Young children are the most vulnerable sector of our society. They can’t tell the different between marketing and entertainment, and sadly many companies use that to their advantage.

Why do advertisers target children?

What do you call a consumer who wants to buy everything you have, doesn’t care what it costs and is less than five feet tall? A child. “Get them hooked while they’re young” is the motto of many companies worldwide. If you can get a child addicted to a product before they reach puberty, it is sure to stay with them throughout their life.

According to the YTV Kids and Tweens Report, kids influence:

• Breakfast choices (97% of the time) and lunch choices (95% of the time).
• Where to go for casual family meals (98% of the time) (with 34% of kids always having a say on the choice of casual restaurant).
• Clothing purchases (95% of the time).
• Software purchases (76% of the time) and computer purchases (60% of the time).
• Family entertainment choices (98% of the time) and family trips and excursions (94% of the time).

Is it any surprise then that companies want to target their marketing efforts at children? “We’re relying on the kid to pester the mom to buy the product, rather than going straight to the mom.”
Barbara A. Martino, Advertising Executive

How to advertisers market to children?

There’s direct and indirect forms of advertising. Direct forms usually come on the form of TV adverts in between kids TV shows. They often show toys, games and sugary foods.

However, it is the indirect advertising that plays with the child’s mind, because they can’t always tell that it’s part of a marketing strategy. This can be as simple as seeing someone eating cereal in the morning (the shape the cereal can remind them of certain brands) or a character on TV saying that it’s “cool” to have a certain item.

More and more children and teenagers are active on social media these days, and even through what may seem like a harmless following of a celebrity, they can get exposed to advertising. Famous people can get paid up to 10,000$ to discreetly tweet about their product, which may not feel like an advertisement to most people, but the seeds gets planted if it’s said by a celebrity.

Why is this a problem?

About 50% of ads directed at children are selling candy, sugary cereal or fast food. It’s no wonder why 1/3 of American children are obese. We wonder where our kids get their bad habits from, but we don’t always suspect that their favourite TV show may be planting seeds into their heads that it’s ok to eat cookies for breakfast.

Some 30 years ago, it was even ok to market things like cigarettes to children, with slogans like “I remember momma and poppa” and a picture of a young boy holding a packet of Chesterfield. Marlboro was especially active in child marketing, with posters of babies and indirect advertising in cartoons like The Flintstones.

What can be done about it!

As a marketing consultant myself, I take care in choosing to work with clients who’s work I believe in. I think it is our role to advise companies against offensive or potentially damaging advertising aimed at children.

If you are a parent, perhaps it’s important to explain the concept behind marketing to your children from a young age, so they begin to see the difference between ads and entertainment. Limiting TV time or blocking ad’s on your computer may also help. Encourage your kids to play more outside instead of looking at their phones all day. See if they can pick up a hobby or sports of some kind, they may thus be less inclined to spent time in front of the screen.