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It may be hard to believe, but in the United Kingdom alone, the preschool market is worth 4.3 billion pounds. Marketers are doing their best to target children at an early age, influencing them with advertising that promotes seemingly adult clothes, toys, music, magazines, materialism, and lifestyle habits.

Children recognize brand names far more often than most people expect; the average 10-year-old is aware of approximately 300–400 brands, 20 times the number of birds in the wild that he or she can name. Advertising agencies appear to be turning children into “brand junkies,” desperate for products that are not particularly age appropriate—doll sets now include toy champagne glasses, and children’s underwear features lacy decorations.

The American Psychological Association considers these advertising practices unethical. Some advertising agencies even employ full-time child psychologists to manipulate the thoughts and desires of children, as well as their ability to convince their parents. In recognition of these influences, Sweden makes it illegal to air commercials before, during, or after a children’s program and fully illegal to target any children under the age of 12 years.

But advertising agencies continue to manipulate both children and their parents. A junk food product targeted toward children might hide its high fat content by focusing on its benefits. For example, advertisers market Coco Pops Straws as a great way to get children to drink milk—even though it is through a chocolate straw equivalent to eating a Kit-Kat for breakfast.

Irresponsible advertising has a long history of misleading consumers about products. Targeting children with similar tactics enhances its unethical status, because not only does it involve children in commercial capitalism at a very early age, but it also encourages them to manipulate their parents into buying products that often are inappropriate. This focus on materialism may never go away, but advertising agencies need to find a balance that does not harm children.

Discussion Questions:

1. What are some ethical concerns associated with marketing to children?

2. What role does branding have when it comes to children?

“Are Children Turning into Brand Junkies?” Western Morning News, December 15, 2006.