Ethical Issues of Advertising to Children
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Ethical Dilemma, Practices and Implications of Children Advertising
Creating outstanding products and programs to win marketplace is not an easy job. Specialists in marketing have to develop comprehensive research plans, carry out market researches, analyse the data collected and finally come up with marketing plans that target specific consumer segments. Finding out about human psychology, their preferences, choices and appeals are not only difficult but at times disappointingly inaccurate. Yet marketers today consider themselves experts in such endeavours, and are capable of achieving the almost impossible marketing objectives.
As if these aspects of marketing are not difficult enough, in modern-day marketing field there is a niche in which the marketers have to deal with children. The most difficult task is perhaps the determination of the choices and preferences of these fickle individuals who are still developing, absorbing the environment and learning to become like their adult counterparts. The task of marketing to children is not only daunting but also critical for many businesses such as Nike, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Disney, Pepsi, Sega,Kellogs and Mattel to name a few. These companies go through extensive research and consultancy to get to the untapped market of child consumers.
One such example is evident in Dan S. Cuff and Robert H. Reiner’s (1998) Youth Market Systems. According to the authors the development of outstanding products and programs to win children's marketplace is entirely different from the rest of the market segments. For this purpose they invent a marketing process called Youth Market Systems. The System ensures marketers consider all aspects of marketing to children or teens for any category of goods or services that companies want to sell.
There Isa great need for a system of analysis and interpretation as the authors feel that information pertaining to cognitive, emotional and social needs of age groups could transform the programs or product features that target them. Cuff and Reiner’s (1998) strategy merely opens window to the world of advertising to children. As one investigates the categories of products and services that are available to young children, one also tend to develop the consistent belief that children are a separate kind of consumer group and must be treated differently, from advertising to the designing of products.
All these efforts no doubt are valid and justified in their own place and position, however a niggling thought crosses the mind when one observes the various approaches and efforts that marketers adopt to reach out to the vulnerable youth consumer segment. There are reasons for these tactics. Cuff and Rehire record approximately $1 billion annual gross revenue for Mattel Incorporated that sells Barbie’s. There are others such as Garfield, He-Man, Cabbage Patch Kids, Power Rangers, LEGO, GI Joes and a myriad of upcoming products invading the market with the sole purpose to tap on these young consumers who are bound by childish emotions and penchant for toys and games. Schemes and strategies are being devised to win over these young consumers for high stakes amounting to billions of pounds.
What is more, advertising and marketing to children does not only involve the youngsters but their parents also. For example the Youth Market System identifies parents, grandparents and other close family members as the most influential on children’s purchasing decision. Exploring this group is critical because they are the ones who have control over the wallet and it is on them that children are dependent. The complexity in children marketing therefore lies in attracting both the youngsters and appealing to the parents. A winning formula must be developed to attract both the parents and children. The complexity of this formula makes success rate low which induces marketers to resort to all kinds of schemes and strategies to achieve their desired target, including crossing the line of ethics especially in the field of advertising of children related products (Cuff and Rehire 1998).
Scholars and parents alike feel that there are no avenues that advertisers and businesses will not exploit to reach to the young consumers. Exploitations through mental, moral and physical developments of children are common. The strategies to target children involve creation of wants to satisfy the impulse rather than actual needs.
For example consoles such as Mattel's Hot Wheels, and Barbie’s fashion collections are not really required by children but wants created by advertisers and marketing campaigns. Long term needs satisfaction has been replaced by short term needs. They are not the only ones exploited. Their parents are also plagued with different kinds of created needs for their children such as the wellbeing; status symbol; and their selfish need to have their child preoccupied with the multitude of products and free them from child responsibilities.
Statement of the Problem
These aspects portray not only the ugly but also the unethical sides of the world of advertising. How true are these aspects and to what extent do advertisers reach to capture their target consumers? Do they cross the borders of ethics or not to maximise gains from vulnerable consumer market? And what, if anything, should be done to control and ultimately restrict the freedom of advertising aimed at children are some of the areas that the following research will endeavour to enumerate.
Children have become the key target for many advertisers. Children are vulnerable, easy to exploit consumers and they perceive things as advertisers want them to perceive, or so many of us believe. Despite the fact that children are nowadays smart and knowledgeable of the marketplace nevertheless for many marketers they are relatively easy to target due to the sheer size of the children's consumer market. Advertisers thrive by earning billions of pounds with the backing and funding of the profit seeking organizations that hire them. These companies are not only producing goods that appeal to the children but they are also exploiting their parents.
The dual targeting approach makes this market segment attractive as well as representative of high yield for investment. For example in many regions of the world including the US, Europe and Japan, companies are investing billions so that they can capture and tap the youth market segment but at the same time they are also reaping billions in return. Advertisers and marketers are entrusted with the task to achieve sales targets by generating desired actions from the segment. The wide appeal has motivated many professionals to enter and adopt whatever means and measures to achieve their targets.
Ethical implications surpasses but few in the field of advertising that target children. For these reasons the authority, lobbyists and parents are demonstrating their concerns regarding the impact of media and advertising on children. The following literature review will first outline why and how children are targeted, followed by a review of the kind of ethical implications advertising and the media has on children. This will be followed by an exploration of the measures that are being taken to counteract the problem, if any.
Advertising to children has not been an issue until recently with the boom of the media. More and more parents are concerned about the legal controls that the authority levy on advertising criteria as most are concerned about the kind of tactics advertisers are using to influence children for the sake of maximizing their profits. For example Begot and Dottie (2004) note that pornography, cigarette and tobacco related, alcohol and other products prohibited for children are being promoted on television freely without restriction. Advertisement messages for these adult related products are tailored for adult consumption but due to the appeal of mass viewership and the higher profits, the advertisements are aired during children television primetime. As a result the advertisements expose children to contents that are not meant for them. Had that been the only case then the issue of advertisement would not have been so controversial.
Research suggest that children between the ages of 6 and 14 years old watch about 25 hours of television per week in the US and they are exposed to 20,000 commercials in a year (Moore and Lutz 2000).Children at this age are vulnerable because they are developing a sense to comprehend and evaluate messages in the environment. Stimulated messages on television not only have a harmful impact but they are also detrimental in persuading children to develop wants for products that are not meant for them.
According to Moore and Lutz (2000) "Beyond advertisements, children gain marketplace information from the products they encounter, advice from friends and relatives, and their own consumption experiences. Through consumption, children learn what products are good and bad, whether advertising claims are truthful, what brands they prefer, and even products that convey social meanings apart from their functional properties." For children the experiences that heighten their importance in their social circle and the adult world have the most meaning. They do not have the ability to counteract or check on the viability or the authenticity of the message initially when they are young as they are dependent on adults for explanatory information accessible only through print media.
By the time children grow to the teenage level the functionality of literacy diminishes tube replaced by their desire and need to fit in their social life. Without consideration for product usefulness or content, children develop wants for products beyond their pockets and reach.
Similarly, children are also exposed to advertisements for fashion products that are actually designed for adult consumers but they are often "condensed" to tailor to the younger audience with the purpose to include the young consumers in the marketing campaigns. For this reason children develop receptivity for fashion products without the required information for decision making. Moore and Lutz (2000) recognize the importance of children's advertising and its impact on young audience by revealing that children are receptive to advertising demonstrated in experiments of relation between ads and products. They write:
"Research investigating children's receptivity to television advertising has studied what children understand, under what circumstances they are persuaded, and how their responses evolve as they mature (e.g. Macklin 1987; Redder 1981). Drawing extensively on information processing and stage models, researchers have gained substantial insight into the development of children's cognitive skills and their deployment during ad processing." (Moore and Lutz 2000)
Their research indicates that children are at a stage where they are developing cognitive abilities. Advertisers vie on this susceptible developmental stage by targeting the "limited processors" of children that have not yet acquired efficient information processing strategies, a fact that may be reflected in their inability to distinguish between central and peripheral content in message learning." (Moore and Lutz2000). They further this idea by writing that at the stage of ages 8and 12 children are susceptible to information that are stimulated and that target the vulnerability of the strategic processors.
Because at this age group children tend to spontaneously employ efficient information storage and retrieval strategies. They organize and retrieve information based on available information and stimulus.
"Unless their knowledge of advertising is expressly activated by such acute, these children tend not to think critically or generate counterarguments spontaneously. They may also neglect to differentiate between central and peripheral content when learning new information. When there is an appropriate cue in their environment, however, they are likely to retrieve and use relevant information." (Moore and Lutz2000).
Therefore children may develop recognition mechanism on how advertising should be viewed but that is dependent on external factors like parental guide, government policies or other mediating channels. Evidence suggests that there is substantial amount of influence on this age group when they are not guided in the preliminary stages in understanding the intent of advertisements. Research reveals that significant guidelines must be levied before children rationale and deliberate on the content of advertisements shown on television.
“Advertising is thus implicitly accorded substantial power to shape children’s thinking until they acquire sufficient cognitive and attitudinal defences. (Moore and Lutz 2000).
Other than the cognitive development impressions on children, advertising also influence them to take actions. In a study by Smithland Wynyard (1982) on consumer behaviour and response towards product trials offer through advertisements suggests that "because consumers know that advertisers wish to present their brands in a favourable light, they react to ads by partially discounting claims and forming tentatively held brand beliefs and attitudes. In contrast when consumers have direct usage experience, they form stronger, more confidently held brand beliefs and attitudes. This phenomenon has been observed in a number of studies with adults" and may be consistent with the case of children.
The same expectations is held with regard to children advertising as researchers are of the opinion that with age, the capacity to form brand opinions tend to be more among older children. For example children of age groups 10 and 12, and 12 and 14year olds tend to tell the truth and more likely to be sceptical towards the institution of advertising rather than blindly accept advertisement claims.
According to Michel Begot and Barbara Dottie (2004) children advertising are dynamic and highly appealing. The authors are of the opinion that children are the key target for advertisers because brand preferences in this age group remain unchanged for a long time. Children remain loyal to the brands they are used to yet at the same time they have growing pockets to afford more expensive items as they grow older.
The above aspects indicate that children though are smart and knowledgeable to sceptically evaluate and experiment with products through advertisement claims they are also aware of the fact that these advertisers' claim may not be true. At this point it is arguable to note that some school of thoughts separate the vulnerable youngsters from the smart young consumers who have the cognitive ability to critically examine the advertisement claims and disregard them if not proven true. According to Robertson and Resister (1974) "if ads present information different from a child's actual experience, confusion may result and trust in advertising may be determined. Conversely, others suggest that until children actually experience discrepancies between products as advertised and as consumed, they are unable to fully comprehend advertising's persuasive intent."
For this reason Moore and Lutz (2000) claim that advertising use frames for product trials known as transformational advertising in which adult consumers are drawn towards the products prior to advertising exposures by asking them to participate in the process of experimenting and interacting with the product with the view to interpret, evaluate and subsequently form their experience impressions. The expectancy or discrepancy frame sets are formed for comparison of later product trials which help in determining discrepancies or consistencies of product qualities. Mooreland Lutz (2000) present the testing paradigm to show that rational consumers are clever in testing advertising claims of product performances. Testing paradigm enable them the opportunity to evaluate and form opinions. Children, on the other hand do not have the same reaction or taste for distinguishing discrepancy in the same manner.
On the other hand Ziegler (1996) believes that advertising and product trials have different effects on children's capacity to integrate multiple sources of information for consideration. Young children tend to engage in one-dimensional thinking pattern and rely on multiple dimensions for a given task. Integration is imperative for children because they are dependent on this integration processing of information for forming perceptual domains and consumer behaviour. When younger children are presented with information it is encoded and stored in the recesses of the mind, and whenever needed retrieve it for evaluation. Information integration is basically combining new information presented in the media with the old information, and comparing the two. Disparate media information result in discrepancy inexperience. This in turn results in loss of trust in advertisement messages.
Not all children however are wise enough to discriminate information. Moore and Lutz (2000) believe that age differences differentiate expectations and credibility of advertising. They write "Younger children have been found to hold more positive attitudes about advertising, to be more likely to believe its claims, and to be less likely to understand its essential purpose. Thus, among younger children advertising's credibility is not likely to arise as a concern, and they are likely to perceive both advertising and a product trial experience as believable sources of information." (Moore and Lutz2000). Clearly, this statement identifies with the fact that younger children are more susceptible to advertising and they are prone to take actions without critical evaluation. For older children advertisers may not integrate strong expectations about a brand and instead focus on the stronger results to generate confidence in product usage (Fazio1986).
Alternatively there are groups of advertisers who vie on the physical habits of children. For example one of the most invidious techniques is to use junk food in advertising for children. The use of celebrities to endorse these foods without any consideration for balanced diet or fitness is common in the industry. "In the UK the BBC which is funded by licence and tax payers, received around 32 million pounds in 2001for franchising its Tweenies’ characters to McDonald's - the Food Commission found that the Tweenies’ products were high in junk elements."
Despite this fact the UK government continues to allow brands such as Cadbury's to market its products and launch campaigns that have negative effects on the physical health of children. These efforts are designed to generate more profits and not the public interest. They are aware of the fact that the lack of exercise coupled with high calorie food result in obesity and other related diseases in children. The rate of obesity has doubled in the past 10 years from 8.5percent to 15 present among children under 16 years (The Lancet 2003).Yet advertisements continue to infiltrate the media and other channels with the objective to vie on children.
Children have long been recognized as the target market for many companies due to its economic potential. Recent estimates by Moore(2004) indicate that children and associated markets account for 24billion dollars of direct spending and it has an additional 500 billion dollars influence over family purchases. Children are considered to be potential gold mines for campaigners and advertisers alike. Television channels and the print media as well as companies are constantly engaged in complex "product placements, sales promotions, packaging design, public relations, and in-school marketing" activities with the view to reach out to children and their parents.
Given the time children spend in front of the television, on the Internet and media gadgets, marketers realize that children form a huge consumer base for “toys, breakfast cereals, candy and snacks" etc. For this purpose there are more and more commercials on television to induce buying preference and action. TV commercials especially are being developed to induce children to purchase and participate in programs promoting cars, fashion, cell phones and other such adult related products. According to Moore (2004) "At the root of the children's advertising debate is the question of children's unique vulnerabilities. Concerns about young children range from their inability to resist specific selling efforts to a fear that without benefit of well-developed critical thinking skills they may learn undesirable social values such as materialism”(Macklin, 1986 qt. Moore 2004).
Her view is also affirmed by Cuff Andrei her (1998) who indicate through their study that children are susceptible to advertisements because of the extensive measures and strategies adopted by the advertisers. Their study reveals that marketers devise winning formulas to gain the confidence of children by sending out messages that winning children are those who are associated with certain brands. These may be Barbie, He-Man, Teletubbies or Spider-Man. Identification and association are the keys to the winning formula.
The success rate of the winning formula depends on how deep an impact the product or brand has through the advertisements. These are developed based on the knowledge of the development of the mind of the growing consumers. The product leverage mix is formed based on qualities that are demanded by children such as characteristics of aero, power of a character and/or qualities of the product.
The product leverage matrix is a comprehensive model formed for analysing the needs and wants of the young consumers and a guide to allow marketers to have look at the bigger picture.
Once the matrix is determined the medium, concept, content, context, process, characters or personality, and attitude or style are established. Elements to be noted include: What is the psychological point of view of the target audience? What are the visual and verbal contents that will be used for the product? How marketers will form the context of the advertisements for the target audience and the kind of processes that will be involved to create an interface for interaction with the potential consumers? Character association or the use of personality to denote product quality is also common in the designing of the matrix etc. (Cuff and Rehire 1998).
The marketers are also aware that young children are intelligent individuals who exercise their developing cognitive abilities by associating qualities with certain images. For example Bugs Bunny is clever rabbit or Kellogg’s Pop Tarts are fruity flavoured etc. They are able to associate as well as distinguish between products and characteristics of the products. Identifying the points of difference from the children’s perspectives is critical but not impossible. Acuffand Rehire (1998) also note that these are assumptions that adults make regarding the preferences of children such as teens wanting more energy; identifying with hero athletes; wanting great taste or new product names. Yet at the same time they also warn the marketers that:
"...more often than not these assumptions are left unexamined as to veracity and strength. It's an important practice to check assumptions: check what the leverage actually is, and its relative power versus what has been assumed. More often than not, adults make erroneous assumptions about what kids perceive to be important and powerful because adults are looking at their product or program through adult eyes. It is critical to get at the actual leverage rather than the assumed leverage. With the above hypothetical Enerjuice example in mind, adults may be surprised when testing directly with kids' focus groups reveals that the new product's blue colour is its most powerful point of leverage and that the majority of kids tested dislike the new name." (Cuff and Rehire 1998).
The basic premise in such a condition is that marketers need to ensure they give promises and fulfil them too thereby gaining competitive advantage. This kind of positioning helps them to organize and categorize products in the mind of the targeted consumers. In the end however, the marketers must realize that it is the bigger picture that needs to be satisfied - that is product leverage matrix. At the centre of the matrix are the crucial elements that should not be neglected such as gender, stage, age, structure, dimension, style and past experience.
The consumers are at the end of this list and are the most powerful deciding factor that can make or break their products. They conclude that "Successful products and programs are those that satisfy their needs and wants in the short term (impulse) or in the long term. While a colourful and involving Tricks cereal package with a maze on the back provides for short-term needs satisfaction, Mattel's Hot Wheel scars year after year continue to provide young boys with something they need and want -- small, easily manipulability, colourful minibars that are fun and involving to play "cars" with (Vroom! Vroom!) And to accumulate and collect." (Cuff and Rehire 1998).
Children advertising have attracted legal, scholars and parental attention. Proponents of the children targeted marketing and advertising argue that the financial backing that children programs are getting derive from sponsors who make programs on television possible. Advertising to children are therefore motivated by profitability. Furthermore they also argue that these sponsors target a separate niche market of children of age group 12 and 14. Advertising provides them with product information and does not really provide stimulus as children in this age group are more like adults with their specific ideologies, attitudes and behaviours where preferences of products and services are concerned. They have been exposed to persuasive messages for a long time and can distinguish persuasive messages from empowering ones. Thus they are product and advertising savvy.
On the other hand opponents such as parents and consumer protection groups argue that advertising directed at children are not only unethical but they are also manipulative stimulants that promote consumerism in children from a very young age. Advertisements create wants and poor nutritional habits that induce children to pester parents for products that are harmful for them (Berger 1999). Their opinions have been affirmed by Cuff and Rehire (1997) who suggest that preschool children at two and three years old tend to identify with frequently seen images and therefore would be attracted towards spokes-character in advertising and marketing.
The desire to see these characters and related products they see on television, packaging and promotions induce demand for the same among children. According to DelVecchio (1998, p. 225), "The objective is to select an effective piece of advertising that will break through clutter, communicate the name of the brand, its key feature and benefit, and do so in a cool way that will elicit a child's request." Those advertisers are successful who successfully use innovation, meticulous marketing, planning and massive exposures in their key characters according to Schneider (1989).
The ethical dilemma enters the scenario when one refers to the degree and extent of the use of stimuli. Research indicates that spokes-characters use role play and features that would relate animated with human characters and thereby influence children's attitudes(Cheat et al 1992).
The issues surrounding the use of advertising characters to children stem from the fact that the characters are commoditized without consideration for its impact on the children. Without regulations, advertisers tend to deviate from the conventional use of these characters. They treat children and adult related products alike. That is perhaps the reason why Cross (2002) indicates that there has been a rise in restrictions on tobacco advertising during the 1990sto curb tobacco companies from targeting children by the use of spokes-characters in their advertising and marketing campaigns.
In this context advertisements have a deep ethical impact on the cognitive and development of growing children and the authority needs to recognize this fact. According to Redder (1981) children are vulnerable and fail to utilize cognitive plans for storing and retrieving information. The categorization of processing deficiencies stem from the child's inability to use the actual strategies and aids for storing information in the memory. Limited processing capabilities in young age group especially induce children to learn through memorization and are not capable of using tools for separating, segregating and processing information according to utility.
Instead they use information incidentally. Television uses fast pace visual graphics and audio-visual medium to influence pre-schoolers and around that age group. The effects become consistent when children are regularly exposed to these audio-visual images so that they become imprinted on the minds of the young children (Alit et al 1980).Animation and other stimulus have double impact on the information processors of children. As children become receptive to advertisements or images that are regularly shown they come to recognize it in their daily experiences.
Once the images are imprinted in the targeted group’s mind it is easy to generate brand recognition through triggering keys which may be in the form of visual or audio effects. Spokes-characters such cartoon characters have this essential effects on the children. "Studies have found that young children often discriminate between products on simple heuristic of whether one particular quality (which may include brand name or character) is present or not" (Rust and Hyatt 1991 qt.Neeley and Schumann 2004).
Another aspect of advertisements is that children tend to associate with the characters and brand that they prefer. Instilling a brand in children’s minds is easy when spokes-characters are used to define the qualities of the products. For example in Ban’s (1996) study four and five year olds proved to be receptive to product characteristics by inferring spokes-characters. Bah gives the example of cereal boxes. Boxes with cartoons are associated with sugary and sweet cereal meant “for kids" while those that do not have cartoons are bland and not sweet, and are meant for adults. This logic for cereal preferences and choices indicate that advertisements with their logos, characters and cartoons all have a great impact on the minds of young children in this age group.
While Ban’s example seem harmless whereby advertisers are merely using the characteristics and qualities of products to appeal to the young consumers, Fischer et all’s (1991) example raises ethical dilemma. In their study the researchers asked children ages three to six to identify logo brands with the appropriate product. They observe that children tend to associate the Old Joe character with cigarettes. This association has been developed through the inference of the Camel advertisements that uses Old Joe a cartoon character for brand personalization. Hence, the researchers conclude that regardless of the intentions of advertisers and marketers, the effects of advertising on children are inevitable.
Yet there are arguments against this view by psychologists such sapient (1929). This group of individuals are of the view that preoperational children between ages two and seven do not really process information logically or abstractly. They rely on processing strategies such as “transductive” to connect between thoughts and reasoning and therefore not susceptible to the underlying qualities. They may understand simple expressions of but have difficulty in associating it with product differentiation. Consequently Neely and Schumann (2004) write:
"While research findings show that young children can exhibit high levels of character/product recognition, association, and affect, the challenge arises when we assume that these early responses lead to product preference, intention, and choice. Recognition, association, and affect are manifestations of simpler cognitive processing abilities than preference, intention, and choice, and research supports the notion that these simple abilities would be present in children as young as two or three years old. More advanced cognitive abilities are required for the later behavioural stages of preference, intention, and choice because these responses require a child to position one item(e.g., brand/product) relative to others, something that a child may not be able to do until four or five years old, at the earliest. Therefore, we should expect to see inconsistency between attitude and preference in very young children."
This view is affirmed by Moore's (2004) who writes: "Among the most basic tenets of this research is that younger and older children differ both in terms of their general understanding of advertising's purposes well as in how they deploy this knowledge when responding to specific advertisements. To evaluate advertisements, children must acquire at least two key information processing skills. First, they must be able to distinguish between commercial and non-commercial content. Second, they must be able to recognize advertising’s persuasive intent and use this knowledge to interpret selling messages."
Nevertheless their views are pervasive based on the cognitive abilities of children whereas the reverse is also true. For example the attitudes and preferences of children are based on the knowledge they get from the environment and hence affect behavioural product choice through association, recognition and liking (Henke 1995). Even product familiarity and the elements of brand preferences are influential on children when they are constantly exposed to the same brand and image through the media.
The relational link between children and images is basically through the media that they frequently watch and experiences that consequently appeal to their knowledge processes and preferences if the advertisements are directional (Neely and Schumann 2004). Thus powerful voices and actions in spokes-characters are influential in young consumer reactions that may be negative or positive. Since children cannot distinguish between fantasy and real life so distinctively, they tend to take the qualities, the claims and the messages in advertisements for the truth and are greatly influenced by the persuasive approach.
Measures for counteracting unethical children advertising
To resolve, political lobbyists are aiming to formulate policies to restrict advertising to children. In the UK and EU especially the authority realizes that advertising to children not only affect their behaviours and attitudes but also may prove to be harmful to them in their development. The concern is that the broadcast media and other such mass media should not promote harmful advertisements to children. According to Stan brook (2002) "controversy arising from children's TV advertising occurs when the advertising is perceived as countering or resisting the moral, ethical or social values held by public opinion as generally interpreted by proactive interest groups or campaigners."
The campaigners need to explain why advertising to children in print or other non-broadcast media are harmful and why the restrictive regulations should be implemented or otherwise. The issue at hand is that the UK government has been showing leniency in its approach to restrictive policies as evidence in this statement by Janet Anderson(former UK Minister of State in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport) in a letter to the Advertising Association:
"... a ban on broadcast advertising to children ... would be at odds with our approach to the regulation of broadcast advertising which relies on effective systems and procedures overseen by both the industry and independent regulators to safeguard the public interest and to ensure that the mental, moral and physical development of children is not harmed." Thus in actuality there are no clear plans visible that the authority intends to levy strict regulations and restrictions on advertisement contents despite the fact that there is a degree of consensus within the UK on the issue.
Stan brook (2002) also notes the adverse effects of collateral action that are being taken to support the BBC. For example special channels on the BBC network have been created for children for specific age groups. This according to the moderator would reduce claims of exposure and objection to controversial advertising to children. But it must also be noted that commercial advertising can hardly be eluded by these measures. Funded by the public, programs and channels are paired with the object to reap revenues and without advertising to sponsor there would be no channels at all. For these reasons the government cannot eliminate advertising from the broadcast media as it is apprehensive of eradicating the profitability margin for the national broadcast network.
Stan brook (2002) notes that BBC channels have 10% market share for each of its channel. In the recent years the channel witnessed decreasing market share which results in a decrease in revenue amounting to 255 million pounds. Good quality children's programs and advertisement are not created from public funds but rather from the private sector and commercial television programs on the BBC. Levying restrictions means creating difficulties for the sponsors to enter the competitive market of two nationalised channels.
Furthermore, programs that are legitimate and in accordance to the required standards do not receive large budgets for production. And since children are considered to be niche audiences, their channels require even more funds for producing their programs. Unless the programs generate funds themselves, most programs on the television network rely on sponsors, which mean that they dictate the terms and the contents of programs, whether ethical or unethical. Losing such support means losing funding for the channels. Stan brook (2002) writes:
"Significantly, children's TV has actually become very lucrative. Thesis not in fact due to the advertising revenues: prices for prime time children’s TV in the UK are less than one-eighth of those for adult prime time. Children's programming, however, has increased enormously in the past ten years, apart from in countries where advertising to children has been banned." (Stan brook 2002). This is because children’s programming is treated as merchandise with a view to increase revenue from advertising alone. It is difficult to ban advertising when the merchandise is dependent on the commercial attraction. BBC World for example boast of 90 million pounds in the year 2000 for developing programs related to children programs including Teletubbies and Bob.
It’s a wonder that the interest of the national broadcast network and the authority remains faithful to advertisers and sponsors from where they get their funding. "The big bouncy clue to all this is that children’s advertising and banding, and therefore children's programming is a global and cross border business wherever and however the programming is located" writes Stan brook. From the national perspectives this not only provides important revenue but also the basis for UK's television network acceptability in other regions of the world which equates to more revenue.
Given the wide coverage of the BBC, there are only few laws for children advertising in countries in which the channels are broadcasted such as Japan, Korea, Australia or America. The attitudes of television producers also reflect this as Thomas Nilsson Director of Programming for TV4 in Sweden says "If we were not legally obliged to produce children’s programming we would produce none at all - it just isn’t commercially viable for us." for this reason it is difficult for the authority to levy strict rules and regulations that deals with children advertising for it would drive the funding out of children programming(Stan brook 2002).
Data collection techniques in research are often different depending on the nature and scope of the research work at hand. There are two schools of thought where the choice of research technique and methods involved is concerned. There are two broad methods namely quantitative and qualitative. According to Asia Pacific Management Forum (2000):
"Quantitative research deals in numbers logic and the objective, while qualitative research deals in words, images and the subjective. Quantitative research focuses on the left brain - objective, comfortable with logic, numbers, and unchanging static data and detailed, convergent reasoning rather than divergent reasoning."
On the other hand: "Qualitative research deals with the right brain -the hemisphere accountable for processing data as words, emotions, feelings, emotions, colour, and music." (Asia Pacific Management Forum2000).
Thus the quantitative research involves the use of numerical and objective values in research studies while the qualitative is more exploratory dealing with subjective matters. For some researchers the quantitative method has a higher preference and recognition because they believe that quantitative studies clearly identify the results in quantitative figures therefore undeniable. The response to questions, the answers to questionnaires, the number of participants and the percentage to certain categorizations give the results of the researching black and white.
Hamersley argues (qt. McBride and Schuster 1995) "In my view this distinction between natural and artificial settings is spurious. What happens in a school class or in a court of law, for example, is no more natural [or artificial] than what goes on in a social psychological laboratory." Hamersley and his school of thought researchers form their opinions based on the fact that the inferences surrounding research such as the environment, conditioning, variables, and theoretical framework may help to achieve the desired results but it is vague in achieving the quantitative objective. It is through quantitative research that provides strong evidence for research without having to resort to speculation. There is no generalization involved in this method.
Alternatively, there is qualitative research. According to (McBride and Schuster 1995):
"In qualitative research we seek to minimise the impact of our interventions [see triangulation below, for example] but also recognise that there are other ways in which we do intervene. This is not too much of a problem if we remember that we are not trying to create objective knowledge. Our knowledge is much softer. We cannot be certain that practical work will always make learning easier. We cannot prove that a pupil will respond positively to using a word processor. Yet we can have a pretty good idea that these maybe helpful to us in certain situations. More importantly we endeavour to 'build' theory from the ground of experience or practice. For qualitative researchers the context in which practice takes place has an important bearing upon that practice and research should be rooted accordingly."
For this reason it is essential that researchers explore the different situations that surround the problem and analyse it through a set process before coming to conclusions. McBride and Schuster (1995) also believe that qualitative research methodology are often adopted by natural science researchers such as exploratory research objectives concerning human behaviours, interpretation of human actions and patterns for deductive studies. The authors claim that different academics carry out pioneering work and attempt to describe new terms over old ones but it is the concept which has changed.
This only can be deduced from a framework of knowledge by observing change and problematical areas that induce change and using assumptions to set up boundaries for research. Although the authors refer to natural science but in this researcher's opinion the same can be applied in marketing studies as marketing also take a lot of references from the environment and its impact on human behaviour and consumption patterns. "By allowing theories to form through what people say and do, qualitative research cannot be easily accused of imposing its theories upon people. Equally by keeping detailed records of what is said and of what happens qualitative research does not reduce the complexity of social life to easily manipulated equations. Rather than skating on the surface of everyday life, its close contact and detailed recording allows the research to glimpse beneath the polished rhetoric, or the plausible deceits; it is able to take more time to focus upon the smaller yet powerful processes which other methods gloss over or ignore." (McBride and Schuster 1995). Thus for this reason the researcher has adopted the qualitative approach.
Qualitative approach to the study allows the researcher to explore the various claims and dimensions that are discussed in the literature review based on a framework of theories. Combining the two the researcher will able to critically analyse the validity of their hypothesis and how they apply to this research objectives.
Unlike the quantitative method, qualitative approach to research study usually sets up hypothesis that are subjective and attempts to test through a theoretical framework.
Given the above rationale the researcher also adds that qualitative research is carried through a literature review of primary and secondary resources. The choice of including secondary resources is with the view to include existing knowledge and information that would direct the researcher towards the right direction. It acts as a guide in finding the primary resources. These resources are generalized media such as magazines, online articles and newspapers.
On the other hand the researcher will base the framework on primary data.
Primary data include information generated from surveys, market data, interviews, focus groups and print media. From the print mediate researcher include books and peer reviewed articles in journals to solidify the theoretical framework for analysis purposes.
Thus, the combination of primary and secondary resources would help develop the required theoretical base for developing cogent hypothesis testing and conclusions for the current research on advertising to children and its ethical implications.
Drawing on the above discussion the researcher understands that information processing and developmental theories suggest that children understand commercial messages but it is under certain conditions that they are persuaded to respond. As they mature the response rate changes and they tend to have more information processing skills to differentiate the persuasive messages from that of specific advertisements; they learn how to evaluate advertisements on television and distinguish what is beneficial for them and what is not. Children of five are perceptive of the commercial and television programs; they may even distinguish that it is a funny or sad program.
However, the differentiation tendency is restricted by the developmental milestone. According to Macklin (1987) and other authors by eight years old, most children develop an initial understanding of advertising and what persuasiveness is. They are capable of distinguishing genuine concern over stimulants to a certain extent by comparing advertisements and consequently they are able to resist the appeal to purchase. Thus they develop cognitive and attitudinal defences (Moore 2004).
As children grow older their vulnerabilities to the media tend to decrease according to Bricks et al (1988) and their attitudinal and cognitive defences increase to protect their wellbeing and begin to develop sceptical attitudes. Children between ages eight and twelve especially are not susceptible to superficial advertisements but rather are more influenced by commercials explicitly designed to appeal the aesthetic needs and wants such as brand awareness and image.
Consequently, one observes that the existing market place is self regulated in which the government is undertaking special protection for the vulnerable audiences while at the same time the companies are adopting marketing strategies that match and appeal children’s cognitive abilities to break through their attitudinal defences. Sometimes however, some advertisers and marketers blur the line of advertisement and entertainment by creating a landscape of media that would influence children in a negative manner. By exploiting their psychology and susceptible behaviours, advertisers and marketers target children without consideration for consequences such as mental, moral and health impacts.
They tap into children's terrain such as games, food and penchant for information so that they could advertise products to create wants among children. For example children consumers are ready averages, internet and video games users. Marketers realizing this niche have targeted those between age group of 8 years and above to engage in cyber games and network games through the sponsored advertisers such as Nabiscoworld.com or McDonald.com. The purpose is to not only sell games but also to create a need for the products of these sponsors.
In the UK although few companies engage in entertainment-that-persuade programs nevertheless they too are deviant in exploiting children’s susceptibility to the media. As discussed in the literature review, companies tend to invade television air time on national television with the view to capture the young audience. The persuasive intent and the mode of communication namely verbal and audio to capture the attention of youngsters are common.
For each of the age group sponsors have dedicated certain type of advertisement messages designed to appeal and exploit children. Some argue that if advertisers do not use the air time to advertise and market children's product then there would be no children television programs.
Programs too have been designed with the purpose to relate the images with relative experiences of children since producers and marketers alike know through research that young audience's attention is best captured through drama, novelty or advertisements. Older children according to the above research tend to be more sceptic of the information they receive and evaluate while younger children are relatively vulnerable to audio and video effects.
For most of these younger groups ages 3 to 8 the most influential way of capturing their attention is through audio-visuals. They are, sanely and Schumann claim more receptive to advertisements and tend to receive information with the view to evaluate and compare. Among younger children this cognitive ability is limited to benefits, comparison and information storage but among older children the advertisements are sources for creating product awareness, determination of choices and decision influences.
However, it is also evident from the above review that receptivity does not necessarily mean that children will make the final choice and take action to purchase. In fact receptivity does not generate preferences according to some authors.
In Moore's (2004) study for example a survey through interviews taken of 60 children reveals that the younger children are more product-focussed while the older ones are more creative in dimensions.
Advertisements for younger children mean information about the brands and how these are relative to their real life experiences. This may range from preference for sugary cereal to power to influence others. Advertisements that lack personal interest lose the desired effectiveness on children and consequently do not generate the desired response.
On the other hand, among older children the perspective relates more to entertainment, brand information and how the products appeal to their lifestyles.
More like adults, the older children have a broader and richer view of life and therefore want more out of products than the young ones. "However, their perceptions were also often fraught with misconceptions. Reflecting their relative inexperience in the marketplace, some of the older children believed that ads are supposed to contain fictional elements, and as a result permits advertisers substantial creative license in what they say about their brands. Unless an advertiser was perceived as having grossly overstepped the line between exaggeration and deliberate deception, the children tended to characterize genuine problems as merely innocent mistakes or oversights." (Moore 2004). Moore is not the only one who considers children intelligent enough to distinguish details in advertisements and reject them if advertisements do not appeal to them.
Lindstrom and Seybold (2003) in their extensive and pervasive study of children’s behaviour identify motivational characteristics and incentives as some of the key driving behaviours among teens. Successful brands according to them are those that tap into the psychology of children who find collection value, gaming ability, technology savvy and mirror image more valuable and aspire to buy them. They also present the theoretical framework that children are not assume scholars believe susceptible to the media and unethical advertisements.
The fact of the matter is that today's children are already influenced by the media in more than the entertainment sector. They are the generation that belong to the digital media, love using credit cards and cannot live without their electronic gadgets. They would prefer text messaging instead of talking; watch more television than any other generations and rely on the internet for all kinds of information. Thus today's children are tech savvy and are also brand conscious.
Their wants and needs are already established and cannot really be influenced by advertisements on television.
Despite the indifference to advertisements, they are more brand conscious than anyone else and have a major influence over family purchases. Lind storm and Seybold quote 300 billion dollar as the market for this group of consumers. That is the reason why they believe that marketers and advertisers desperately want to exploit this young consumer market.
Lind storm and Seybold (2003) help the researcher to understand the views of Moore and Lutz (2004) why some advertisers have to resort to adult like logic to sell their products and services to a consumer market that is still under the teenage category.
As scholars analyse the behaviours of consumer susceptibility in terms of psychological and social backgrounds they will find that children are not as susceptible to the media as they perceive. As Lind storm and Seybold indicate that children are smart, not easily deceived; they learn how to weigh the benefits and the satisfaction from the claims. In this context advertisers are not so ethically wrong as compared to the claims many scholars make such as Stan brook (2002) and Neely and Schumann (2004).No doubt children process directional information and are influenced by the stimulants integrated in the messages but at the same time Piaget indicates they do not make decisions and preferences based on the advertisements alone.
They learn more about the products and through experiences, before they make the purchase decisions. It is becoming more frequent that children influence their parents in purchasing products, needs created by advertisements. This is truer among younger children as compared to older teens -the reason being that younger children still rely on additional information form parents for processing advertisement stimuli and messages as compared to older teens. They compare on the basis of experiences rather than on the basis of logic and individual cognitive abilities. Adults can greatly influence their reactions and responses to advertisements by guiding them in the right direction.
The above analysis implies that advertisement to young children is for informational purposes and to influence children in their information processing rather than in their purchasing choice. Even when advertisers adopt unethical methods and practices, they do not advertently direct children to purchase the products. They can only influence them. However, this does not mean that regulatory bodies neglect the impact of negative advertisements to children.
The authority in the UK for example is careful in determining the balance between the needs of the young consumers and the support for the business world. The authority also realizes that there is a difference between regulating air time and advertisement contents that influence children. Though the public claim that children television and sponsorships are unethical in their approaches in influencing children, the fact of the matter is that the sponsors actually convey information about their products within the limitations and parameters set by the government.
In this regard they do not employ unethical means. Furthermore, the contents of these ads are designed for younger audiences no doubt but they do nothing more than influence them to make informational choices rather than turn toward something negative.
As far as the claim of obesity, moral and mental health is concerned advertisement to children do at times induce harmful responses but it’s clear from the above discussion that these decisions are individualistic and result of their own preferences. There is no influence by the advertisements to children except for dissemination of information. Processing as indicated is within the power of the children rather than the advertisers or the parents since it is established that modern day children make up their own minds and create their own environment.
Consequently, the ethical implications that the researcher venture to investigate reveals that advertisements to children are not morally or ethically wrong as such given the fact that children today are more receptive and intelligent in their own way. Moore (2003) proves that they are intelligent and Lind storm and Seybold further this view that modern children are already influenced by the electronic media and technology that surround them. No external forces can really generate responses from them except for their own selves.
Summary and Conclusions
From the above analysis and literature review one can conclude that advertising to children has various dimensions to the problem. This ranges from ethical implications to the psychological impacts on children and how these are regulated.
From the research study the researcher found that advertising specifically aimed at children are designed to influence their choices and preferences. Marketers and advertisers adopt complex methodologies to create awareness and provide information regarding the products to their young audience.
The advertisers must resort to the media that has the most viewer ship that is the television. Since children today watch more television hours than their previous counterparts it is only prudent that advertisers sell products by buying airtime to reach out to their desired target market. There are several reasons why companies and the advertisers go to such length to reach to their consumers -firstly, because television provides the direct reach to children; secondly because the media is easy to access through purchase of airtime through sponsorship; and thirdly because children television channels need the funding from these sponsors to run. The advertisers are merely complying with their own needs. In the event that the children take action by influencing their parents to purchase brands that they want to have, advertisers have no direct influence.
Children of today are not only smart in making their own decisions but they are also receptive to the environment around them. Most have transcended from manual activities to technology based such as gaming, surfing and messaging. They learn more through the medium of the internet and television than from around them. They are more aware than scholars perceive them to be. In fact they are not susceptible to the environment around them but rather to the media through which they interact. Advertisers view this as their competitive advantage and tend to exploit through regular advertisements. More importantly these children also demonstrate characters and attitudes that are similar to adults. Consequently marketers adopt strategies that reflect those designed for adult advertisements. For these reasons it is imperative that regulations be present to monitor adult advertising that filtrate children related programs or advertisements designed for children.
The difficulty in accessing this untapped market motivate advertisers even more to deviate and take alternative courses and strategies to reach out to the young audience. This is where they cross the line between right and wrong. Children even though are smart enough to distinguish what is beneficial for them and what is not, do not have the cognitive ability to differentiate between the right and wrong unless they are extremely experienced. For this reason scholars and lobbyists are right in their views that businesses sometimes cross the ethical lines for monetary gains. Consequently, there is a need for regulatory body that monitors the content and approach of advertisements to children.
Ultimately, the authority that regulates these marketers and advertisers must realize that advertising is not about restriction but rather about freeing the choices of the consumers. It is about dissemination of information and creating awareness of the various choices that consumer have for their consumption. Children as young as three years old are not developed enough to have the cognitive ability to make the choice. What they are capable of is association through audio and visual effects. Marketers tend to exploit these behavioural aspects of young children to motivate them to influence parents purchase their desired products.
Alternately children grow and develop the ability to differentiate and distinguish between qualities and characteristics of products. At this stage they are more interested in how these can benefit them in their lives. Again advertisers use this aspect of their thirst for information to generate wants and needs that do not really satisfy them but do influence them when they make the purchase decisions with their parents.
And lastly as children grow older to teenage level they are intelligent and are able to distinguish between the products they want and those they don’t; the brand they prefer and those they reject; and the qualities that they seek and those they refuse. At this stage advertisers devise complex strategies as indicated by Cuff and Rehire(1998) to reach to the young audience by exploring every aspect of their lives before they come up with advertisements.
They reach the children at the emotional and aesthetic level rather than base their strategies on image, audio/video or information only. Thus as Shipley(2004) writes: “Advertising helps to raise awareness in a commercially competitive environment and encourages brand choice. But while it may encourage consumers to try something once, if the product or service is not good quality or doesn't deliver a consumer need, consumers will not come back for more.
In short, advertising cannot make consumers do things they don't want to do; it needs to work with consumer interest and desire.” Consumers young as they may be know the differences in advertising messages and will differentiate their choices when they gout in the market. Audio-visual effects do not really influence them.
Cuff, D. and Rehire, R. H. 1998, What Kids Buy and Why: The Psychology of Marketing to Kids. Free Press.
Asia Pacific Management Forum 2000, Quali
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