According to Robert Levine in “The Power of Persuasion: How We’re Bought and Sold”, an average child in the United States sees over 10,000 commercials a year. “Two decades ago,” he states, “children drank twice as much milk as soda. Thanks to advertising, the ratio is now reversed.”(16) Driving messages and attractive images printed on the food products, which are unhealthy, are used to fascinate children; however they could only be aware of the attractive packages or cute cartoons, but they could not realize that it is a trick of the advertising agencies and has potential detriments to their health. There have been debates over whether the government should step in to retrain the advertisement influence or not.
Research findings and political pressures push the Federal Trade Commission to add new constraints on commercials for unhealthy products aimed at kids. However, advertisers argue that commercials allow children to get in touch with different commercial skills in early age. In fact advertising is all about the power of persuasion; with limited ability to distinguish the persuasive messages, children are being brainwashed. In order to build resistance against the bombardment of numerous advertisements, parents should prepare their kids to counter persuasive appeals. Moreover, the government should step in to regulate advertisements aimed at protecting children in this advertising age.
Children, it seems, are the advertiser’s new super target: gullible, vulnerable, and an easy sell. Now, advertisers consider children as a market segment to be exploited and a long term investment to develop life-long consumers; adolescence and childhood is a particularly perceptive period in anyone’s life and habits picked up during this stage normally have lifelong repercussion. Thus, creative and well- trained experts “study, analyze, persuade, and manipulate our children” (Motherhood Project, 2001). Few psychological studies try to figure out why children are targeted, the following reasons are concluded by researchers. Children, especially those under 8 years old, are not able to distinguish commercials from programs and fail to comprehend their persuasive messages. Moreover, kids would trust and accept what the advertisement says and then desire their parents to buy the advertised product.
Advertisers make good use of the vulnerability of children to open up a new market. In fact, most of the cartoons and films are made to advertise the relevant products. In a scene in “Consuming Kids”, Dr. Michael Brody, a child psychiatrist, says “that’s why people like George Lucas’s saying that I am not a film director, I am a toymaker.” In other words, marketers are advertising their products through any possible means, such as television, video games, films, selling bed sheets and backpacks with the images of the main characters, to hook kids on their products. Michael reveals the motive of advertisers which is to develop products which kids are not willing to take their eyes off, and then immerse these products into kids’ life. Everyone would have experienced the lure of cartoon characters; you might badger your parents for a lunch box only because of your favorite character’s print on it.
Parents can inoculate their children against the influence of advertising. Norma Feshbach conducted a research to see whether children could be taught to resist deceptive advertisements or not. A group of children were told to watch a toy advertisement, then they were given the toy and challenged to make it do what they had just seen in the commercial. Children are too young to understand the economic theory and marketing techniques hidden behind the advertisements. Such experience of analyzing commercials could help breed a more realistic understanding of commercials and develop the kids’ value of critical thinking.
Actually, parents and government need to cooperate to protect children from this Advertising Age. Kids are immersed and locked into multi Medias at any particular moment: Social networking sites, websites, television, video games, and iPhones. Advertisements follow children even into their schools. There are advertisements at school or even the school is advertising itself- there is no way for children to escape. It is impossible to build up an advertisement free environment for kids unless the government is willing to step in. In many other countries, like Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, etc., any advertisement that targets children is restricted. Some people may inquire if the United States could also do the same thing. According to a recent study published in The Journal of Law and Economics, banning fast food advertisements in the United States and eliminating the tax deductibility of TV advertising could reduce the number of overweight children in the country. The study provides ample evidence that placing new constraints on advertisement of unhealthy products is also effective and practical in the United States.
Advertising agencies are normally tasked with one objective i-e to increase their products’ sales revenue by exposing it to the widest market possible. Advertisers are taking advantage of the vulnerable and impressionable nature of children to open up this new market. This has resulted in numerous health problems stemming from the persuasive messages that such advertisements carry. Although parental guidance does help, it is not efficient enough. In this Advertising Age, it’s better to clean the air than to wear gas mask. It is on such grounds that advertising to children should be banned until they reach such an age when they are able to adequately discern what is truthful in advertising and what is not- that is adulthood.