More than ever before, children are being socialised as consumers, with children under 14 years are spending approximately $40 billion annually. Marketers have recognised children as arguably the most important consumer of all and use clever campaigns to target and exploit them.
Targeting children in advertising campaigns has a major influence on the consumption patterns of the family. Increased marketing to children has created a phenomenon called ‘Pester Power’, where children constantly nag their parents for the latest products such as toys, clothes, gadgets, junk food etc. Parents are forced to choose between being the ‘bad guy’ and saying “no” and giving in. We see this kind of persistent nagging in the supermarket aisles where children pester their parents for junk food items that are strategically positioned low on the selves to correspond with children eyelevel. Then there is the notion of “Importance Nagging” whereby children take advantage of their parents desire to provide the best for their children. Children claim that something is necessary for their general health and wellbeing in turn appealing to their parents feeling of guilt.
The Australian Association of National Advertisers’ Code for Advertising & Marketing Communication states that advertising and marketing must not undermine the authority of parents or appeal to children to urge their parents to buy a product for them. Although advertisements do not specifically say “hey kids, make sure your Mum and Dad buy you the latest Xbox game this Christmas”, the sole purpose of marketing to children is to incite this response.
Targeting children as consumers not only affects the consumer behaviour of their family but also helps shape their future consumer behaviour as an adult. The earlier a child is socialised to a brand, the more likely they are to be loyal to that brand in the future.
How TV advertising is grooming children as consumers
Children are bombarded with advertisements from a very young age. Between the ages of 2 – 11, the average child would view over 25,000 television commercials per year. Although young children are often able to distinguish the difference between an advertisement and a television programme, they are unable to identify the persuasive nature of these until at least 8 years old.
Alarmingly, children can identify brand names, symbols, colours, jingles and logos from about 2 years old. Identification of perceptual and sensory cues is developed at an age before children are unable to differential from entertainment and the intent of selling. Furthermore, children are more susceptible to the persuasive stimuli, this coupled with the fact that they are unable to understand the persuasive intent of marketing enables them to be exploited as consumers.
This YouTube clip, “Big Burger is Watching”, satirically demonstrates the affect of visual marketing on children and how it can undermine the authority of parents.
Why should we be concerned?
Not only are advertising campaigns exploiting children but they also can have damaging social consequences. Gender specific advertising that marketing Disney Princesses to girls and truck and cars to boys perpetuate gender stereotypes, therefore having on affect gender socialisation.
In addition, the advertising campaigns around junk food are contributing to the growing epidemic of childhood obesity in Australia. Some commentators believe the government should introduce plain packaging on junk food as they have for cigarettes in an attempt to limit the affect of brand marketing on children.
As young children do not have the capacity to participate in a consumer environment, do you think it is unethical of companies to exploit the vulnerabilities children for profit? Does targeting children as consumer commercialise their childhood?
It will be interesting to see what steps, if any, are taken by authorities to regulate this marketing phenomenon.
Amy Fettes (216048396)
Jolly, R 2011, ‘Marketing Obesity? Junk food, advertising and kids’ http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp1011/11rp09#_Toc282609498 (accessed 23 March 2016)
Oates, C, Blades, M & Gunter, B 2002 ‘Children and television advertising: When do they understand the persuasive intent?’, Journal of Consumer Behaviour vol. 1, issue 3, pp 238-245
Australian Association of National Advertisers, ‘Code for Advertising & Marketing Communication to Children’ 2016, http://aana.com.au/content/uploads/2016/02/Advertising_Marketing_Comms_to_Children_Code_081215.pdf (Accessed 4 April 2016)