With the rise of technology, it is now known that children aged five to 16 spend an average of six and a half hours a day in front of a screen. It is therefore not surprising that these children are being bombarded with numerous advertisements. As children are incredibly impressionable, is it therefore unethical to target advertising efforts at children? And is this controlled by the rules and regulations in place for advertising targeted towards children?
Children are especially susceptible to many persuasive techniques namely those reinforcing inferiority complexes to those who do not possess the latest product. Advertising can also be known to damage family relationships due to encouraging the phenomenon of ‘pester power’. This is the ability of children to influence their parents to buy them certain products. If parents deny their child these products, the child may view this as denying them the key to being socially accepted thereby leading to tension. Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, believes that it ‘undermines critical thinking and promotes impulse buying’ by making children choose products based on emotional attachments to celebrities rather than factually informed decisions.
As a result of the potential negative consequences, the Advertising Standards Authority has many regulations put in place to protect children from harmful advertising. The ASA thereby has the ability to ban any ad if it;
- Could result in a child’s physical, mental or moral harm
- Encourages pester power
- Doesn’t clearly reference products over £30
- Oversexualizes children
- Taking advantage of natural credulity & loyalty
As society is becoming increasingly consumerist, it may be more beneficial to teach children to understand advertising rather than acting as though it is non-existent. Media Smart is an organisation that teaches children to think critically about the barrage of advertisements they face daily thereby ingraining this level of understanding for later on in life.
It would be an impossible task to ban children from viewing advertising all together, so it makes far more sense to give them the ability to become visually critical and literate.
Alongside teaching children to understand advertising, it is also a brands responsibility to promote themselves in an ethical manner. The harder a company focuses on their corporate social responsibility, the more likely they will influence positive brand awareness. TV advertisements promoting children’s toys ought to solely focus on targeting their efforts towards parents. As it is the parents money that will be spent on the advertised product, it is more effective to consider what would encourage an adult to purchase a child’s product.
The question of ethical practise in advertising therefore relates to the brands advertisements and whether children have the ability to understand and rationalise ads. It’s also interesting to question whether it’s more effective to provide children with the skills necessary to rationalise advertising, or should they simply be sheltered from it until their critical mind develops?