Children’s brains are evolving immensely in the first years of human life and marketers begin to take advantage of them as soon as they possibly can (Barbaro & Earp, 2008). Marketers are oblivious to the effects they have on children. This paper explores the effects of markets targeting children as consumers. I argue that marketers are manipulating children to consume products at a rapid pace and how it is becoming a social problem within society. The content that will be discussed throughout the paper are as follows; The first half of the paper will be an analysis of how they market to children with the use of product placement and advertising through schools, as well as the resultant effects such as obesity and manipulation. It will be followed by recommendations on how to prevent targeting to younger audiences. This issue is one that is seen extensively as we progress year to year and the exploitation of children’s minds must stop.
Marketers Use of Product Placement
The usage of product placement to get children’s attention is displayed through many different types of media. As shown in the video, Consumer Kids, product placement is seen in television shows, movies, and online video games (Barbaro & Earp, 2008). Also, marketers use online advergames to target children (Barbaro & Earp, 2008). Advergames are online video games that use their product for the basis as a fun interactive game to attract younger minds (Verdoodt, Clifford, & Lievens, 2016). Children get extremely immersed into video games and the marketers use that to their advantage to make them constantly play their games. This affects children as “childrenare often unable to distinguish between the commercial message and the non-commercial content” (Verdoodt, Clifford, & Lievens, 2016). This is an example of manipulation which is further described later in the paper. Once the children are immersed in advergames, they automatically have a better feeling toward the product even though they are oblivious to what marketers are trying to do. This is an example of how advertising is getting increasingly more complex and raises the question if it is ethical or not (Grad, 2015). The use of product placement and advergames by marketers shows us that they are targeting children without them even acknowledging it.
Advertising in Schools
Companies have many advertisements in schools which are constantly viewed by students every day. Products that are most advertised are food and drinks which leads to a rise in child obesity (Powell & Gard, 2015). Coca Cola is seen throughout many schools across the country. Coca Cola has their vending machines in many elementary schools and that is strategized to obtain more children to view their product (Powell & Gard, 2015). These vending machines are leading to an increase in the number of children that suffer from obesity. Coca Cola is beginning to fund anti-obesity program in these schools (Powell & Gard, 2015). This is ironic as they are a part of the problem. As described by Dr. David Walsh in Consumer Kids, he says that advertising is not only seen at home and on the streets, but it also follows children into schools (Barbaro & Earp, 2008). People are never actually able to get away from advertising. Schools now partner with businesses, which only cause children to be immersed in a consumer society at a younger age (Wilkinson, 2016). Children are learning to consume more rapidly in schools which could possibly translate into an increase of product consumption out of school.
Contribution to Obesity
Advertising is a major factor contributing to obesity in children and has a significant effect on the overconsumption of food and beverage products. Marketing is known to have a “direct impact on food preference, food knowledge, and behavior” (Harris, Pomeranz, Lobstein, & Brownell, 2009). Marketers can have the ability to make a child believe that certain food is healthy, and others are not. We are now in a culture of consumerism of sugar goods (Barbaro & Earp, 2008). Another factor of overconsumption of food products could be a result of watching too much television. As children watch more television, they are subjects to more commercials (Harris, Pomeranz, Lobstein, & Brownell, 2009). They are also likely to be eating food while watching (Harris, Pomeranz, Lobstein, & Brownell, 2009). Every time a child watches a commercial they automatically will have proceeding thoughts on the product. Media marketers also put cartoon characters on food labels which attract the young audiences (Barbaro & Earp, 2008). Children convince their parents to purchase unhealthy snacks because the children “love” the fictional character. This relates to symbolic interactionist theory seen in Principles of sociology: Canadian perspectives. Symbolic interactionists believe the closer you feel to an individual affects your own actions and how you feel about yourself (Tepperman, & Albanese, 2018). Children have strong feelings toward cartoon characters which influences them to buy more sugary snacks.
Marketers manipulate children to influence their future decisions to consume more products because their minds are still developing. Children are extremely vulnerable, and they are not yet able to understand what marketers are trying to do (Grad, 2015). Their developing minds are mesmerized by the product they are being shown and they do not have enough common knowledge to understand they are being subjects to manipulation. Children are too young to have developed media education to decide what is known to be true and false (Grad, 2015). Marketers attempt to target the children before they gain education on media. In consumer culture, children are targeted as soon as possible after birth (Sekeres, 2009). Marketers force children to participate in blink tests, which entails children watching marketers shows and they observe how much the children blink; The more often the child blinks, the observer is able to infer that the show is less interesting (Barbaro, & Earp, 2008). Conflict theory best describes the manipulation of marketer manipulation. Conflict theory is the power over unequal groups in society (Tepperman, & Albanese, 2018). Marketers are superior to children and they are forcing them to think as a consumer at a very young age.
Gate keepers can help prevent the ongoing bombardment of advertising to children since they can choose what is and what is not seen by the child. Parents are the primary gate keepers of what children consume (Barbaro, & Earp, 2008). Children affect what their parents buy and a simple “no” from the parent could potentially veer the child away from consuming (Harris, Pomeranz, Lobstein, & Brownell, 2009). Parents have the most control in an adolescent’s life and they could block certain products from their child. Penalties on the child could be established to enforce the negative effects of consuming different products at such a young age (Harris, Pomeranz, Lobstein, & Brownell, 2009). Children know if they are receiving punishment, they have done something wrong. Watching excessive amounts of television can cause them to see more advertising and it is known to correlate with negative effect on their ability to learn in school (Barbaro, & Earp, 2008). Parents can determine how much television is watched by their children. That all being said, parents are unable to watch over their children every minute of every day. Schools are also gate keepers and they must regulate and educate children on this issue (Powell & Gard, 2015). If children are educated to know that the marketers are taking advantage of them, this will lead to a reduction of consumer spending.
The government has control over these companies to restrict certain types of advertising which can prevent marketers to target the younger audiences. In 1978, the US Federal Trade Commission proposed a ban of all advertising toward kids under the age of eight (Barbaro, & Earp, 2008). This proposal did not go through congress however, since it is a “violation of their First Amendment rights” (Harris, Pomeranz, Lobstein, & Brownell, 2009). Even though this attempt to reduce child advertising did not become law, at least the attempt was made. Governments have released nutrient profiling, in that the child knows what is healthy and what is not (Harris, Pomeranz, Lobstein, & Brownell, 2009). This prevents the parents, as well as the child, from buying products that are health risks. Government officials are working with school education programs to restructure the children’s minds to understand the importance of healthy food (Powell & Gard, 2015). These programs teach the advantages of eating healthy and the risks of eating unhealthy food (Powell & Gard, 2015). The government has a degree of control over how much marketers can manipulate adolescents.
Marketers are manipulating children to consume their products at a rapid pace and it has become a social issue in our society. Companies use product placement in television shows, movies, and advergames. Advergames force children to have positive emotions toward the marketer’s product which effects their spending later in life. Companies use advertising within schools which allow students to see their products on a regular basis. Coca Cola is an example of a company that has put their brand throughout schools. Obesity is a prevalent outcome of what can happen with the over consumption of unhealthy food. Marketers advertise sugary goods to children which influences them to encourage their parents to purchase them. They use cartoon characters as well to entice children to buy their product. Advertising is manipulating children to buy their products since they take advantage of their developing minds. A suggestion to prevent child marketing entails gate keepers such as parents and schools to influence a child’s ability to veer away from advertising. As well, the governments have control over what is known to be healthy and the increase of school partnerships to try and understand the importance of health. As companies see the success of marketing to the youth, they will only continue to increase the level of this marketing. Based on this increase level of marketing some sort of intervention must be implemented.
- Barbaro, A., Earp, J. (2008). Retrieved November 01, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMaRsR7orTk
- GRAD, I. (2015). Ethical Considerations on Advertising to Children. Postmodern Openings / Deschideri Postmoderne, 6(2), 43-57. doi:10.18662/po/2015.0602.04
- Harris, J. L., Pomeranz, J. L., Lobstein, T., & Brownell, K. D. (2009). A Crisis in the Marketplace: How Food Marketing Contributes to Childhood Obesity and What Can Be Done. Annual Review Of Public Health, 30(1), 211-225. doi:10.1146/annurev.publhealth.031308.100304
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- Tepperman, L., & Albanese, P. (2018). Principles of sociology: Canadian perspectives (3rd ed.). Don Mills, Ontario, Canada: Oxford University Press.
- Verdoodt, V., Clifford, D., & Lievens, E. (2016). Toying with children’s emotions, the new game in town? The legality of advergames in the EU. Computer Law & Security Review, 32(4), 599-614. doi:10.1016/j.clsr.2016.05.007
- Wilkinson, G. (2016). Marketing in schools, commercialization and sustainability: policy disjunctures surrounding the commercialization of childhood and education for sustainable lifestyles in England. Educational Review, 68(1), 56-70. doi:10.1080/00131911.2015.1058750
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