By Kristen Newcombe
Ninety-five percent of food advertised on Saturday mornings during children’s shows are junk food (Harpers Index). Children have been targets of company’s advertisements since the beginning of Televisions in 1948. Does it affect their eating habits, attitudes, development, or health? Others inquire about the regulations surrounding it. So, what is the relationship between advertising and its effects on children?
When televisions were first made they used children’s cartoons to attract adults into purchasing them. They showed children programs from six to eight pm during the week. Once it was common to have a TV in the house they started selling air time to companies to make more money. Companies moved children’s shows from weekday evenings to Saturday mornings, so their viewing audience would increase from children to families. In 1970 The Action for Children’s Television (ACT) wanted to control the amount of advertising and violence children saw, so they filed a petition to remove advertisements from children’s shows with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). They were approved for less commercials and the removal of inappropriate ads during children’s shows (Cohen).
In the early 1980s a deregulation gave broadcasters the ability to advertise a toy from the show once it was over, increasing their (companies) sales. In the 1990s the Children’s Television Act (CTA) got approval to require that all stations show a minimum of three hours of educational programs every week and in 1992 networks decided to limit the on-screen violence and even put up warnings before the show. It wasn’t for another four years that the Telecommunications Act had a V-chip installed into all TVs so that parents could block certain ratings from their children’s eyes (Cohen).
In 1990 the CTA limited commercials to 10.5 minutes/hour on weekends and 12 minutes/hour on weekdays, they all but completely removed the time slot for Public Service Announcements (PSAs) (Scheibe). Also, they made it a requirement that stations must show at least three hours of educational programs per week (Cohen). In 1974 the FCC had networks add in bumpers that were at least 5 seconds long before and after the show back. In April 2000 Congress regulated information gathering online with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposed a ban in 1978 but was shut down. This was influenced by bans in place to protect the youth in other countries (Scantlin).
Some of these countries were Sweden, Norway, Greece, and Canada which have strong rules on advertisements towards children (Shrum). In Sweden they have strict bans on advertising and made it illegal to advertise to children under the age of 12. In the European Union (EU) there is a code of conduct that is not enforced by the law but is voluntary. Other countries in Europe have different ideas of what to do about advertising that targets children. In France they do not see it as harmful, and in Spain they see restricting or deeming it illegal to advertise to children as undemocratic (Stimpson).
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigated the rise of violent content after the Columbine school shooting by demand of President Clinton. The FTC found that ratings were inconsistent with the cautionary messages. In 2004 they also found problems in cross-industry marketing. The cross-industry marketing would mix ratings for example a trailer for The Matrix movie (rated R) within a video game (rated T) this would expose younger children to inappropriate entertainment content for adults. Kathryn Montgomery examined online marketing and data collection on children. Targeting children for data collection is a harmful invasion of their privacy. Its also seen as unfair to advertise to children since they do not understand the intent behind the advertisements they see (Scantlin).
According to Advertising, Effects on Children by Cyndy L. Scheibe, 74% of children named commercial websites as their favorites. Only 13% knew that the websites were for advertising while the rest thought the sites were just for entertainment. Even with using websites to advertise, company’s main way to reach children under 12 is through television. Other ways they advertise is through billboards, product placement in video games and movies, and another is indirect or direct advertising in schools. The average child sees more than 40,000 commercials on TV in a year. In the commercials children see are divided by 30% of are for high sugared cereals, 15-20% are for highly sugared beverages, candy, and ice cream treats, another 10-15% are for high-fat foods. Real food; foods that are good for people are rarely ever advertised.
The phycologists who works for the food and toy industries help target an audience; for example, children ages 3-7 enjoy toys involving dressing up and the use of their imagination. While children ages 8-12 enjoy things that are collectable, be it cards or figurines. The phycologist, Dr. Kenner, sees an impact advertising has on the development of children. It can make children have a low self-esteem, or even feel inferior for not having the newest toy (Stimpson).
Another thing advertising has brought up is the increase of materialistic values. There haven’t been many studies done on how advertising effects materialism. Some reasons of the low amount of evidence is that it’s difficult to understand what materialism is and that it is harder to do research on children. The general definition of materialism is the fixation on material objects with a disinterest in or rejection of spiritual, intellectual, or cultural values. While the definition puts it in terms of wanting something physical some people see materialism as an emotional response. They see it in the traits of envy, jealousy, and lack of generosity. Trying to study these traits in young children is difficult since the child might not have developed them and if they have developed they might not know how to word them. When research is done there are more early indicators found then actual answers. Some of the early indicators found are an attitude change, preference and the frequency a product is requested (Shrum).
Professionals working with children have argued that advertising to them isn’t right because they cannot understand the intent. Deborah Roedder John (1999) used Jean Piaget’s framework of children’s cognitive development to create the three stages of information processing. Which are cued, limited, and strategic. The cued process are children under 7 who pay more attention to the anesthetics of commercials; limited process is children 7 to 11 and strategic is 12 and older these two processes look at things in a more thoughtful way and can see the intent behind the commercial. The strategic process can use this knowledge as a defense (Shrum).
Imitation play was promoted by program-length commercials instead of imaginative play, this was found from the research Patricia Greenfeild did (Scantlin). Children are misled to believe that high sugared foods like Froot Loops and Fruit Roll-Ups have real fruit because of commercials showing fruit popping out of the food or a child turning into fruit after eating some. The Psychologic Association found it to be even more harmful to allow advertisements in schools because it leads children to see it as a credible source of information making the products wanted more and healthier than they really are (Scheibe).
Food advertisements have a direct influence on children’s eating habits. Eating disorders that are started in childhood go into adulthood and can lead to long-term health problems. In the U.S. 15% of children are overweight. That’s twice as high in children and three times as high in teens when compared to children and teens in 1980. There are at least 60% of children at risk of both cardiovascular health issues and type 2 diabetes. If you were to look at the calories children consume in America 50% of it comes from foods high in added sugars or fats (Story). The foods that are advertised to children would highly exceed their daily consumption of fat and sodium (Scheibe). The reason food marketing became such a large subject is the rising childhood obesity rates. To improve children’s quality of life and their health, The World Health Organization wanted to restrict the advertisement of foods high in added sugar or fats (Elliot).
I knew that advertising on children happened but was unaware of how often and how severe it was. I learned that children are at more risk of advertisements during adult shows then their own.
Companies place ads for children products in between adult shows to show parents the new items that are available. On the other side of these ads that are shown at this time are for adults, but they are there more to entice children into things outside their ratings. It was interesting to learn about how other countries handle advertisements that target children. It was more difficult to find information about this topic then it should be.
Young children have lower abilities to recognize an advertisements intent; making them more vulnerable to misleading information (Scantlin); which has a negative effect on their over all lives. It has been in everyone’s lives so much since childhood that it has become normal to overlook the subliminal intent advertisements have. As adults we can choose to ignore the ads. Children on the other hand cannot, they are easily captured by ads and we are the first defense. Protecting children from the effects of advertising is important to everyone. Even if you don’t have children now, one day you might, and they will be the targets of advertisements. This is important information to know if you plan to work with or deal with children. Another thing to think about is that food advertised today hasn’t changed since the 1960s.
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Harpers Index. Center for Science in the Public Interest (Washington), harpers.org/harpers-index?s=Advertising+effects+on+children. Accessed 17 Feb. 2018.
Scantlin, Ronda M. “Advertising, Effects on Children.” Encyclopedia of Children, Adolescents, and the Media, edited by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, Sage Publications, 1st edition, 2007. Credo Reference, http://ezproxy.ferris.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/sagecam/advertising_effects_on_children/0?institutionId=723. Accessed 06 Feb 2018.
Scheibe, Cyndy L. “Food Advertising to Children.” Encyclopedia of Children, Adolescents, and the Media, edited by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, Sage Publications, 1st edition, 2007. Credo Reference, http://ezproxy.ferris.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/sagecam/food_advertising_to_children/0?institutionId=723. Accessed 06 Feb 2018.
Scheibe, Cyndy. “Advertising on Children’s Programs.” Encyclopedia of Children, Adolescents, and the Media, edited by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, Sage Publications, 1st edition, 2007. Credo Reference, http://ezproxy.ferris.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/sagecam/advertising_on_children_s_programs/0?institutionId=723. Accessed 06 Feb 2018.
Shrum, L. J. “Advertising, Materialism and.” Encyclopedia of Children, Adolescents, and the Media, edited by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, Sage Publications, 1st edition, 2007. Credo Reference, http://ezproxy.ferris.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/sagecam/advertising_materialism_and/0?institutionId=723. Accessed 06 Feb 2018.
Stimpson, Peter. “Marketing to children: a case for government legislation? Peter Stimpson examines the ethical issues involved in marketing to children.” Business Review [UK], Feb. 2007, p. 36+. General Reference Center GOLD, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.ferris.edu/apps/doc/A159696103/GRGM?u=lom_ferrissu&sid=GRGM&xid=6c96e5cb. Accessed 8 Feb. 2018
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