Advertisers often heavily target children. Why is this? Strasburger, Wilson, and Jordan (2014), authors of Children, Adolescents and the Media (2014) say that there are at least three reasons. The first is that American children have a great deal of their own money to spend (an estimated $42 billion). That money may be coming from their parents and grandparents for birthdays or holidays. Perhaps they are going to spend that money on the latest toys or the latest adver-game their peers are playing. The second is that youth in general influence their parents’ own consumer behaviors. For example, children may influence what car gets bought (minivan vs a sports car), where families go on vacation (kid friendly vs adults only), the type of food that gets eaten (fruits and vegetables vs junk food) and the location of where houses are purchased (based on the school system). The final reason is, “marketers recognize that the children of today represent adult consumers of tomorrow” (Strasburger, Wilson, & Jordan, 2014, p. 49). In other words, the goal of advertising is to get consumers to become loyal for life. Attracting child consumers creates an environment for them to be loyal to a brand over time. Youth consumers may associate that brand with memories of using that product; memories of happiness and satisfaction. For companies, this brand loyalty is their security for continued, regular consumption.
Lemish (2015) argues the “average child in the 1990s was watching about 130 commercials per day, 900 a week, 45,000 a year” (p. 116). That was over 25 years ago and children were viewing about 7.5 hours of commercials a week. Strasburger (2014) claims that today’s children view an estimated 40,000 food ads alone, per year. If children see the number of food advertisements that they used to see in all advertisements, shows that the number of advertisements children see is on the rise, as children have even easier access to commercials via their cell phones, tablets and laptops. Is there any escaping it? Advertisers mask their manipulation by using tactics that seem fun, happy and exciting to a child. Strasburger et al (2014) write, “marketers use sound effects, bright colors, jingles, animated characters and a variety of other production techniques to attract consumers” (p. 57). Advertising is designed to make all of us “feel dissatisfied with who we are and what we have obtained, materially and emotionally” (Lemish, 2015, p. 118). These tactics encourage people to continually buy products, toys, and food as a route to happiness. According to Nigel Holis in The Atlantic (2011), “Successful advertising rarely succeeds through argument or calls to action. Instead, it creates positive memories and feelings that influence our behavior over time to encourage us to buy something at a later date. No one likes to think that they are easily influenced.”
Does advertising fulfill its mission to sell more? According to Lemish (2015), “The overall conclusion from tens of studies is that it does” (p. 119). As Lemish (2015) argues, “we need to understand contemporary childhoods as commercial ones and thus analyze them in the broader cultural and historical contexts in which they exist” (p. 120). Childhood is complex and advertisers are savvy in their understanding and awareness of desire. They understand what is ‘in’ in terms of pop culture and what types of things make them happy. If we (as a society) understand contemporary childhood as advertisers do, we can get into the minds of children as well. Perhaps then, the truth in advertising can be shown.
Hollis, Nigel. “Why Good Advertising Works (Even When You Think It Doesn’t).” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 31 Aug. 2011, www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/08/why-good-advertising-works-even-when-you-think-it-doesnt/244252/.
Lemish, Dafna. Children and Media: A Global Perspective. John Wiley & Sons, 2015.
Strasburger, Victor C., Barbara J. Wilson, and Amy B. Jordan. Children, Adolescents, and the Media. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2014, Print.