Advertising, children, and Adolescents

As we all know and probably get tired of hearing is how TV, especially advertisements, are making American children obese.   Well, that’s not the only mark that television is leaving on our youth.   Apparently a large amount of exposure is leading to nutritional problems as well as bad habit, according to Pediatrics: Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, about 40,000 commercials are exposed to children a year. (“Children, Adolescents, and Advertising”)  There are a number of already obvious problems in society that are derived from television, one being ones children complaining for toys or cloths and begging and screaming in the stores if they get denied their request.  We’ve all heard it, especially around Christmas time.  The child asks their parent for something they probably saw on television and keeps asking and asking, then starts screaming and crying (especially if they have got away with this tactic before).  Before long the parent starts to get embarrassed, annoyed or angry with the child and eventually gives into what the fuss was caused over.  It doesn’t help that ads are now being pushed or rather “pop-up’d” in children’s faces as they scan the internet. This number is also steadily increasing as the internet enters its Web 3.0 era, where related or branched sites and ads are proposed on the side of the screen when searching for an item or bit of information. For example Facebook now has ads or “likes” on the right side of the screen that pertain to previous “likes” on one’s profile.  If you “like” buttery popcorn, brands of popcorn or popcorn seasoning start showing up on the side.   This could eventually lead to children being particular or even self-conscious of what they do or eat, leading to large problems in the long run.

Studies show that a child cannot fully understand the persuasive technique of advertising, most of these ads also pertain[n to just a one-man-band sort of toy.  This type of toy can ultimately lead to deficient creativity, causing an era of pre-mature adults.   Another form of unwanted footprint that is left of the surface of our youth is the ideal exterior body or facial look.   Today there are Disney Princess articles on stock, to be more precise there are close to 40,000 items roaming the shelving units looking for eager girls to admire them. (“The Problems”)    This message of ideal perfection is damaging to the minds of our young people and giving them ideas that they will never be good enough if they don’t have a certain brand of shoes or cloths or the right style of hair.  “Ads sell us more than items they sell us images, concepts of love and sexuality and above all normalcy.” Jean Kilbourne says in her Media Education Foundation production; Killing Us Softly 4 Even supermodels are not as “super” as their photos.  These photos are so touched up that the model doesn’t even look like her/him-self really is. Kilbourne goes on to say that young girls feel comfortable with themselves until they reach their teen years then they hit a “wall,” because of the stress that is put on looking beautiful, and a major reaction to this wall is eating disorders. (Kilbourne, Jean)

Television spends over $ 17 billion per year, that’s double what it was less than ten years ago.  The kids that marketing and advertising firms are spending all this money on is paying off. Apparently $150 billion of parents’ money is being spent on these children. Showing that children now have immense amount of control over their parents spending, all this leading back to the ads they saw of television or in other accessible archives. (Lagorio, Christine.) I believe this high dollar spending budget is due to a child having higher standards on what they wear, eat, write with, or even listen too.  All this eventually leading to the influences around them creating even a desire for more, and ads are in high supply.  I initiate that parents should be the filters to tell their kids that it’s alright not to follow the norm or popularity of certain things and just be themselves.  That it’s not a contest, everyone bleeds red, everyone’s heart beats, so who says we have to change these colors or speed to stay within our click? I think parents should be a model for their children to follow not the TV.

As we begin to wrap up our controversial topic, we ask ourselves, “How does this apply to us college students perfectly in between the influential stage and the parent consumer stage?”, “We’ve lived through this issue by only experiencing the influential, adolescent part, but does that make us qualified to make an evaluation of both sides?”, “Would simply telling the advertising production companies to quit such habits really help the situation?” I will attempt to answer these before engaging you in your own critical thinking in order to form an opinion unique only to you.

“How does this apply to us?” Well, as much as we’d hate to admit it, our 18-24 age group and ‘single’ demographic are still children at heart. Old habits die hard. The same advertising strategies, no matter how simple or complex, that appealed to our individualities as children still appeal to us as ‘pre- to middle-lifers’. Although the child in us is intrigued by the product and advertisement, the adult handling money within us is dealing with the influence on ourselves to buy that specific product. Although the product may be different, the principle is still the same. Then, by using this argument we no longer are “in-betweens”, but we are the whole situation, playing both sides of the fence. We intrinsically are playing both roles in the argument. This is only one way that this issue “applies to us”.

Another way is more extrinsically, not because we may soon be playing ONLY the adult consumer part of the equation, but because of the ‘trickle-down effect’, or absence of. Let’s follow the money’s viewpoint. Fast-forward through the situation to the child kicking and screaming in the store. The adult finally gives in grabs the somehow-exciting Saucy-O’s and heads to the cash register with her other items. Adult Guardian pays Clerk Money-Handler and Adult Guardian leaves store with Now-Smiling Child holding Somehow-Not-As-Exciting-In-Hand-As-On-TV Saucy-O’s. But the money is what I want to follow. A portion of what Adult Guardian paid will go to the store’s funds, but not quite enough as an individual sale to call it ‘profit’. Most of that money will go to the general whole-sale company acting as the middle man in-between the store and the individual company (let’s say the company is Saucy’s). Then much money is thrown towards Saucy’s for even supplying the general whole-sale store with their product, Saucy-O’s, in the first place. Then the money is distributed within the company to pay the employees and to the outside of the company for the electricity, water, etc… Everything left over from these payments is pure profit for the company; Cold hard cash is put in their wallet to be re-spent on more convincing advertising and marketing. Although the trickle-down money through the economy is more of a drip-down, slowly making its way back to us through those employees and electric companies, we really have no benefit from the situation in its entirety except through the empty-calorie Saucy-O’s being distributed. In today’s world, multi-tasking for individuals and whole companies isn’t just valued; it IS a value, shown through production companies also being environmental-friendly, major distributing companies putting part of their profits up for college students and families in need, and ‘walking and chewing gum at the same time’ now becoming an expected ability. In conclusion to the long explanation, the situation applies to us because it doesn’t benefit us.

The second statement made earlier, questioning our qualifications for making a decision in such a quandary, can be answered with a simple, “Yes.” We are qualified to be involved and considered in this ordeal because we are a part of the consumerism in this society and by living in a country valuing democracy, it is very much our role to voice our very own opinions. But it is not to be done without research, critical thinking, and consideration for all parties involved.

The third and last question approached above asks, “Would simply telling the advertising production companies to quit such habits really help the situation?” Let me answer this in another situational manner.  Men, you’re going to the home improvement store to buy flooring. Women, you’re going to the local shoe store for some new pumps. Both sexes arrive at their desired locations and begin talking to the salesperson asking about quality, quantity, what-have-you. The salesperson discretely says to you, “Well, the quality you’re looking for won’t be satisfied from this store,” and the clerk begins to give you directions to where you’ll really find the quality you’re wanting. Is the salesperson right for going against his/her company, or is he/she right for valuing your desires and giving you what you asked for, even though you may not be satisfied with the product? It’s an ethical dilemma that I find these companies deal with on a more grandiose scale. One cannot demand or ask another, “Stop making money,” only to follow up with, “because it’s making me mad.” Instead, these companies CAN be asked to improve upon what they sell, since how they sell it is already, obviously, ‘up-to-speed’. Instead, let’s reroute our way of a solution by asking these companies to advertise something with a true nutritional benefit and not a product with empty calories sugar-coated with frosting. Let’s challenge these companies by saying, “Ok, if you can advertise and sell so great as a company, let’s see you sell the unsellable.” Let’s not cut ourselves short by simply telling these companies to “Stop Advertising”; Let’s tell them what the real issue is and say, “Stop Advertising Crap!”

As we have been through this issue’s description, analysis, interpretation, and evaluation, it’s time for the engagement. No, I’m not proposing with a ring, but instead, with a question, “What do you think?” Don’t decide overnight, but take a couple days with it. As you shop at your grocery store, ask yourself, “What seems really bright and exciting right now that I’m not necessarily shopping for?” Age yourself down and hyper your inner conscious voice asking, “What do I want, what do I want, what do I want?!” Look over the nutritional facts of those products you choose. Let the controversy as a whole play out and mull over in the cranium of yours and decide an opinion. Then, voice those opinions. It’s never too late to have a say in how we live.  This engagement is more of an intrinsic one, asking you to simply pick a side of the fence, because it’s the ones sitting atop the fence that get knocked over the easiest.









Works Cited

“Children, Adolescents, and Advertising.” Pediatrics. Web. 28 July 2011. <;.


Kilbourne, Jean. “Killing Us Softly 4 Advertising’s Image of Women.” Media Education Foundation | Educational Videos for Teaching Media Literacy and Media Studies, Featuring Sut Jhally, Jean Kilbourne, Jackson Katz & More. Web. 28 July 2011. <;.


Lagorio, Christine. “Resources: Marketing To Kids – CBS News.” Breaking News Headlines: Business, Entertainment & World News – CBS News. Web. 28 July 2011. <;.


“The Problems with Mass Marketing Aimed at Children.” Dangerous Intersection. Web. 28 July 2011. <;.


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2 Responses to Advertising, children, and Adolescents

  1. rabovaird80 says:

    What do you mean with the “one-man-band sort of toy”? It’s not all that concrete an example, so I was struggling to think about how it can lead to deficient creativity, and then pre-mature adults? A creative kid will use his/her imagination to enjoy any sort of toy.
    When you talk about the “ideal perfection,” a question popped into my mind. What is the difference between the ideal perfection of the Disney princess and the realm of fantasy and dreams – the little girl pretending to be a princess, etc.? I always thought that the idea of the Disney princess (and Aladdin, Simba, and Pocahontas) drew from classic archetypes of various heroes. Disney doesn’t push the ideal perfection near as much as Barbie does, and it doesn’t come close to comparing with print media ads in magazines.
    You said that because parents are spending $150 billion annually on their children, this means that the children have control over their parents’ spending. Does this figure consider the amount of money spent on children by the grandparents? My wife’s parents have done their fair share of trying to stimulate the economy with all the stuff they’ve bought our kids these last two and a half years. How much of that figure is based on daycare, food, sports, etc.?
    One thing to consider is that our children are in a difficult position. You talked about the parents being models for children, not the television, but kids these days are being born to parents who have grown up in an ad-rich world. You could argue that the 20-somethings who are starting families have been saturated with ads from television, magazines, etc. from an early age, and while these parents may be trying to set an example, they may also be acting in a way that is directly influenced by the ads of the previous generation.
    When you presented the scenario of the Saucy-Os and the parents buying them, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Isn’t this the way consumer economics is supposed to work?” What is wrong with the scenario you’re presenting? Ads and marketing are a necessary part of the business model. Without those two, the product doesn’t sell. Without profit, the business is a bust. They need to market their product. When you make a speech or write an essay, you need to know your audience / reader, otherwise the message is lost or misunderstood. When a company tries to make a profit, they need to know to whom they’re aiming their product. At some point, the consumer needs to be held accountable to his/her purchases. We have laws in place that are intended to protect the consumer, but when it comes down to it, if you buy Saucy’Os because your kid is throwing a fit in the store, it’s not the advertising but the parenting that enables the problems with consumption. You’re right on the spot regarding the money that is being brought in by the company as profit and how in turn it is used. That money goes somewhere; it’s not that the employees or anyone who owns a share in that profit just sits on it. They spend it – and our parents, grandparents, or even our own businesses may be on the receiving end of that consumer exchange.
    Ultimately, it is the company’s choice to what they sell. The purpose of the business and the ensuing marketing schemes is to make a profit. You discussed the challenge of selling the unsellable, but it’s not an effective argument to make against an entrepreneur. If the unsellable is too risky or simply unprofitable, common business sense dictates that the business should avoid that route. Why involve the business at all? The consumer should just say, “Stop advertising crap,” and refuse to buy the product. Better yet, boycott it and air your opinions against it. Let people, the fellow consumers, make their own decisions. The company will adapt or die.

    • vegavin says:

      What I was saying about the Saucy-O’s, ( I’m not very great at getting my point across in writing ), is that the companies that are producing these products aren’t doing it right, for lack of better terms. If your company is selling “crap”, why not also provide some sort of tangible benefit to the people falling for your “crap”? Have a Saucy-O scholarship fund that you give out every year. Use a new, innovative tree-saving way to print your labels. What I should’ve said, I guess, is that if your product of “crap” that I’m buying doesn’t provide any real benefit to me and my family, then let me also see you do something valuable, beneficial, with the money I’m providing you to the society falling for your ‘wicked games’.

      “The company will adapt or die.” I like that. I think I may use that in conversation pieces for years to come. Thank you. 🙂

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