Stay Tuned: The Exploitation Of Children In Television Advertisements


Across America in the homes of the rich, the not-so-rich, and in
poverty-stricken homes and tenements, as well as in schools and businesses,
sits advertisers\' mass marketing tool, the television, usurping freedoms from
children and their parents and changing American culture. Virtually an entire
nation has surrendered itself wholesale to a medium for selling. Advertisers,
within the constraints of the law, use their thirty-second commercials to
target America\'s youth to be the decision-makers, convincing their parents to
buy the advertised toys, foods, drinks, clothes, and other products. Inherent
in this targeting, especially of the very young, are the advertisers;
fostering the youth\'s loyalty to brands, creating among the children a loss of
individuality and self-sufficiency, denying them the ability to explore and
create but instead often encouraging poor health habits. The children
demanding advertiser\'s products are influencing economic hardships in many
families today. These children, targeted by advertisers, are so vulnerable to
trickery, are so mentally and emotionally unable to understand reality because
they lack the cognitive reasoning skills needed to be skeptical of
advertisements. Children spend thousands of hours captivated by various
advertising tactics and do not understand their subtleties. Though advertisers
in America\'s free enterprise system are regulated because of societal pressures,
they also are protected in their rights under freedom of expression to unfairly
target America\'s youth in order to sell to their parents, regardless of the very
young\'s inability to recognize the art of persuasion.
In the free enterprise system, the advertiser\'s role is to persuade
consumers to buy their products/services. They are given a product/service and
are required to use their best creative effort to make this product desirable
to the intended audience (Krugman 37). Because of this calculated and what
many deem as manipulative way of enticing the target audience, the advertising
industry is charged with several ethical breeches, which focus on a lack of
societal responsibility (Treise 59). Child Advocacy groups and concerned
parents, among others, question the ethicality of advertising claims and
appeals that are directed towards vulnerable groups in particular, children
(Bush 31).
The fundamental criticism is that children are an unfair market. The
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates the advertising industry to ensure
consumers\' protection from false or misleading information. The question many
assert is should the government be allowed to monitor what is legitimate simply
because some do not approve (Hernandez 34). This question requires value
judgments that can only be answered through constructing public policy (Kunkel
58). Most people in society recognize that television advertising directed
towards children is excessive, manipulative and takes unfair advantage of
children (Kunkel 60).
In a recent survey from the researcher, it was documented that 80% of
adults with children wanted governmental regulation to protect children from
television advertising (See Appendix 1). Research in the social science fields
such as psychology and communication documents how the child interprets a given
television advertisement. Findings indicate for one, the majority of children
up to age five "experience difficulty distinguishing perceptually between
programs and commercials" (Kunkel 62). It is noted that children at this
young age tend to treat all television content as a unidimensional type of
message. For instance, child viewers do not begin to discriminate between
fantasy or reality dimensions of television content at the most basic levels
until grade school. Advertisers compound this issue by using perceptual
similarities in program content and commercial content which adds to the
difficulty children already have in distinguishing between the two variables.
Secondly, the study substantiates that, "A substantial proportion of children,
particularly those below age eight, express little or no comprehension of the
persuasive intent of commercials" (Kunkel 63). This is a crucial argument in
regards to the legality of unfair advertising. Children eight and younger are
an unfair market, for they do not understand the intent of the advertisement.
For the child to recognize and appreciate the persuasive intent of television
advertising, he/she would be able to identify the following characteristics:
"the source of the advertisement has perspectives and interests other than
those of the receiver, the source intends to persuade, persuasive messages are
biased, and biased messages demand different interpretive strategies than do
unbiased messages" (Kunkel 64). Thirdly, research has found "younger children
who are unaware of the persuasive intent of television advertising tend to
express greater belief in commercials and a higher frequency of purchase
requests" (Kunkel 64). Children are an unfair market in this regard because
they simply do not understand the commercial claim may be exaggerated and
biased. The child often does not understand that when he/she gets the product ,
it may not be as spectacular as it was made out to be