Academic journal article Journal of Politics and Law

Children and Persuasive Advertising: Drawing the Line between Peripheral and Informative TV Commercials

Academic journal article Journal of Politics and Law

Children and Persuasive Advertising: Drawing the Line between Peripheral and Informative TV Commercials

Article excerpt


With a goal of revealing the unique vulnerability of children in the face of advertisers' targeting efforts, we revisit the philosophical and legal frameworks underlying the regulation of commercial speech that targets children. In doing so, we reexamine the rationale behind the constitutional protection of advertising within the context of children's information processing patterns and the manipulative nature of persuasive speech. We argue that some of the fundamental assumptions that underlie the protection of commercial speech lack validity when applied to children surrounded by today's technologically advanced marketplace. We further argue that in regulating persuasive advertising, government should be given more leeway than it currently has under the Central Hudson test. Moreover, we believe that targeting children with persuasive messages should be proscribed on the grounds of being misleading under the Federal Trade Commission's standard for deceptive commercial speech.

Keywords: advertising, regulation, children, government, marketing, philosophy, ethics

1. Introduction

Each year, more than two billion of advertising funds are invested in targeting children (Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, 2006). In a given year, children spend about 600 hours more in front of the TV than they spend in the classroom. Fifty three percent of children aged 2-18 years have a TV set in their bedrooms (Walter, Schwartz, Angelini, & Rideout, 2007). They are exposed to at least one hour of commercial for every five hours of programs. As a result, by the age of 21, they see about one million television commercials. Heavy television viewing has clear purchasing implications. Children of four years old and under influence about 190 billion dollars in family purchases. In 2000 alone, children aged four spent over 29 billion of their own money on a variety of goods, including toys, candies, and CD's. Moreover, studies have shown that the amount of television viewing was a major predictor of the frequency of children's product-purchase requests (Bakir & Vitell, 2010). The extended and frequent exposure to advertising, among other things, increases children's sense of materialism, which, in turn, leads to higher rates of emotional problems, fewer friends, and poorer grades (Levine, 2007).

Recent decades of telecommunication history have been characterized by rapid technological advancements and sophistication of marketing technologies. Industrialization, increased competition, and need for product differentiation made television switch its focus from mass audiences to niche markets (Collins, 2008; Kolish & Enright, 2010). As Sheehan points out, with a constrained channel capacity, television programming aimed at children was limited in amount (2004). The new multi-channel era, on the other hand, is characterized by abundant national program services directed primarily at children (e.g. ABC Family, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel). These channels supply ample child-oriented advertising messages, including commercial segments, product sponsorships and placement. Moreover, an increasing number of advertising and media planning agencies rely on child psychologists who draw upon the principles of developmental and cognitive psychology to cultivate favorable attitudes toward advertised products and to make children influence their parents to purchase these products (Morgan, Fairchild, Phillips, Stewart, & Hunter, 2009). Kids as Customers: A Handbook of Marketing to Children, What Kids Buy and Why: The Psychology of Marketing to Kids, and Creating Ever-Cool: A Marketer's Guide to a Kid's Heart are examples of scholarship that has been developed and applied to effectively target children.

With increasing consumerism of our society and the children becoming a lucrative target and a rapidly growing market for advertisers, it seems important to revisit the legal grounds on which marketers develop and execute their persuasive advertising campaigns. …

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