Advertising to Children and Social Responsibility

Advertising is a device by which “artificial” tastes are created. Advertising is one of numerous elements that influence a consumer’s spending decisions. Because advertising is available to all who would sell a product or service, no single message can possibly dominate our attention.

This applies as much to decisions between kinds of products as to different brands of a particular product. Recent years, the main problem highlighted by many critics is lack of social responsibility issues and unfair practices used by advertising towards children. Many advertisers just exploit children forcing them to ‘want’ and ‘need’ a product.

Social responsibility is a major subject of concern and action for all but the smallest or least aware of companies. Today it is generally accepted that business firms have social responsibilities that extend well beyond what in the past was commonly referred to simply as the business economic function.

In general, social responsibility means total compliance with international and national laws and regulations, moral and ethical standards and procedures under which the company operates. In the article, Preston (2005) claims that many company “ Children over the age of seven appear to be equipped to deal with advertising, are not naive about advertising, and are actually quite cynical about its truthfulness” (p. 63).

Thus, children may respond differently to certain types of advertising appeals than concrete or formal operational level children. At a formal operational level, persuasive intent is more likely to be a discounting cue in processing fear stimuli.

The use of emotion attribution theory in the study of advertising may also lead to a better understanding of such topics as information processing, motivation, and the issue of high versus low involvement (Pettersson and Fjellstrom 2006).

To the extent that an advertising model or spokesperson is genuinely emotionally involved or moved, the consumer’s emotional response to the advertisement may be enhanced. For instance, the Disney campaigns (2007) persuade young consumers to buy new toys and products such as Club Penguin or Energizer bunny.

After all, it is through just such communication of genuine emotions that advertisements may succeed in making significant statements having high social value. It would seem that the portrayal of genuine and appealing emotional expressions of children participating in activities such as those provided by such a center might be especially valuable in assisting parents to choose an appropriate caretaker to whom they can safely entrust their children.

The preceding discussion of emotional responses to advertisements suggests a second issue that consumer psychology might well find of value to address: the extent to which facial stimuli arouse emotional responses (Moore, 2004).

The impact of advertising on children is based on persuasion so viewers can learn about products and their attributes, form positive images about the products, and then consume them. Second, social learning theory suggests that the behaviors seen in commercials can be modeled.

Third, cognitive developmental theory predicts that children can understand the advertising process, learn about commercials, and eventually be able to resist their persuasive tactics. Children who watch more television are also more likely to ask for the products they see advertised, although this decreases with age. The information given by children about purchase requests was generally substantiated by their mothers.

In addition to specifically influencing what products children want, ask for, and eat, commercials also provide information about life-styles and things that may be good or bad for them. For example, the scores of commercials about food have an important impact upon children’s knowledge of nutrition.

The studies revealed that the children’s exposure to television food advertising influenced their diets by increasing the number of snacks and decreasing nutrient efficiency. The overall influence of food advertising on children’s diets was very small and would only be harmful to those children who, for other reasons were not well nourished.

The main cons of advertising for children are manipulation of their wants and needs, and creation of false needs and desires. In addition, children are not able to process or fully understand the information presented. For this reason, advertisers should pay a special attention to social responsibility issues and possible impact on children.

There are no ‘pros’ of advertising for children except increased profits received by manufacturers of products and brand recognition (Bhatia and Munshi n.d.). The main problem is that many marketer use images and heroes from favorite cartoons to persuade children to buy products and manipulate their consciousness.

For instance, images of the Simpsons and Tom and Jerry, Batman, Superman are widely used by confectionary marketers (M&M, the Candyman brand) to attract attention of young viewers (Bhatia and Munshi n.d.).

In the children’s area, they are concerned especially with Saturday morning shows and claim that young children are unable to distinguish between the television program content and the commercial where they are deluged with commercials by cereal, “junk food,” and toy manufacturers.

In recent years a new concern has been expressed by various groups and organizations; this area of concern is where the cartoon show is based on existing toys and games (Barlovic, 2006). Following unfair practices, advertising serves three basic purposes for marketers.

“Making unhealthy food attractive to children by labeling it as ‘fun food’ can be discussed from an ethical point of view, as child obesity is increasing in the Western world” (Pettersson and Fjellstrom, 2008, p. 15).

First, it makes the children aware of products; second, it informs the consumer of the characteristics of the product in a manner that will make the children purchase the item; and third, it is hoped by the seller that the advertising and the quality of the product itself will make the customer insist on demanding that particular product by name (Domine, 2007).

Some people criticize that the massive advertising often required to achieve children product awareness and acceptance produces unnecessarily high prices; others claim that in the long run it reduces prices through competition, advertising costs per item because of increased volume, and cost of production per item because of economics of scale (Pettersson and Fjellstrom 2006).

There are many arguments that can be presented to justify why a company should and must get involved in and support social responsibility; however, Today, to a greater extent than ever before, most people support companies becoming involved in social responsibility.

Many reasons are given for these positive positions being held today. The question is not really whether a company should become involved in social responsibility activity, but rather how deeply a company should become involved in social responsibility activity (Domine, 2007). Every company most certainly must obey all social responsibility-oriented laws and requirements.

They must also have a minimum code of morals and ethics to which all of their employees must agree and adhere; otherwise, each employee will establish and operate under his or her own standards to the possible detriment of the company and society as a whole (Dens et al 2007).

Emotional advertisements directed on children contain invariably nonverbal elements, including colors, sound effects, music, and visual imagery. It serves the role of stimuli and are of particular interest because of their potential to evoke pleasant feelings that the advertiser hopes will become associated with the brand being advertised (Preston 2005).

It is not uncommon for the candy bar to remain at a fixed price while the actual size increases or decreases in response to ingredient price. In many cases, “parents feel they are being pressurized by advertisers through the medium of their children, and they very often experience this as an assault upon their finances and patience” (Preston, 2005, p. 64).

This notion of a response is then interpreted as implicating overt behavior change as the output of conditioned learning. Seeking effects for conditioning treatments simply in terms of overt behavior change is likely to prove too limiting for advertising research and is, in fact, unnecessary (Pettersson and Fjellstrom 2006).

In sum, advertising directed on children should be regulated and introduced in compliance with ethical norms. Stringent enforcement of such a policy must develop at the highest levels and be supported all the way down the organization.

Internal enforcement action should be immediate, not simply a reaction to external discovery and prosecution. Closely related to legal compliance are moral and ethical standards. Political contributions, bribery, and other acts of conduct illegal in this country may not be illegal in other parts of the world.

They fall into this category, as do areas such as proprietary information, product misrepresentation, disparagement, premature disclosures, acquiring or divulging confidential information, certain gifts and entertainment, and conflicts of interest. In many cases, children’s behavior is controlled by stimuli encountered in the environment; thus, they adopt the perspective that satisfactory explanation must link behavior to the external environment.

To deal with areas that may be considered technically legal but, in the eyes of American Management, improper or unethical, companies must develop and disseminate explicit policies that are rigidly and expeditiously enforced if broken. Children are a special audience which should be protected from exploitation and manipulation by markets and advertisers.


  1. Barlovic, I. (2006). Obesity, advertising to kids, and social marketing, Young Consumers. Quarter 3. pp. 26-34.
  2. Bhatia, K., Munshi, Sh. n.d. Marketing to Children in the Information Age. 
  3. Dens, N., Pelsmacker, P., Eagle, L. (2007). Parental attitudes towards advertising to children and restrictive mediation of children’s television viewing in Belgium. Young Consumer. 8, pp. 7-18.
  4. Domine, V. (2007). Commerce in US schools: four dominant perspectives. Society and Business Review, 2, 1, pp. 98-120.
  5. Moore, E. S. (2004). Children and the Changing World of Advertising. Journal of Business Ethics; 52, 2; pp. 161-167.
  6. Pettersson, A., Fjellstrom, Ch. (2006). Responsible marketing to children and their families. Young Consumers. Quarter 3, pp. 13-18.
  7. Preston, Ch. (2005). Advertising to children and social responsibility. Young Consumers. Quarter 5, 61-67.

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