDonalds advertising be banned because it is seen as unhealthy to some parents, but others believe it is ok to have occasionally. Mainstream advertising shouldn’t be banned but it’s up to the parents to bring their child up, and control influence them in a way they think is best, for example, what they eat.

A lot of products sell to children with little or no direct advertising anyway because they become part of a popular “craze” (Proctor and Richards, 2002, cited in Gunter, B et al, 2008). Children may tend to have lower self-esteem if they see themselves as being inferior for not owning certain products that are advertised, especially if their friends possess these items. Although this is a problem which may be seen as a result of advertising, the problem is enhanced by their peers owning certain products which is not directly due to the adverts.

In conclusion, I don’t believe advertising to children should be banned, but some restrictions are appropriate. Many negative impacts of advertising to children can be identified, some of which I have outlined however, I believe the ultimate responsibility should rest with parents to decide what their children can and can’t see and consume. Although it may be difficult to monitor everything a child may see online or in the media, I don’t think companies should be prohibited from advertising completely.

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