Who’s Getting Your Kids’ Attention?

Children, Consumer protection, Education, Family/Kids, Money, Politics

Over a year ago, new regulations for food advertising toward kids were introduced in the United States. Companies including Kraft, Kellogg, Nestle, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo were asked to self-refulate themselves in a government-mandated attempt to cut a child obesity rate that’s almost tripled in the past three decades. Sadly, University of Arizona Professor Dale Kunkel said months later that  72.5 percent of foods in TV ads directed at kids still ranked in the poorest of nutritional categories.

Kids Don’t Know They’re Being Manipulated

Advertising should be banned on kids’ TV programming, according to British developmental psychology researcher Mark Blades, Ph.D.  Because children are more impressionable than adults, Blades says, advertisers aim for them. “In the United States, children spend $30 billion annually and directly influence an additional $250 billion in family spending,” he said. “Advertisers aim for children because they want to establish tastes and preferences that will last a lifetime.”

Blades conducted a research project where he asked a group of six-year-olds to explain the purpose of advertising, giving them four choices. Thirty-one percent chose “don’t know;” 33 percent said “for a break;” 36 percent said “for information;” not one child chose the option, “to persuade.”

Show Me the Money

While many psychologists and health experts lobby for less advertising, business owners and underfunded schools alike can’t help but find it all too tempting. Facebook will most likely increase their revenue fantastically should they open up membership to kids under 13, due to an inevitable increase in profit from mobile ads. Nine states currently allow advertising on school buses, and 11 more are considering it—and it doesn’t appear that junk food is off the advertising menu.

We may be able to trust some companies to fight for our kids, although it may be a losing battle. Dish Network’s ad-skipping DVR can keep kids from watching ads about junk food and alcohol, but the feature may be too good to be true, as many broadcasters are suing Dish over the feature.

Disney has recently promised to phase out junk food ads on its kid channels, web sites, and radio stations. While some sugary cereals and some debatably healthy foods may still be advertised, we applaud Disney for making a step in the right direction.

How Do Advertisers Get Away with It?

Advertising was granted First Amendment protection in the 1970s, as the government decided that commercial speech deserved protection since it provided valuable information to the consumer (price and product features, for instance). Sadly, something designed to better inform the consumer has been twisted to advance the rights of corporations to manipulate the consumer into buying their product.  The  “Central Hudson” test, used since the 1980s, says that ads can’t portray something illegal and can’t be “inherently misleading.” The problem with kids’ advertisements is that, while an ad might not seem obviously misleading to adults (i.e., healthy-looking kids eating sugary cereals and giant burgers: obviously not realistic), kids don’t recognize what is unrealistic, and might actually be led to believe that a magical cartoon character is going to jump out of the cereal box.