Advertising to Children: Child’s Play?
Kids make up a considerable consumer group whose number and purchasing power are growing. In 1999, children ages 4 to 12 took in $31.3 billion in income from allowances, jobs, and gifts, and spent 92 percent of it, says James MacNeal, a market researcher who specializes in the children’s market. Today, children are influencing the family’s buying behavior for everything from cars to orange juice—up to $500 billion a year. Whether they’re spending their own money or asking their parents to spend theirs, marketing to kids is big business and it’s only getting bigger.
The benefits of reaching children are great. If won over now, they tend to be loyal customers into adulthood. Besides selling to children, advertisers also sell through children. Some companies believe they can sell more by appealing to children’s preferences than to those of adults. The minivan was created because children demanded more room, says MacNeal. When kids decided the vehicle was “uncool,” their opinions helped develop the SUV. Saturday morning cartoons are the traditional vehicle for ads promoting cereals, candy, and toys. But parents are asked to buy particular brands of vacuum cleaners and other household goods because their kids saw them advertised on TV. Marketers rely on kids’ “pester power” to get their products sold.
The dangers of marketing to kids from an ethical perspective are fairly clear: Children are the “vulnerable” market. They are less experienced. Their concepts of self, time, and money are immature. As a result, they know very little about their own desires, needs, and preferences—or how to use economic resources rationally to satisfy them. It is likely that child-oriented advertising can lead to false beliefs or highly improbable product expectations. Telling children about a product and accurately describing that product is probably ethical. Convincing them that they must have a toy to be popular with their friends is probably not. Nothing is likely to enrage parents and society-at-large more than the prospect of marketers manipulating and taking advantage of children.
Cereal is better if a fun character is selling it; so are beer and cigarettes as the Budweiser frogs and lizards and Joe Camel proved. In the United Kingdom, there was criticism over the use of TV characters such as the Simpsons and Teletubbies, as well as the Spice Girls, to sell snack foods high in fat, sugar, and salt. The junk food firms face a crackdown on the hard sell of products that can make children overweight and unhealthy.
Both critics and defenders agree that advertisers should not intentionally deceive children. Federal legislation has been introduced that would reimpose the 1974 guidelines limiting advertising on children’s programs. These guidelines deal with truth and accuracy.
The mood in several European countries is to tighten up children-and-advertising guidelines. Sweden has some of the strictest controls in Europe on children and advertising, banning all television advertisements aimed at children under 12. This ban includes advertisements on toys, foods, sweets, drinks, and any products that might appeal to preteens.
In the United States, the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (BBB) promotes responsible children’s advertising and responds to public concerns. The basic activity of CARU is the review and evaluation of child-directed advertising to help avoid deceptive messages. When children’s advertising is found to be misleading, inaccurate, or inconsistent with its guidelines, CARU seeks changes through the voluntary cooperation of advertisers. The BBB website at http://epi.bbb.org/council/for-businesses/national-partnerships/bbbs-industry-self-regulation-solutions/childrens-advertising-review-unit-caru-/ discusses CARU’s guidelines.
1. Do bans on marketing to children compromise a basic freedom of choice and speech? Whose responsibility is it to make sure children are not inappropriately influenced by advertising? Their parents? The government? Advertisers? How far should advertisers have to go to ensure that children are not misled by their ads?
2. Study the CARU guidelines and then watch the advertising on a children’s network or Saturday morning television. How well do you feel the advertisers are adhering to those guidelines?
Page 287EXHIBIT 11–11 This map of the area surrounding Columbus, Georgia, shows media planners which counties are included in the designated market area (DMA) and will be reached by advertising placed on the local television stations. Columbus, Georgia, is the 125th largest DMA in the United States and contains over 200,000 TV households.
Advertisers must decide when to air commercials and on which programs. Programs continue to run or are canceled depending on their ratings (percentage of the population watching). Ratings also vary with the time of day a program runs. Television time is divided into dayparts roughly as follows:
Viewing is highest during prime time (8 to 11 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time; 7 to 10 p.m. Central and Mountain Time). Late fringe ranks fairly high in most markets among adults, and daytime and early fringe tend to be viewed most heavily by women. To reach the greatest percentage of the advertiser’s target audience with optimal frequency, the media planner determines a daypart mix based on TV usage levels reported by the rating services.