Advertising Directed at Children: An Ethical Dilemma?

One basic concept in microeconomics courses concerning consumers explains how larger population means greater consumer demand, naturally. As population increases, so does demand, in direct proportions – supposedly. Hearing that, I wondered: are newborns, then, consumers from birth? Of course. They’re consuming… well, diapers, babyfood, and plushies for the most part. Are they a part of a business’s target market when advertising, too?

Maybe not as babies, but as children they are. One blog post on adliterate, a marketing blog, outlines the age-old argument: there is the pro-advertising-to-children side that attests advertising is ethical (it helps the business survive/make profit!), and the anti side that argues advertising takes advantage of a child’s innocence and naïveté about commercialism.

Who’s right? It’s hard to say – a given due to the debate’s subjectivity. It’s easy to see how a child would be considered a “mini-consumer”, but given how even psychologists argue that advertising and media exposure in general can have a large impact on such an influential crowd, it’s clear that some regulation is necessary. Although the consumer in me would demand that corporations not target children (after all, ads do horrible things like “perpetuate hateful stereotypes” and encourage theft, discrimination, and other things, right?!), the rational, pro-capitalist side knows that totally abolishing child-targeted advertising is a bit ridiculous. In the first place, advertising (in my opinion) is simply letting people know about previously unknown products. (Do the advertisements create unnecessary “wants” or “needs”? That is an entirely different matter.) Also, advertising in a way that encourages resistance to advertising, as is mentioned on adliterate, is counterproductive since it would only hurt businesses. Without businesses, how is the world to go round? Who’s going to fulfill  consumer needs?

In some ways it seems the jury will forever be out on whether it’s ethical/unethical to advertise to children, since the “appropriate age” at which businesses can start marketing to children has yet to be decided (and probably never will). At the very least, there seems to be a growing recent trend towards “ethical marketing”, with additional ‘responsible advertising to children’ websites and guidelines popping up everywhere (e.g. those posted by the EACA). Increased honesty in ads is, as far as I can see, already a huge step towards quieting the ongoing debate about the ethics of advertising to children – and advertising in general.

(Even without considering how dishonest or misleading ads (e.g. those cereal brands or cereal bar brands that advertise to children about their respective ‘amazing’ health benefits) are unethical when aimed specifically at children, I’d say misleading advertising is unethical when aimed at the general public, too! I know I won’t be swayed by fast food ads any time soon…)


One response to “Advertising Directed at Children: An Ethical Dilemma?

  1. Corporate social responsibility and ethics have posed a number of issues in marketing, as you will learn about later in the course. Great job discussing it and linking to so many external sources- try adding photos and video clips to future posts to add to your awesome ideas!

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