Advertising to children and teens is a big business. Even young children have their own disposable income, and it increases as they become teens. As every parent can attest, children are relentless in their zeal to persuade parents to make purchases based on ads they've seen. While some countries have taken steps to ban all advertising to children, the U.S. takes the approach that parents bear most of the responsibility for monitoring their children's use of media and discussing proper choices with them.
Advertising to children works because children are so easy to influence. Yet that's where the ethical issues begin. Children aren't mature enough to know advertisers are marketing to them. With much of the world still new to them, they want to try all of it. Therefore, when children see an ad for a new toy or food, they want to try it. Advertisers know, too, that children will exert considerable influence on their parents and can be unrelenting in doing so. When both children and parents are most vulnerable -- such as in the grocery store, when they are tired and hungry -- the child's fervent pleas often result in the parent buying some items.
Children tend to want nearly every advertised product because they often don't understand the difference between what's real and what's pretend. When an ad shows a toy accomplishing an amazing feat, they think it will do that after they buy it. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under age 8 don't understand the idea of selling. Even after that age, gaining the maturity to be able to make informed decisions is a slow process. For this reason, the advertising industry established the Children's Advertising Review Unit to review advertising directed at children under 12. CARU often requests that advertisers modify or discontinue ads that could mislead children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that the amount and types of advertising directed at children and adolescents may promote choices that contribute to obesity, poor nutrition and cigarette and alcohol use. Cigarette smoking, in particular, may be influenced more by advertising than by having peers who smoke. According to the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, fast food television advertising to children ages 2 to 11 increased 34 percent from 2003 to 2009 and 39 percent for teens 12 to 17. Meanwhile, 84 percent of parents report taking their children to a fast food restaurant at least once a week.
Advertisers are increasingly marketing their products to children through other media in addition to television. Knowing how much children and teens now use the Internet and social media, advertisers reach out to them there through banner ads on sites they frequently use. Tie-ins between products and movies, kids clubs attached to popular shows, celebrity endorsements and contests are increasingly used. Along with monitoring television and print ads, CARU also monitors electronic media advertising, promotions and sweepstakes.