Advertising to children

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Advertising to children refers to the act of advertising products or services to children as defined by national laws and advertising standards.

Scope and form[edit]

Advertising to children can take place on traditional media such as television, radio, print, new media, internet and other electronic media. The use of packaging, in-store advertising, event sponsorship, and promotions can also be classified as advertising.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines early childhood as ages 0–8 years.[1] 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 made in consideration of the widespread academic view that by age 12 children have developed their behavior as consumers, can effectively recognize advertising, and are able to adopt critical attitudes towards it.[2]


In the 20th century, the compulsory education of children was established which consequently made school-age children the target audiences of many publications.[3]

The publications in an attempt to raise potential sales, comic book promotion to the youth market rose in the 20th century. During this era, spot advertising (a form of advertising where advertisements appear between programs) came to be known as a prodigious way of advertising.[4] Additionally, sponsorship arrangements became increasingly popular as an advertising medium.[5] In the United States of America, advertisers sponsored television programmes or films to promote their products through broadcast media.

With this rise in targeted advertising, concerns prevailed regarding advertising's ability to easily manipulate young children due a limited ability to comprehend the implicit objective of advertisers.[6] Such concerns drove the introduction of national laws and advertising standards.

Before national laws and advertising standards were introduced, a content creator on YouTube could promote their own merchandising during a video with no distinction between the video and the advertisement.

A late-August 2016 report indicated that various Internet streaming services, such as Netflix have saved children of the 2010s from 150 hours of commercials every year.[7]

Effects on children[edit]

Studies estimate that children between the ages of 6 and 11 spend on average 28 hours a week watching television[8] and are exposed to as many as 20,000 commercials in a single year.[9] Since the 1970s, there has been a large amount of concern as to whether or not children can comprehend advertisements and the extent to which they do so.[10] 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.[11] The study concludes that there is a large difference in a 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 television-based advertisements.[10]

There are positive and negative implications to television advertising on little children, for both marketers and the children who view the advertisements. Many advertising aimed at children is criticized for enforcing gender stereotypes.[12] Some countries have broadcast codes that suggest that television 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.[13]

Many parents report being pestered by their children for the product they have seen on television.[14][15] This phenomenon is dubbed "pester power", which means that little children pester their parents to buy things for them that they desire.[16] A study showed that mothers are more likely to purchase a product for their children due to the emotional appeal of their children's response to an advertisement.[17]

Critics have likewise communicated concern with respect to the predominance of promoting brutal media, for example, films and computer games, focusing on children. Three reports by the Federal Trade Commission discovered significant help for such charges, and keeping in mind that reviews have not legitimately surveyed the effect of such publicizing, revealing that such advertisements do influence children's media inclinations.[18]


Many advertisements involve children around the same age as the viewer. The latest technology; from laptops, mobile phone, to toys are being advertised by companies to attract the customers to buy their product. Children can watch commercials with children of the same age acting overjoyed about a product, thus encouraging them to also purchase the product.[19] Television advertisements can create peer attention between children which may attract them to buy the products. Companies will still use ads to target children because they are worth billions in sales.[20]

The effect is seen mainly on young children. According to a study from the UK, it states that celebrities who endorse specific foods in television commercials are a powerful influence on children, and that effect may extend beyond the advertisement itself. That study contained 181 children, and was concluded that children ate more potato chips after seeing advertisements featuring a popular UK sports figure than children who only watched commercials for toys and nuts.[21] Jason C. G. Halford from University of Liverpool stated, "Obviously when they saw Gary Lineker in the advertisement, they ate a lot more crisps... but what was surprising was when we showed him presenting his show we found that it had the same effect as the advertisement."[21] Many types of research indicate that children are more likely to pick foods sponsored by celebrities, even when it is just fruit. A study in 2012, found that kids who were offered both cookies and apples were more likely to choose the apple, if it had an Elmo sticker on it.[21] Researchers say that this phenomenon is worrisome, since most foods advertised on television are unhealthy, and linked to a child's health and weight long-term.

Advertising effects on children[edit]

One cause for concern for children is deceptive phone applications directed at them by appearing to be free, but have hidden fees within the app. In these instances, the initial download of the game application has no cost. However, when children are playing the game, there will be fees to gain new features for advancing to new levels. If the child would want to continue playing the game, they could have in-app purchases using their parent's credit card. There are many apps that ask for billing information, but there is a certain amount of time that the app is actually free. After the trial expires, the application automatically charges the person if they did not cancel before it ended. Kids who might not be aware of how things are marketed could accumulate charges on their parent's phone bill without their knowledge or consent.[22]

Television food advertisements[edit]

Television food advertisements are the essential elements in the television advertisements. A study suggested that across the countries around the world, 68462 advertisements were identified, of which 18% were for food. Overall, food was the second most frequently advertised product, after channel promotions (23%); in each country, food products were in the top 3 advertised products.[23] The television food advertisements can greatly affect the mindset and the thinking of the young children, especially the unhealthy food products.

Many studies have been conducted indicating an early exposure of food advertising to 2–13-year-old children has a link to the increasing number of childhood obesity cases globally.[24] The large exposure to commercial food has been linked to problems for children worldwide, among these problems the issue of child obesity.[25] In 2015 Centres for disease control and prevention found that the number of obese children is more than double the number it was 30 years ago.[26] There is a suggested correlation between televised advertisements and obesity. A study conducted by Frederick J. Zimmerman and Janice F. Bell made the statement that "Commercial television pushes little children to eat a large quantity of those foods they should consume least: sugary cereals, snacks, fast food and soda pop".[27] On average children between the ages of 8 and 12 see 21 fast food advertisements a day through televised media.[28] Children decide their food preference at an early moment through a preliminary learning process and when they are exposed to large amounts of fast food advertising it has major long-lasting implications on their diet.[29] Children's gullibility and lack of knowledge around commercial food, allow them to easily trust what an advertisement says. As a result, companies can falsely display food items to children and what these children think to be healthy and nutritious is unhealthy being high in fats and sugars.[10]

The use of promotional characters and premium offers are often used as persuasive tools to market food to children.[30][31] A study from Australia found that the rate of promotional characters in advertisements,such as The Milky Bar Kid for Nestle Milky Bar chocolate (in Australia) or Bart Simpson for Butterfinger (in America), is twice as high during popular younger children's programs in comparison to popular older children's programs. 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 young children's programs in comparison to adult programs.[32]

Additionally, several studies have identified that the amount of fruit and vegetables consumed decreases as television viewing time increases.[33] Excessive television viewing often correlates to poor diet quality as a result.[34] In the UK, only 1.2% of broadcast advertising spend is towards fresh vegetables, therefore indicating a lack of health-focused endorsement to children and families.[35]

The World Health Organization suggested that companies and organizations make a reduction of "food and beverage marketing directed at little children that are high in sugar, fat, and sodium in order to help reduce the burden of obesity worldwide."[36]

In Canada, the majority of advertising is controlled by companies themselves.[36] In April 2007, 16 of the largest food and beverage companies formed an initiative known as The Canadian Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. The companies 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".[36] Studies have shown that 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.[37]

The television advertisements not only affect the children in the UK, but also affect the children from Asiatic countries. A study suggested that children in developing countries may be more vulnerable to food promotions as they are less familiar with, and potentially less critical of, advertising than children in developed countries, and they may be specifically targeted as an entry point into developing markets as children have been seen to be more flexible than their parents.[38] The needs to provide suitable advertising to children is crucial especially in the age between 2–13 years old, they usually immature and not yet developed their critical thinking which may easily affect their future growth.

Regulations for food advertising to children[edit]

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.[24] 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 to 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 a 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 of fast food not just those designated as children's meals. This study also saw that advertisement which promotes healthier alternatives often still have some non-core foods present.[39]

The Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI)[40] 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's unhealthy foods.[41]

In the European Union, there was a concern for the quantity and type of television food advertising that children are exposed to. In 2010, the Audiovisual Media Services Directive[42] was created as a centerpiece 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".[43] 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 its 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's programs, where others prohibit the showing of sponsorship logo in children's programs.[44]


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.[45]

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,[46] due to replace the Television Without Frontiers Directive[47] 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 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, which 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 an 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.[48]

In the United States, advertisements marketed to children were limited between 1946 and 1983.[49] With the Children's Television Act, which was introduced in 1990 and strengthened in August 1996, legislation once again became stricter.[50]

In Brazil, through interpretation of the Federal Constitution, and bounded by the Statute of the Child and Adolescent (ECA) and the Consumer Protection Code (CDC), any advertising directed towards children is prohibited.[51] This falls under Article 227 of the Constitution of the Federative Republic of Brazil, which states "It is the duty of the family, the society and the State to ensure children and adolescents, with absolute priority, the right to life, health, nourishment, education, leisure, professional training, culture, dignity, respect, freedom and family and community life, as well as to guard them from all forms of negligence, discrimination, exploitation, violence, cruelty and oppression."[52]

Advertising standards[edit]

In many countries, advertising is also governed by self-regulatory codes of conduct. Advertisers, advertising agencies and the media agree on a code of advertising standards enforced by a Self-regulatory organization.[53] 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.

On a global level, the International Chamber of Commerce has drafted a global code on marketing communications.[54] All forms of marketing communications worldwide must conform to the ICC Consolidated Code on Advertising and Marketing.[55] 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)[56] sets down global requirements for food and beverage marketing communications on all media, including the Internet.[57]

Many countries have implemented self-regulatory provisions that use the ICC Framework as a basis, but go further in several respects, depending on local considerations. Examples include Australia,[58] Brazil,[59] Canada,[60] Chile,[61] France,[62] Ireland,[63] The Netherlands,[64] New Zealand,[65] Spain,[66] the UK[67] and the USA.[68]

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, ten companies announced a common pledge in the US—the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative,[69] mirroring a similar initiative by 15 companies in Canada—the Canadian Children's Food & Beverage Advertising Initiative;[60] and followed by 11 companies in Europe with the EU Pledge.[70] 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 program was launched by leading food companies in Thailand in May 2008 and in Australia in mid-2009.[71]

See also[edit]


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