Children Adolescents and Advertising

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December 2006, VOLUME 118 / ISSUE 6

From the American Academy of Pediatrics


Children, Adolescents, and Advertising

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Advertising is a pervasive influence on children and adolescents. Young people view more than 40 000 ads per year on television alone and increasingly are being exposed to advertising on the Internet, in magazines, and in schools. This exposure may contribute significantly to childhood and adolescent obesity, poor nutrition, and cigarette and alcohol use. Media education has been shown to be effective in mitigating some of the negative effects of advertising on children and adolescents.

Several European countries forbid or severely curtail advertising to children; in the United States, on the other hand, selling to children is simply business as usual.1The average young person views more than 3000 ads per day on television (TV), on the Internet, on billboards, and in magazines.2Increasingly, advertisers are targeting younger and younger children in an effort to establish brand-name preference at as early an age as possible.3This targeting occurs because advertising is a $250 billion/year industry with 900 000 brands to sell,2and children and adolescents are attractive consumers: teenagers spend $155 billion/year, children younger than 12 years spend another $25 billion, and both groups influence perhaps another $200 billion of their parents spending per year.45Increasingly, advertisers are seeking to find new and creative ways of targeting young consumers via the Internet, in schools, and even in bathroom stalls.1

Research has shown that young childrenyounger than 8 yearsare cognitively and psychologically defenseless against advertising.69They do not understand the notion of intent to sell and frequently accept advertising claims at face value.10In fact, in the late 1970s, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) held hearings, reviewed the existing research, and came to the conclusion that it was unfair and deceptive to advertise to children younger than 6 years.11What kept the FTC from banning such ads was that it was thought to be impractical to implement such a ban.11However, some Western countries have done exactly that: Sweden and Norway forbid all advertising directed at children younger than 12 years, Greece bans toy advertising until after 10pm, and Denmark and Belgium severely restrict advertising aimed at children.12

Children and adolescents view 400 00 ads per year on TV alone.13This occurs despite the fact that the Childrens Television Act of 1990 (Pub L No. 101437) limits advertising on childrens programming to 10.5 minutes/hour on weekends and 12 minutes/hour on weekdays. However, much of childrens viewing occurs during prime time, which features nearly 16 minutes/hour of advertising.14A 30-second ad during the Super Bowl now costs $2.3 million but reaches 80 million people.15

A 2000 FTC investigation found that violent movies, music, and video games have been intentionally marketed to children and adolescents.16Although movie theaters have agreed not to show trailers for R-rated movies before G-rated movies in response to the release of the FTC report, children continue to see advertising for violent media in other venues. For instance, M-rated video games, which according to the gaming industrys own rating system are not recommended for children younger than 17 years, are frequently advertised in movie theaters, video game magazines, and publications with high youth readership.17Also, movies targeted at children often prominently feature brand-name products and fast food restaurants.18In 19971998, 8 alcohol companies placed products in 233 motion pictures and in 1 episode or more of 181 TV series.18

According to the Consumers Union,19more than 160 magazines are now targeted at children. Young people see 45% more beer ads and 27% more ads for hard liquor in teen magazines than adults do in their magazines.20Despite the Master Settlement Agreement with the tobacco industry in 1998, tobacco advertising expenditures in 38 youth-oriented magazines amounted to $217 million in 2000.21

An increasing number of Web sites try to entice children and teenagers to make direct sales. Teenagers account for more than $1 billion in e-commerce dollars,22and the industry spent $21.6 million on Internet banner ads alone in 2002.23More than 100 commercial Web sites promote alcohol products.23The content of these sites varies widely, from little more than basic brand information to chat rooms, virtual bars, drink recipes, games, contests, and merchandise catalogues. Many of these sites use slick promotional techniques to target young people.2324In 1998, the Childrens Online Privacy Protection Act (Pub L No. 105277) was passed, which mandates that commercial Web sites cannot knowingly collect information from children younger than 13 years. These sites are required to provide notice on the site to parents about their collection, use, and disclosure of childrens personal information and must obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting, using, or disclosing this information.25

Advertisers have traditionally used techniques to which children and adolescents are more susceptible, such as product placements in movies and TV shows,26tie-ins between movies and fast food restaurants,18tie-ins between TV shows and toy action figures or other products,7kids clubs that are linked to popular shows, and celebrity endorsements.27Cellular phones are currently being marketed to 6- to 12-year-olds, with the potential for directing specific advertisers to children and preteens. Coca-Cola reportedly paid Warner Bros. Studios $150 million for the global marketing rights to the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone,28and nearly 20% of fast food restaurant ads now mention a toy premium in their ads.29Certain tie-in products may be inappropriate for children (eg, action figures from the World Wrestling Federation or an action doll that mutters profanities from an R-ratedAustin Powersmovie).

Childrens advertising protections will need to be updated for digital TV, which will be in place before 2010. In the near future, children watching a TV program will be able to click an on-screen link and go to a Web site during the program.30Interactive games and promotions on digital TV will have the ability to lure children away from regular programming, encouraging them to spend a long time in an environment that lacks clear separation between content and advertising. Interactive technology may also allow advertisers to collect vast amounts of information about childrens viewing habits and preferences and target them on the basis of that information.31

Tobacco manufacturers spend $30 million/day ($11.2 billion/year) on advertising and promotion.32Exposure to tobacco advertising may be a bigger risk factor than having family members and peers who smoke33and can even undermine the effect of strong parenting practices.34Two unique and large longitudinal studies have found that approximately one third of all adolescent smoking can be attributed to tobacco advertising and promotions.3536In addition, more than 20 studies have found that children exposed to cigarette ads or promotions are more likely to become smokers themselves.3738Recent evidence has emerged that tobacco companies have specifically targeted teenagers as young as 13 years of age.39

Alcohol manufacturers spend $5.7 billion/year on advertising and promotion.40Young people typically view 2000 beer and wine commercials annually,41with most of the ads concentrated in sports programming. During prime time, only 1 alcohol ad appears every 4 hours; yet, in sports programming, the frequency increases to 2.4 ads per hour.4243Research has found that adolescent drinkers are more likely to have been exposed to alcohol advertising.4450Given that children begin making decisions about alcohol at an early ageprobably during grade school50exposure to beer commercials represents a significant risk factor.4650Minority children may be at particular risk.51

Just Say No as a message to teenagers about drugs seems doomed to failure given that $11 billion/year is spent on cigarette advertising, $5.7 billion/year is spent on alcohol advertising, and nearly $4 billion/year is spent on prescription drug advertising.52Drug companies now spend more than twice as much on marketing as they do on research and development. The top 10 drug companies made a total profit of $35.9 billion in 2002more than the other 490 companies in the Fortune 500 combined.53Is such advertising effective? A recent survey of physicians found that 92% of patients had requested an advertised drug.5455In addition, children and teenagers may get the message that there is a drug available to cure all ills and heal all pain, a drug for every occasion (including sexual intercourse).41

Advertisers spend more than $2.5 billion/year to promote restaurants and another $2 billion to promote food products.56On TV, of the estimated 40 000 ads per year that young people see, half are for food, especially sugared cereals and high-calorie snacks.2957Healthy foods are advertised less than 3% of the time; children rarely see a food advertisement for broccoli.58Increasingly, fast food conglomerates are using toy tie-ins with major childrens motion pictures to try to attract young people.59Nearly 20% of fast food ads now mention a toy premium in their commercials.29Several studies document that young children request more junk food (defined as foods with high-caloric density but very low nutrient density) after viewing commercials.6063In 1 study, the amount of TV viewed per week correlated with requests for specific foods and with caloric intake.61At the same time, advertising healthy foods has been shown to increase wholesome eating in children as young as 3 to 6 years of age.64

Sex is used in commercials to sell everything from beer to shampoo to cars.65New research is showing that teenagers exposure to sexual content in the media may be responsible for earlier onset of sexual intercourse or other sexual activities.6667What is increasingly apparent is the discrepancy between the abundance of advertising of products for erectile dysfunction (ED) (between January and October, 2004, drug companies spent $343 million advertising Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis)68and the lack of advertising for birth control products or emergency contraceptives on the major TV networks. This is despite the fact that 2 national polls have found that a majority of Americans favor the advertising of birth control on TV.6970Ads for ED drugs give children and teens inappropriate messages about sex and sexuality at a time when they are not being taught well in school sex education programs.7172Research has definitively found that giving teenagers increased access to birth control through advertising does not make them sexually active at a younger age.7380

American advertising also frequently uses female models who are anorectic in appearance and, thus, may contribute to the development of a distorted body self-image and abnormal eating behaviors in young girls.798182

Advertisers have slowly but steadily infiltrated school systems around the country. The 3 Rs have now become the 4 Rs, with the fourth R being retail.8384Ads are now appearing on school buses, in gymnasiums, on book covers, and even in bathroom stalls.85More than 200 school districts nationwide have signed exclusive contracts with soft drink companies.86These agreements specify the number and placement of soda-vending machines, which is ironic given that schools risk losing federal subsidies for their free breakfast and lunch programs if they serve soda in their cafeterias. In addition, there are more than 4500 Pizza Hut chains and 3000 Taco Bell chains in school cafeterias around the country.87

There is some good news, however. In May, 2006, the nations largest beverage distributors agreed to halt nearly all sales of sodas to public schools and sell only water, unsweetened juice, and low-fat milk in elementary and middle schools. Diet sodas would be sold only in high schools.88

School advertising also appears under the guise of educational TV: Channel One. Currently available in 12 000 schools, Channel One consists of 10 minutes of current-events programming and 2 minutes of commercials. Advertisers pay $200 000 for advertising time and the opportunity to target 40% of the nations teenagers for 30 seconds.89According to a recent government report, Channel One now plays in 25% of the nations middle and high schools81and generates profits estimated at $100 million annually.89

Clearly, advertising represents big business in the United States and can have a significant effect on young people. Unlike free speech, commercial speech does not enjoy the same protections under the First Amendment of the Constitution.90Advertisements can be restricted or even banned if there is a significant public health risk. Cigarette advertising and alcohol advertising would seem to fall squarely into this category, and ads for junk food could easily be restricted.91

One solution that is noncontroversial and would be easy to implement is to educate children and teenagers about the effects of advertisingmedia literacy. Curricula have been developed that teach young people to become critical viewers of media in all of its forms, including advertising.9294Media education seems to be protective in mitigating harmful effects of media, including the effects of cigarette, alcohol, and food advertising.9396

Pediatricians should become familiar with the methods that advertisers use to target children and adolescents.

Pediatricians should only subscribe to magazines that are free of tobacco and alcohol advertisements for their waiting rooms (eg,Good Housekeepinghas refused to carry tobacco ads since 1952).

Pediatricians should counsel their patients to limit total noneducational screen time to no more than 2 hours/day,97which will limit exposure to advertising of all kinds.

Pediatricians should write letters to advertisers if they see inappropriate ads and should encourage parents to do the same (letters can be addressed to the Childrens Advertising Review Unit, Council of Better Business Bureaus, 845 Third Ave, New York, NY 10022).

Pediatricians should work with community groups and local school boards to implement media education programs that teach about the effects of advertising on children and adolescents. The federal government should help underwrite the cost of establishing and disseminating such programs.

Pediatricians should work with parents, schools, community groups, and others to ban or severely curtail school-based advertising in all forms.

Pediatricians should work with parent and public health groups to:

ask Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to limit commercial advertising on childrens programming to no more than 5 to 6 minutes/hour, which would decrease the current amount by 50%;

ask Congress to implement a ban on cigarette and tobacco advertising in all media, including banners and logos in sports arenas;

ask Congress to restrict alcohol advertising to what is known as tombstone advertising, in which only the product is shown, not cartoon characters or attractive women;

ask Congress to implement a ban on junk-food advertising during programming that is viewed predominantly by young children;

ask Congress to increase funding for public TVthe sole source of high-quality, educational, noncommercial programming for children;

advocate for confining ads for ED drugs to after 10pm. The American Academy of Pediatrics has always strongly endorsed the advertising of birth control on TV. There is now considerable evidence that birth control advertising could lower teen pregnancy rates even further while having no impact on rates of teen sexual activity.79However, when birth control advertising is so rare on prime time TV, it makes no sense to allow ED drug advertising that may confuse children and teens about human sexuality and make sexual activity seem like a recreational sport.

ask Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to prohibit interactive advertising to children in digital TV; and

ask Congress to convene a national task force on advertising under the auspices of the Institute of Medicine, the National Institutes of Health, or the FTC. This task force would discuss the nature of the current problem and the current research and would propose solutions toward limiting childrens exposure to unhealthy advertising, including the funding of future research. The task force would include representatives from the toy industry, the fast food industry, and the advertising community, as well as pediatricians, child psychiatrists and psychologists, and public health advocates.

Pediatricians, together with the American Academy of Pediatrics Media Resource Team, should work with the entertainment industry to ensure that the advertising of violent media to children does not occur, that product placements in movies and TV do not occur, that the dissemination and enforcement of the individual industries own rating systems is facilitated, and that advertising for contraceptives is more widely disseminated on network TV.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

All policy statements from the American Academy of Pediatrics automatically expire 5 years after publication unless reaffirmed, revised, or retired at or before that time.

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Children as Consumers

Social, Political, Economic and Environmental Issues That Affect Us All

Last Updated Sunday, November 21, 2010

To print all information (e.g. expanded side notes, shows alternative links), use the print version:

Even in industrialized societies, where governments and campaigners fight for better child advertising standards and regulations, or improved food quality, industry fights back preferring self-regulation (which rarely happens, or is intentionally weak), and arguing that it is individual choices and parents that are the issue.

Advertising to children is big business

Encouraging and increasing childhood consumerism

Heavy advertising targeted at children

Advertising to children considered harmful

Manipulating childrens views of the world

Bans, regulation, self-regulation, media-literacy

Banning ads and the fear or unintended consequences?

Can Industry be trusted to Self-regulate?

A small example of effects of child consumerism

Parental versus Corporate Influence.

Commercialization of childhood itself

Advertising to children is big business

Children are a captive audience: The average American child watches an estimate between 25,000 to 40,000 television commercials per year. In the UK, it is about 10,000

$15-17 billion is spent by companies advertising to children in the US.

Over $4 billion was spent in 2009 by the fast food industry alone.

The marketing seems to be worth it. For example,

Teens in the US spend around $160 billion a year

Children (up to 11) spend around $18 billion a year

more than $30 billion in other spending by parents, and

80 percent of all global brands now deploy a

Children (under 12) and teens influence parental purchases totaling over $130-670 billion a year.

Childrens Exposure to Television Advertising in 1977 and 2004: Information for the Obesity Debate,

, June 1, 2007. This report says 25,600 commercials were watched in 2004 by children in the US

Television Advertising Leads to Unhealthy Habits in Children; Says APA Task Force, American Pyschological Association (APA), February 23, 2004. Is an example of the widely-cited 40,000 commercials figure

, December 9, 2007. This the UK figure.

Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhoodnotes that these figures do not include product placement

Amount spent advertising to children:

Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood

, New Press (May 2004) says $15 billion and a lot of other sources cite her

writes inResources: Marketing To Kids, May 17, 2007 that it is now $17 billion.

also adds that this is up from $100 million in 1983, and more than double the amount in 1992.

report notes that it was about $12 billion in 2000

The fast food industrys advertising spending in the US comes fromFast Food FACTScampaign organization

SeeTRU Projects Teens Will Spend $159 Billion In 2005,

Teen Research Unit, December 15, 2005

The $30bn in other spending is mentioned by Ann Hulbert,Tweens R Us,

The $130-500 billion comes from Kim Campbell and Kent Davis-Packard,How ads get kids to say I want it!,

article says children between 8-12 years alone influence some $150 billion in purchases

$670 billion comes from Juliet B. Schor writing inRegulation, Awareness, Empowerment. Young People and Harmful Media Content in the Digital Age,

Older figures: It was around 188 billion dollars in 1997, up from $132 billion in 1990, $50 billion in 1984 and $20 billion in the mid-70s. From Miriam H. Zoll,Psychologists Challenge Ethics Of Marketing To Children,

It has proven difficult to find detailed, and recent, statistics for other areas around the world, outside the US. However, one promising source for different regions isThe International Clearinghouse on Children, Youth and Mediafrom Nordicom, Goteborg University, Sweden (also financed by the government of Sweden and UNESCO).

So what? Isnt that good for business? As we will introduce here, while this might be good for business, there are also important economic, social, health and environmental and other costs to be considered.

As mentioned in the previous section looking at the rise in consumption, larger houses were an example of the things promoted to increase consumption. So too was the encouragement to provide more toys and other items for children:

The [U.S.] federal government played a major role in defining childhood. In 1929, Herbert Hoover sponsored a White House Conference on Child Health and Protection. The conference report,The Home and the Child, concluded that children were independent beings with particular concerns of their own. The report advised parents to give their children their own [furniture, toys, playrooms etc].Generally a sleeping room for each person is desirable, it noted. Take them shopping for their ownthings and let them pick them out for themselves.

Through such experiences personality develops [These] experiences have the advantage of also creating in the child a sense of personal as well as family pride in ownership, and eventuallyteaching him that his personality can be expressed through things. (White House, 1931, [Emphasis added by Robbins]; See also Leach 1993:371-372)

Thus in the space of some 30 years, the role of children in American life changed dramatically; they became, and remain, pillars of the consumer economy, with economic power rivaling that of adults.

Children wield enormous purchasing power, both directly and indirectly (indirectly in the sense that they are able to persuade and influence parents on what to buy).

Observe a child and parent in a store. That high-pitched whining youll hear coming from the cereal aisle is more than just the pleadings of single kid bent on getting a box of Fruit Loops into the shopping cart. It is the sound of thousands of hours of market research, of an immense coordination of people, ideas and resources, of decades of social and economic change all rolled into a single,Mommy, pleeease!

If its within [kids] reach, they will touch it, and if they touch it, theres at least a chance that Mom or Dad will relent and buy it,writes retail anthropologist, Paco Underhill. The ideal placement of popular books and videos, he continues, should be on the lower shelvesso the little ones can grab Barney or Teletubbies unimpeded by Mom or Dad, who possibly take a dim view of hypercommercialized critters.

Dan Cook, Assistant Professor of Advertising and Sociology at the University of Illinois,Lunchbox hegemony; Kids and the Marketplace, Then & Now, LiP Magazine, August 20, 2001

And advertising to children isnt just for purchasing childrens items; they influence other items:

The minivan was created, for example, because children demanded more room. Then they decided the three-door behemoth was uncool, helping give rise to the SUV.Every auto manufacturer has a strategy to target children,[James McNeal, a market researcher who specializes in the childrens market] adds.

The renowned behaviorist was also vice president of the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency and a spokesman for the idea, then novel, that marketing is not just about peddling products that people need; its also about creating a society of consumers ever eager for more. Famous for claiming that any child, conditioned early enough, could be turned into anythinga doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even into beggar-man and thiefhe left a key vocation out. If shopper had been on his list, it would have been a prescient boast.

(The other key point in the quote above is that markets here are not meeting needs, butcreatingneeds.)

Marketers see children as a future as well as current market and hence brand loyalty at a young age helps in the quest of continued sales later.

The Journal of the American Medical Association has said that children between the ages of two and seventeen watch an annual average of 15,000 to 18,000 hours of television, compared with 12,000 hours spent per year in school. Children are also major targets for TV advertising, whose impact is greater than usual because there is an apparent lessening of influence by parents and others in the older generation. According to the [Committee on Communications of the American Academy of Pediatrics], children under the age of two should not watch television at all because at that age, brain development depends heavily on real human interactions.

In the European Union, by 2001, revenues to television networks and producers have reached between$620 and $930 million. Revenues since have increased further.

Sweden, since 1991 has banned all advertising during childrens prime time due to findings that children under 10 are incapable of telling the difference between a commercial and a program, and cannot understand the purpose of a commercial until the age of 12. (See previous link for more details.)

In the US, research from the American Psychological Association (APA) shows thatchildren under the age of eight are unable to critically comprehend televised advertising messagesand are prone to accept advertiser messages as truthful, accurate and unbiased. This can lead to unhealthy eating habits as evidenced by todays youth obesity epidemic. For these reasons, a task force of the American Psychological Association (APA) is recommending that advertising targeting children under the age of eight be restricted.

The research on childrens commercial recall and product preferences confirms that advertising does typically get young consumers to buy their products. Findings show that children recall content from the ads to which theyve been exposed and preference for a product has been shown to occur with as little as a single commercial exposure and strengthened with repeated exposures.

Furthermore, these product preferences can affect childrens product purchase requests, which can put pressure on parents purchasing decisions and instigate parent-child conflicts when parents deny their childrens requests.

there are concerns regarding certain commercial campaigns primarily targeting adults that pose risks for child-viewers. For example, beer ads are commonly shown during sports events and seen by millions of children, creating both brand familiarity and more positive attitudes toward drinking in children as young as 9-10 years of age. Another area of sensitive advertising content involves commercials for violent media products such as motion pictures and video games. Such ads contribute to a violent media culture which increases the likelihood of youngsters aggressive behavior and desensitizes children to real-world violence, said Dr. Kunkel [senior author of the task forces scientific report].

Television Advertising Leads to Unhealthy Habits in Children, American Pyschological Association (APA), February 23, 2004

Manipulating childrens views of the world

As detailed further on this sites section onMedia and Advertising, manipulation of imagery, fake news and more are so prevalent that young people in particular are vulnerable to a lot of influences from all angles.

With such constant bombardment of images of what beauty, perfection etc are all supposed to be, it is no wonder that many related health issues are increasing in younger children, from anxiety and stress to bulimia and anorexia.

Advertising is in all areas of childrens lives, from television commercials, to ad placement within programs (and video games), to toys, the Internet, mobile telephones, and more.

The concerns of the impacts on children has led to many trying to control advertising in some way.

Writing in a publication from the Nordic Information Centre for Media and Communication Research (Nordicom), Ulla Carlsson summarizes some of the options and approaches:

Ulla Carlsson,Regulation, Awareness, Empowerment. Young People and Harmful Media Content in the Digital Age, Nordicom, June 2006 (p.13)

After going into these in a bit more depth, Carlsson concludes that no one measure is necessarily effective on its own,

the approaches to protecting minors from harm and offense in media content largely boil down to three kinds: law and regulation, self-regulation and co-regulation of the media. No one instrument of regulation is sufficient; today and in the future some form of effective interaction between all three kinds of media regulationthat is, between government, the media and civil societywill be required to reach satisfactory results. All the relevant stakeholderswithin government, the media sector and civil societyneed to develop effective means by which to collaborate.

Ulla Carlsson,Regulation, Awareness, Empowerment. Young People and Harmful Media Content in the Digital Age, Nordicom, June 2006 (pp.14-15)

Banning ads and the fear or unintended consequences?

Sweden, since 1991 has banned all advertising during childrens prime time due to those concerns mentioned above regarding advertising to children being harmful.

The European Union is now considering issues related to advertising targeted at children and whether there should be a Europe-wide ban or regulation.

Since April 2007, the has UK banned junk food advertising during television programs aimed at children aged 7 to 9. As of January 1, 2008, that ban has been extended to all children under 16.

Some argue that this industry provides jobs for people so banning advertising would be ill-advised.

Others question the effectiveness of outright bans in advertising. For example, a ban would mean lost revenues of media outlets, as many pour a large amount of advertising revenues back into programming.

The Responsible Advertising and Children Programme (RACP) is an industry organization representing advertisers, agencies and media worldwide. They argue that education and self-regulation is the way to go (as most companies in most sectors tend to argue), and also warn of job losses if there are outright bans:

We believe that educating children to understand the purpose and context of marketing communications helps them to develop the skills to critically interpret commercial communications in the context of their daily lives. This is crucial in preparing them for interaction with the reality of a media-filled world.

advertising finances childrens programming on free-to-air television. 94% of the net revenues coming from advertising aimed at children are reinvested in childrens programmes. In the digital economy, there is no alternative method to ensure investment in original childrens programming and in the acquisition of programme rights.

Not only does marketing communications help to guarantee quality childrens programming, it also aids competition in the wider economy, creates jobs and enhances consumers choices of goods and services. In return, advertisers are active and enthusiastic supporters of strong self-regulation ensuring that we meet the expectations of parents, regulators, and society at large.

Education and self-regulation deliver effective and responsible marketing communications.

With less programming for children, they may end up watching more adult content, as Juliet Schor notes, also writing in the Nordicom publication mentioned earlier. However, she seems to disagree with the view above, thatthere is no alternativeto advertising for financing childrens programming:

Bans also raise the possibility of negative unintended consequences. For example, if a ban on advertising to children were to be enacted, it would reduce the financing available for childrens programming. If the quantity and quality of their programming declined, children would be likely to watch more adult media. This, in turn, would expose them to other types of inappropriate advertising and content. At the very least, government regulations on advertising need to be coupled with adequate financing mechanisms for quality childrens programming.

Schor also notes that one exception to the above concerns would be in schools, where the additional concerns with bans (legal, logistical, pragmatic) are not as difficult in a controlled environment such as school.

In addition, a study for the European Commission finds that,

restrictive national regulatory measures do not necessarily have a direct negative impact on advertising investment for childrens products.

This being the case, the different situations that exist in the European Union countries do not appear to favour the adoption of uniform regulatory measures via a Directive. National provisions or self-regulatory measure codes appear to be more adequate.

A paper inPediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, notes thatmedia education has been shown to be effective in mitigating some of the negative effects of advertising on children and adolescents.

Schor also makes the interesting point that while education may be important (also one of the things suggested above by the RACP), it doesnt always work when needed:

Industry practitioners point to [a study showing children] mistrust [advertising] as proof that children cannot be influenced. But the available research finds that the presence of skepticism does not affect desire for the advertised product, even for nine and ten year olds. Despite expressing doubts about ads, kids remain vulnerable to their persuasive powers. Furthermore, although media literacy has been encouraged as a solution to some of the problems raised by childrens inability to watch ads critically, at least some research finds that it does not affect children while they are actually watching ads. In one study of nine and ten year olds, exposure to a media literacy film did not subsequently affect their thoughts while they viewed advertisements, because they did not retrieve the consumer knowledge they learned from the film.

In food advertising, for example, Schor notes thatDecades of studies show that food marketing to children is effective(p.108. See alsoPediatric Studies Link TV Advertising with Global Fatteningfrom the W. P. Carey School of Business, University of Arizona, March 29, 2006).

In addition,food advertising is contributing to major changes in eating habits,leading to concerns of obesity epidemics in the US and elsewhere.Over the long term, food marketing is likely to prove to be the most harmful commercial influence on children, because it will affect so much a large fraction of children, with such serious consequences for their health and well-being.(p.109).

Schor also find claims of self-regulation by food companies to be dubious and is quoted again:

The food corporations have also tried to control the discourse by making some concessions, and through skillful use of public relations concerning those concessions. For example, Kraft recently got wide coverage for an announcement that was interpreted as a commitment to stop advertising a subset of its most unhealthy products to children, although the actual change will likely be less significant than was widely interpreted McDonalds garnered widespread positive attention for an announcement that it was abandoning the use of trans-fats, a shift it has failed to carry out. The Center for Consumer Freedom, a group originally funded by Philip Morris, which also receives funding from restaurant chains, soft drink companies and other food corporations, has engaged in substantial public relations, advertising, research and lobbying activity in order to discredit food industry critics. In January 2005, industry formed the Alliance for American Advertising (AAA), a new organization whose purpose is to protect companies rights to advertise to children. The Alliance includes Kellogg, General Mills and Kraft, and has openly questioned the link between advertising and obesity, a reprise of tobacco strategy. The formation of the AAA should be interpreted as a sign that the critics are making progresshowever, the current political environment is hardly favorable.

Since writing the above,a number of food companies have said they will volunteer to cut ads directed towards children, as reported by theInternational Herald Tribune(December 11, 2007). The companies, Coca-Cola, Groupe Danone, Burger King, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft Foods, Mars, Nestl, PepsiCo, Ferrero and Unilever,agreed not to advertise food and beverages on television programs, Web sites or in print media where children under age 12 could be considered a target audience, except for products that met specific nutrition criteria.

While such an announcement seems welcome, given Schors concerns above, some skepticism may be wise. With public awareness of such issues in Europe increasing in recent years, companies may have a harder time avoiding such responsibilities, self-imposed or not, so maybe critics of advertising have that to hold on to as hope that this is indeed a positive move.

3 years on from the above announcement,The Food Advertising to Children and Teens Score (FACTS) an organization developed by Yale Universitys Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity to scientifically measure food marketing to youth found that some of the pledges to reduce advertising to children had actually reversed.

In a detailed study, it found that the fast food industry continues torelentlesslymarket to youth. For example,

The average preschooler (2-5) sees almost three ads per day for fast food; children (6-11) see three-and-a-half; and teens see almost five.

Childrens exposure to fast food TV ads is increasing, even for ads from companies who have pledged to reduce unhealthy marketing to children.

Children see more than just ads intended for kids. More than 60% of fast food ads viewed by children (2-11) were for foods other than kids meals.

Some $4.2 billion was spent in 2009, a fifth of which was by McDonalds alone. TV accounted for the bulk of the advertising (86%) though Internet marketing was increasing. (See p.51 of their main report,Evaluating Fast Food Nutrition and Marketing to Youth(November 2010), for the details)

The organization suggested changing the industry-defined definition of television programs that require restrictions on the type of advertising aimed at children. Rather than restrictions only applying when the program is created solely for children, it wants a broader standard, such as the total number of children that watch a program. That would extend the reach of child friendly advertising guidelines to such broadly popular shows asAmerican IdolandGlee. (See p.14 of the report)

As of January 1, 2008, the UK has extended the April 2007 ban of junk food ads aimed at 7 to 9 year olds toban junk food ads for all children under 16. However,campaigners feel the ban is flawedas it only applies to childrens programming, not say family shows. They want the ban extended to all programs before thewatershed(9pm).

In addition, the concerns raised above by Schor and others about less ad revenue and thus reduced quality programming are all surfacing here. A BBC news television broadcast reporting on this also noted that some broadcasters are considering advertising from other sectors, even car manufacturers. If this occurs, then this will be using so-callednag factormarketing, where such advertising aims to get children to nag their parents to buy a product/service (discussed more below).

AChannel 4broadcast in the UK (January 8, 2008) also noted that some companies, rather then directly advertising to children, are sponsoring childrens programs so that their branding is still prevalent and increasing advertising on the Internet.

In that same broadcast, the reporter interviewed the Chief Executive of the Advertising Association, Baroness Buscombe who said that this type of advertisingis responsible, and its fun! its entertaining!It is hard to tell what is more surprising, that she said it was fun and entertaining, or that the reporter didnt challenge her as to what that had to do with advertisers trying to skirt around the ban and still target children.

Another type of approach that has been taken to address some of these concerns are counter-ads. These have been reasonably successful in campaigning against tobacco use by children, for example. But it has not been as successful on wider issues as Schor once again is quoted:

To date, this strategy has been stymied by the fact that truly powerful anti-ad messaging is difficult to get on the airwaves and almost impossible to sustain. The Truth campaign was ended quickly. The networks have repeatedly refused to show Adbusters anti-consumerist ads, in part on grounds that they will offend their advertisers. Surprisingly, there are no First Amendment rights for groups that want to promote an anti-consumerist message. Media outlets are corporate entities that depend on other corporate entities to earn profits, and they have historically resisted messages that jeopardize that relationship.

Some studies suggest that economic instruments (such as price rises or taxation) of unhealthy foodsmighthave an effect, but it is not guaranteed. For example,

This review found no direct scientific evidence of a causal relationship between policy-related economic instruments and food consumption, including foods high in saturated fats. Indirect evidence suggests that such a causal relationship is plausible, though it remains to be demonstrated by rigorous studies in community settings.

C. Goodman, A. Anise,What is known about the effectiveness of economic instruments to reduce consumption of foods high in saturated fats and other energy-dense foods for preventing and treating obesity?, Health Evidence Network, World Health Organisation, July 2006

What is not clear from such studies is does it measure the impact of habituation? That is, once you open Pandoras box, is it harder to close? Does this mean that different measures could apply to different age groups? E.g. if price rises or some kind of regulation on advertising to older children and adults has limited effect, does that necessarily apply to younger children? And if younger children have less advertising targeted at them in early ages, will such regulation be needed as they grow older or would cultural norms just result in less of it, naturally?

The food industry will of course be against measures such as taxing junk food, instead preferring things like exercise and individual responsibility instead (though an individual often poor on time versus professional marketing usually suggests an imbalance in available information and decision-making).

In mid-November, 2010, the BBCsPanoramaexplored this notion oftaxing the fat, saying that Britain is the fattest nation in Europe, and wondered whether it was time to consider such a tax as it may help the National Health Service afford the various costs associated with this problem.

The documentary also went to Denmark the first country in the world to implement such a tax to see how it was working there, and to the US, where it explained how a proposal to tax sugary drinks like Coca Cola has met with fierce opposition.

It found that there were signs of young people losing weight in the already heavily taxed Denmark, although older adults were still gaining weight.

The documentary also implied that the current UK Health Secretary wasnt keen on the idea and that his view was in line with the fast food industry, as targets and other measures may be lowered, as well as funding for current health campaigns for more active lives.

Exercise and individual responsibility has been the food industrys preferred alternative to regulation (it avoids extra costs on the industry, which industry representatives claim would cost jobs and competitiveness, and while it transfers extra burden and cost onto consumers, they are often ready to sell more in relation to that as described further below).

However, the documentary also noted that more and more studies are showing that while both diet and exercise are crucial to healthy lives, the balance isnt necessarily 50-50. Instead, diet appears to have a much larger bearing on peoples health and obesity. In addition, the numerous amounts of calories now available in fast foods are so high that the levels of exercise needed to burn the excess off is immense. Many people wouldnt have that time.

One potential use of the tax would be to subsidize healthier foods such as fruits and vegetables. But, a potential problem with taxing junk food is that many fruits and other healthy ingredients are often used in unhealthy foods such as sweets and sugary drinks, and even cosmetics and other products such as shampoos. So how can you ensure the tax proceeds are used appropriately?)

The education system in the USA, for example, has turned into ahugely profitable businessestimated to be worth around $650 billion. Fromcommercial-filled Channel Onewhich many students must watch,sponsored and selective educational material, tocommercialized school field tripsthe school system is bombarded by commercialism.

As well as children being targeted via the education system in the USA, as mentioned above, there is increasing concern at ad campaigns that are increasinglytargeting childrento be consumers and overly conscious about materialistic things, perhaps even at the expense of human qualities. One of the main reasons for such a fascination in children in this way is because of the potential purchasing power that children have.

In my practice I