Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Are Children Really Being Targeted?

Yes, children everywhere are being targeted by marketing and advertising initiatives. With the advent of new and emerging platforms, there are even more chances for their messages to be heard. Advertising relies upon our visual perceptions and hopes to make an emotional connection . It’s not difficult to understand the influence visuals and emerging media have on an adult audience; however, did you know the same is true for society’s youth? In fact, 87% of the most popular children’s websites include some type of advertising. From the time a child awakes, to the time they go to bed (similar to adults), they are overwhelmed with advertising. Unfortunately, most of the advertising they see forces them into decisions they can’t quite understand. In fact, in regards to healthy choices, advertisers are getting smarter about pushing unhealthy foods and drinks to young children, regardless of many health and online restrictions. The percentage of children between the ages of 6–11 in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012. In a battle against this epidemic, parents, teachers, and caregivers have the overwhelming task of keeping up with today’s changing media landscape.  But how exactly is emerging or new media affecting children?
Today, children are exposed to more advertising than any previous generation. Children between the ages 2-8, spend nearly two hours a day with screen media. Furthermore, 60% of 9-16 year olds go online daily, while 66% of 3-5 year olds can play basic online games . The exposure of new media channels for children is increasing every day. With the advent of social media, mobile devices, and online video sharing platforms, children are literally swarmed with choices, and the visuals help make the content even more appealing.
Advertising is everywhere and there’s no escaping it! As brands continue to compete for our attention, there are growing concerns about the effects of this form of marketing on a child’s physical and mental health. When searching online (with or without a parent) children naturally filter and use visuals, such as color or pattern to further engage with content; therefore, even if unhealthy choices are made to look “healthy” the child is persuaded because of the visual aesthetic quality of the product. With traditional media, parents, teachers, and caregivers could monitor television time, but as the global shift becomes increasingly digital so do marketing tactics. As the focus shifts to online, nutrition and child advocates are beginning to focus their attention to the important differences between food marketing in traditional media and food marketing in digital media. Brands want children to ‘pester’ their parents for the newest snack, regardless if they understand why. Researchers have expressed that children under 7 cannot understand or tell the difference between advertising and entertainment, making them even more vulnerable to advertising attacks. In addition, as mentioned earlier, children are highly persuaded by visuals, and of course cartoon characters.
As the American Academy of Pediatrics (2010) suggests, children significantly preferred the taste of foods that had popular cartoon characters on the packaging, compared to the same foods without popular cartoon characters. While this may be traditional media , e-commerce is increasingly allowing children (especially older) to browse online and be persuaded to try their product. In fact, studies have shown that the appearance of a cartoon character with a product can significantly alter a child’s perception of the product. Unfortunately, younger children are more likely to believe that advertisements are truthful than older children causing even more questions and concerns for those trying to live a healthy lifestyle. Regardless of the contents, on numerous occasions and studies, children have mostly chosen packages with cartoon characters on them.  In a study published in the journal of Pediatrics (2010), 40 children (ages 4 to 6) were presented with samples of graham crackers, gummy fruit snacks, and baby carrots, and while each pair of sample foods were identical, the chosen packages had cartoon stickers on them. Of course, this is the traditional way to persuade children, but what are some emerging ways?
Online advertising for children is oftentimes interactive (voting for a favorite flavor, advergaming, etc.), it is immersive in that the child is surrounded and the lines between advertising and other content is blurred. Like all brands, marketers need to follow their audience. In the changing media landscape, the Internet  brings their audience to them eliminating the need to search. Advergaming is one of the biggest content catchers for marketers to use on children. Advergames can provide a highly entertaining brand experience that is unachievable with traditional media. Utilizing a games appeal to lure children in, is just one of the many tactics employed by brands. As Anna Almendrala (2013) of the Huffington Post states,” Advergames, which engage children over longer periods of time than a typical 30-second TV spot, could be even more effective than commercials at exposing young minds to brand names or types of food.” Unfortunately, while the focus has been primarily on television, parents, teachers, and caregivers need to be more alert than ever if they are to help protect their child from being the target of marketers.


All hope is not lost! Helping children understand how advertising works can help protect them from being exploited, and like anything, if you start young it can be very influential. Sadly, unhealthy choices will be made to look healthy, and brands will continue to market extensively to children, even those as young as two. While regulations are in place, it may get even more blurred as the media landscape changes. While there are adblockers and other methods for limiting advertisements, it’s important to discuss the reasoning behind advertising to help children understand the real motives.
What are your suggestions, tips, or tricks, for explaining advertising to children on digital mediums?


About the Author:
Marianne Jenkins is the graphic designer for Choosy Kids. She is multitalented and has skills in graphics design, photography, videography, web based technology, and integrated marketing. She graduated from Fairmont State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Graphics Technology with a minor in Communications and will graduate from West Virginia University with a Master's degree in IMC this spring (2016). The aforementioned article was originally published as part of a blog-project at WVU. 

35 comments :

  1. I totally give in to a lot of it. If having their favorite character on something will help get my kids to eat it - I am all for it.

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    1. Exactly why we want to get Choosy out there more. Choosy promotes healthy eating so if Choosy is a child's favorite character and they see him on food, then surely they will eat it, right?!

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  2. The marketing today that is directed to the kids has taken things to a whole new level. My kids seem to like the commericals more than the shows they are watching :)

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    1. Isn't that the truth?! And even on children's programming, the "commercials" are little shows with advertising wrapped in one.

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  3. I agree that kids are targeted. My kiddo is no different, but I think I finally got him to stop asking for every last thing.

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    1. Haha that is too funny. Must be an age thing, or so we hope?

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  4. Hey Marianne,

    Advertising practices are a challenge. When you say children under 7 can't distinguish between advertising and entertainment, I get caught up myself. Tricky advertisers are flogging their products in the most entertaining of ways.

    Targeting children is certainly a great business tool but tough on the parents. I suppose that is the aim. Big subject.

    Rachel

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    1. Yes, big subject. And I agree that it has its pros and cons. There is a time and place for it.

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  5. Advertising has a huge impact on kids and it's really something that we can try to explain to them instead of just going with the flow. It would take a lot of convincing, but it's worth it.

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    1. You are right, it is worth it! Thanks for stopping by!

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  6. This is such an important discussion in this day and age. You really can't get away from advertisements but you can educate and prepare your kids for them.

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    1. Yes, education is key, just like when it comes to healthy eating, exercise and brushing your teeth. Someone has to teach you to do those things, so someone has to teach you about ads.

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  7. Kids & Adult Advertisement has an impact on they're buying decision. Lets be Honest the ads are more entertaining most of the time.

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    1. And most of the time they are more entertaining for the kids than the parents...so much so that sometimes the product gets lost.

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  8. I am not sure that I would explain advertising to my son per se. I was a communications major undergrad and grad and now work in marketing, so I know it happens. It's crazy how we can zero in on things and how color, packaging and more can impact our buying habits.

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    1. Right there with you on this. It would be hard to explain this to a child, but it is worth a shot. Maybe a conversation about where money comes from and how companies try to get you to spend your money might be the way to start. Just thinking out loud!

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  9. i agree advertising is everywhere. i see it to my daughter telling me new toys or foods available in the market and where to buy it haha although she only use her tablet during weekends

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    1. Isn't it amazing how fast they pick up on those things?

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  10. When my kids were growing up, marketing wasn't as bad as it is today but it was there. If they saw a cereal with something cute on it, they wanted it, and so on.

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    1. Yup...but now days, it is literally everywhere because technology is on the go with us.

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  11. I am beginning to struggle with this as my son is start to enjoy cartoons and associate products with his favorite characters. I am try to minimize screen time, and as he begins to understand the idea of advertising it will definitely be something we discuss.

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    1. Glad that you have a plan in place!!

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  12. Marketing to children...that is a whole new level. My grandson is only 4 years old and he's already asking for stuff he's seen on TV and online. There are toys and games I've never heard of and he knows about them.

    Sad.

    Thanks for sharing this Christine. :)

    Cori

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    1. Hi Cori! Isn't it just insane how quickly they pick up on things? I want to buy this, and that, yet they don't have a sense of cost. They just know they WANT it!

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  13. I totally agree. Kids nowadays are targeted. Way too much!

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    1. And there are guidelines out there, but of course they are always pushing the limits.

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  14. Truly enjoyed this post. This is why we do not have any channels on our TV. We checkout movies from the library and we love it this way. We are a homeschool family so we are pretty busy doing and learning so many other things throughout the day that we don't have time to watch television. We also watch lots of documentary videos and our children know how unhealthy fast foods are. We have decided not to go to any this past few months. I think talking to your children is so important. Plus we have budget enforced so they know they can't buy just anything and that we won't buy them everything. :)

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    1. Thank you for your comment. I am glad to hear from a homeschool family as I (Marianne) was also homeschooled. I'd love to hear more about your homeschool experiences! Email me at info@choosykids.com

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  15. I'm sure my son would love it, it's really awesome.

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    1. Thanks! Choosy is a good character...he means well!

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  16. This would be perfect for my nephew.

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  17. It seems like it would be in the general interest of the public to keep children safe. Of course that is not always the case, esp. w/advertising.

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  18. We are definitely very involved in all media our kids digest, but unfortunately they are still being targeted. We have had discussions with our oldest about things she sees on TV and immediately wants. Usually after talking through the ad with her she realizes that it's not all it's cracked up to be. Great post!

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  19. We carefully monitor what our kids are exposed to. Admittedly, it's easy now because they're so small.

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