Advertisers Cash In On Children

Although marketing to children has been going on for decades, advertisers now have the advantage of marketing to children through digital platforms.

By Jaime Fontaine and Gracie Ingraham, Worcester State University

With recent advances in the digital age, marketers have redirected their focus towards children. Children have become accustomed to defining the fast paced generation, immune to the vast media content they are constantly subjected to. Because advertisements foster dissatisfaction as a means toward consumption, children are especially vulnerable. Although marketing to children has been going on for decades, advertisers now have the advantage of marketing to children through digital platforms. The internet has become a vital part of youth culture, persistently exposing them to thousands of advertisements in a single sitting. It is reported that more than two-thirds of all Internet sites designed for children and adolescents use advertising as their primary revenue stream (Story & French, 2004). Companies build brand loyalties by generating appealing, interactive environments based on products and brand names in the hopes of “owning” the child so that they remain loyal to the company when they grow up to become consumers themselves. Advertisers spend millions of dollars each year, conducting research to find the most effective methods that will ensure maximum profits for their company. The Centre for Media Education studied 38 children’s sites, and it found that 90% of websites collected personal information from children and 40% used incentives such as free gifts and competitions to encourage children to give that information (MediaSmarts, n.d.). Many scholars believe constant subliminal advertising to children is a brainwashing method to secure the success of their company or corporation, without considering for the greater good of the children.

The proliferation of media in children’s everyday lives now allows the extension of marketing beyond television. The marketing platforms in the digital age encompass cell phones, video games, and virtual communities on the Internet. As a whole, these new media fundamentally reconstruct the ways companies sell to youths. Cell phones are one of the biggest platforms for marketing to young people. Corporations directly target cell phone users based on what they have recently bought and where they are located. They use this data and send electronic coupons to young people to encourage them to make immediate purchases. For instance, McDonald’s mobile marketing campaign urged young people to text a special number to receive an instant electronic coupon for a free McFlurry. McDonald’s also encouraged teens and children to download free cellphone wallpaper and ringtones featuring new music. Video games are another way major corporations reach children. Game advertising or “game-vertising” is a strategy that combines product placement and viral marketing to forge ongoing relationships between brands and individual games (Chester & Montgomery, 2008, p. 15).

According to Sandra L. Calvert, a Princeton scholar who addresses the various notions that go along with advertising and marketing to children, “the effects of advertising and marketing depend on the attention the child pay to the advertisement, how well they remember the content and how well they comprehend the advertiser’s intent” (Calvert, 2008). Given the knowledge companies obtain from the research on marketing to children, new approaches continue to emerge to entice the next promising consumers.

It is no secret that the marketing to children in the digital generation continues to be a pressing issue in the United States and around the world. So the question is, how do we cope with this? What are some ways we can prevent advertisements from affecting younger generations? The best answer is media education. Media literacy education is essential in our digital age. With children surrounded by television, computer programs, and other media outlets, it is important for them to be made aware of the consequences that emerge from too much media. Media education needs to be introduced to school systems at the earliest levels of education. As author Elaine Young explains, “By taking the time to set the proper foundation early on, students, teachers, and parents will be better able to fully embrace the benefits of media, find the right balance for consuming and participating in digital culture, and stay humanly connected in a digital age” (Young, 2016, p. 91). By introducing media literacy to children at a young age, they will grow up to be media literate individuals equipped to critique all aspects of the media.


Bender, S. (n.d.). Marketing to Children. Retrieved November 23, 2016, from

Calvert, S. L. (2008). Children as Consumers: Advertising and Marketing. In The Future Of Children  (pp. 1-30).

Chester, J. & Montgomery, K. (2008, July/August). No Escape: Marketing to Kids in the Digital Age. 11-16.

How Marketers Target Kids. (n.d.). Retrieved November 23, 2016, from

Linn, S. 2015. Why Are Kids So Vulnerable To Marking. Retrieved November 23, 2016, from https://youtube.Fg82W4VVcLA

Story, M., & French, S. (2004). Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act International Journal of

            Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 1(1), 3. doi:10.1186/1479-5868-1-3

Young, E. (2016). Parenting the Connected Generation. In J. Frechette & R. Williams

(Eds.), Media Education for a Digital Generation (pp. 81-91). New York, NY: Routledge.

Student Authors:

Jaime Fontaine, Department of Communication, Worcester State University

Gracie Ingraham, Department of Communication, Worcester State University

Faculty Evaluator & Editor: Dr. Julie Frechette, Professor and Chair, Department of Communication, Worcester State University.

Pop Culture and Social MovementsStudent News

Julie Frechette, PhD, is Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication at Worcester State University, Worcester, MA. She is the co-editor of the book Media Education for a Digital Generation, as well as the book, Developing Media Literacy in Cyberspace. She serves as co-president of the Action Coalition for Media Education (ACME).
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