The advertising industry is a large business in the United States, with an average net of 250 billion per year and comprising of more than 900,000 brands under its helm with which to sell to the public. In the United States, the average child view more than 3000 ads on various communication mediums such as the television, magazines, billboards and the internet (Goodman C3). In the country alone, statistics indicate that teenager spend about 155 billion dollars a year while children aged 12 years and younger spend another 25 billion dollars. Furthermore, both age groups influence their parents’ spending and this estimated to bring in another 200 billion dollars (Quart 35). In fact, the industry of advertising and sales certainly received a lot of profit by designing advertising strategies to target the younger population. Advertisers target children in order to establish a brand name at the earliest stage possible. This practice is deemed as a routine part of the business in the United States, unlike their European counterparts which have strict rules regarding advertising to children (Strasburger 181). Advertisers are generating more creative and innovative ways to target these young consumers, whether it is in schools, through television and internet and even in strategic placement of paper ads in areas such as malls and even bathroom stalls.
Advertising to children can pose health-related concerns regarding smoking, drinking of alcohol, drug use, obesity and sexual activity. In the United States, manufacturers of tobacco, spend 11.2 billion dollars annually on its marketing and advertising campaign (FTC 2003). There is recent evidence as well that these companies specifically target teenagers (Weinstein A1). Studies in this field indicate that about a third of adolescents engage in smoking due to advertising campaigns and promotions. Similarly, a multitude of studies also concluded that children who have been exposed to marketing ads and promotions from cigarette companies are more likely to become smokers. In fact, exposure to the marketing strategies of tobacco companies is a bigger risk factor compared to having a family member or friends who smoke. Additionally, these marketing tactics can also push children to challenge their parents and undermine their parenting practices. Similar to tobacco use, alcohol use among adolescents is credited to exposure to alcohol advertising (Strasburger 353). A typical adolescent view about 2000 commercials about beer and wine in a year (Strasburger 54) and a great majority of these ads are concentrated in sports-associated programs. In regular TV shows, only 1 ad pertaining to alcohol appear every 4 hours, however, during a sports program, the frequency of these ads increase to 2.4 ads per hour.
On television alone, children are bombarded with 40,000 different ads per year, half of which are advertisements for food. However, these food advertisements are largely for high-calorie foods and sugary drinks and snacks that are unhealthy and healthy foods are rarely advertised. Fast food chains also have tie-in with major movie or television shows in an attempt to attract children and about 20% of fast food chains employ strategies such as promotion of toys within their commercials. Several studies have in fact documented that children typically request more junk food after they have viewed related commercial. However, on a positive note, advertisements about healthy food products have shown to boost awareness and increase healthy eating practices among children.
Another health concern in relation to advertising is the increasing sexual notes or content in most commercials. Several researches in this area show that teenagers engage in sexual activities at an increasingly early age due to exposure to sexual content in various media (Collins et al. 114). The field of advertising and the media has also stressed the importance of superficial qualities such as good looks. Models engaged in advertising campaigns are often thin and anorectic, which teenagers may view as ideal. Due to this, female teenagers may experience a distorted body image, low self esteem and they may engage in abnormal eating habits that lead to disorders such as anorexia and bulimia (81)
Advertisers often employ marketing techniques wherein children and teenagers are more susceptible. Examples of these techniques include the placement of products in popular movies and TV shows, partnerships between movies and certain products which can include fast food chains, action figures and other similar products, establishment of clubs kids can join that are associated with popular TV/movie shows and endorsements from popular celebrities. In fact, this technique has been employed by the big brand Coca-Cola as the company reportedly paid 150 million dollars to Warner Bros. for global marketing rights to the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone movie (AAP 20). Studies have shown that children aged 8 years and below are defenseless against advertising strategies both cognitively and psychologically (Kunkel 375). Children at this age do not understand the strategic marketing employed by advertisers and children often take advertisement claims at their face value. An FTC (Federal Trade Commission) hearing conducted during the 70’s concluded that advertising to children aged 6 years and below is largely unjust, unreasonable and can be constituted as a form of deception. However, the impracticalities associated with banning such ads prevented the FTC from restricting ads such as these. Some western countries, however, have established measures to prohibit all forms of advertising that specifically target children. These countries include Sweden, Norway, Greece, Denmark and Belgium (Valkenburg 52).
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