Children present a prime target of the advertising industry, as they are perceived as naive and easily susceptible to persuasive techniques, unaware of advertising’s intentions to sell a product prior to the age of 7 or 8.
Television reflects one of the largest opportunities to impact a child’s mind with advertising ploys, as it is estimated that children in America are exposed to about 20,000 to 40,000 commercials each year and possibly 360,000 television ads throughout their educational career until the time that they graduate from high school. As television has become an excessive and daily routine for many children in today’s society, it is overwhelming to comprehend the intangible exposure of children to commercials, exhibiting a strong and prominent influence in their lives from an early age.
Over half of all ads targeting children market food alone, and a study surveying Saturday morning children’s programming cited in “Advertisers View Teens as Marketing Opportunities,” discovered that these ads primarily showcase fast food restaurants and junk foods high in sugars and fats. Observing that its greatest emphasis was placed on sugary breakfast cereals, with no ads endorsing fruits or vegetables, advertising is seen as greatly promoting unhealthy eating habits for children. Intrigued by cartoon characters and surrounded by omnipresent displays of snack and junk foods, the child audience is overexposed to ideas endorsing unhealthy behaviors, possibly contributing to harmful habits and childhood obesity.
A recent report by the US General Accounting Office (GAO) reveals the growing use of advertising in public school environments, also discovered to focus primarily on unhealthy foods endorsed by the schools. The GAO report revealed the shocking amount of direct advertising in schools such as “soft drink, fast food, or snack food corporate logos on athletic scoreboards, sponsorship banners in gyms, ads in school newspapers and yearbooks, free textbook covers with ads, and screen-saver ads on school computers for branded foods and beverages.”
The use of cartoon characters and interactive websites to attract children
The advertising market takes advantage of schools’ continuous search for financial aid and assistance, along with their quality of possessing a mandatory, closed environment serving as a vital aspect of every child’s life. Some US marketing companies, such as Cover Concepts, are specifically designed to target schools alone, distributing free sponsored materials to children such as textbook covers, bookmarks, or posters branded with company logos and advertisements.
As Internet access and usage by children continues to rapidly expand, new advertising techniques have emerged including company websites offering games, quizzes, and other interactive opportunities for children. Many of these websites use interactive activities to lure children into participating in games that feature products or merchandise, or utilize cartoon characters embodying or representing a specific company. Children are attracted and deceived by websites perceived as merely fun and designed for their sole entertainment, while their whole basis of existence is actually to advertise for a company or a product. Vulnerable and easily enticed by games, toys, prizes, and cartoon characters, children represent the ultimate marketing target for advertising.