Advertising today is trying to build the next super consumer by targeting kids early and often. Whether showing a kid sitting in a fancy sports car or using cartoon characters to “hook” kids early to a brand, there is no doubt that the influence of these ads cannot be denied. You can find advertising geared towards children everywhere, from product placement on a TV show, to toy/movie tie-ins, to tweets and Facebook groups, to product packaging. Campaigns targeted towards kids are getting even more clever with celebrity tweeting, mobile alerts , YouTube, Facebook, etc. while eluding the definition of an “Ad”. Not surprisingly, this rise in clever advertising to children has created quite a stir over the way major corporations and agencies are devising their ad campaigns to target kids.
Studies have shown that children younger than 8 are cognitively and psychologically defenseless against advertising and do not understand the intent behind advertising – which is to sell – and instead take it at face value. Certain countries in Europe like Sweden and Norway have already banned all advertising directed at children under 12. That says something to me – a parent who is concerned that the effect of these ads may conflict with the values I’m trying to teach my kid.
And even if we actively monitor this situation inside the home, does it really mean anything? Even if we could control what they consume at home, we certainly can’t control what’s outside of that bubble. Case in point, my son came home from daycare the other day asking about Angry Birds when I have not exposed him to anything remotely similar to that game or its products. So as much as parents can teach kids and try to regulate what they see or surf under their roof, there will be other stimuli and influences outside of the home that may work against them. Back in the day, billboards of Joe Camel (before being completely removed from RJ Reynolds) glorifying smoking had been posted around schools. Today, school activities are being endorsed by fast food companies and their influence on kids have increased health concerns among children in this country.
Trying to see the other side of the coin, I asked myself, “Are there any benefits to these advertisements?” Some would argue that kids programs need these advertisements in order to stay afloat. Many would also argue that they would rather their kids see some form of age appropriate advertising rather than be exposed to ads for alcohol, pharmaceuticals, or any ad using sex appeal. Networks like Sprout, which I encourage my child to watch, offer a variety of educational kid programs which are aided by child-targeted ads. Some of those ads and advertisers are also responsible for providing free learning websites and creative building programs on the Internet and apps (for tablets and mobile devices).
Regardless of your position on the issue as a whole, it’s ultimately up to each individual parent to determine what their children can or cannot watch. And if parents are so inclined, there are some online resources such as Admongo to direct children to that can help them recognize ads and teach them to be more informed consumers. That said, whatever your stance, I think we can all agree that we need to be more aware than ever as it relates to what our children are being exposed to. Moreover, given the barrage of messages thrown at our kids, we may have to work even harder to reinforce the messages and value we want them to hold dear.