Marketing to Children

Marketing to Children


The profit motive is the goal of most businesses in a society that is increasingly becoming more and more capitalistic. One tool that is increasingly being used to further business goals towards the profit maximization motive is the use of marketing tools such as advertisements. While the use of advertisement is legally accepted, it has raised some social concerns,especially when targeted at vulnerable populations such as children, and the aged.The question of marketing to children is one such ethical dilemma and has been a subject of controversy focusing on the effects these advertisements may have on young, impressionable consumers. Because children represent an increasing amount of purchasing power, they are an alluring target for marketers. But is it ethical for marketing agencies to target kids? This paper critically analyzes the ethicality of marketing to children. It argues that advertising to kids is unethical and should therefore not be used as a tool for furthering business ends. The paper concludes by presenting measures which can be undertakento safeguard children against marketing campaigns that specifically targets this vulnerable population.

Marketing to Children

The business strategy of marketing products directly to the younger generation, especially children, is not a new trend. There are records in history that evidence popular market campaigns that are targeted at children. However, in recent times, there has been an unprecedented emphasis on marketing campaigns that target children.According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, annually, more than $17 billion is spent by companies in marketing efforts targeted at children. This has resulted in a generation of children thatis more brand conscious than previous generations, and this has resulted in purchasing decisions that are not founded on rationality but on other less rational reasons, such as emotions, peer pressure, among many others.

Unethicalityof Marketing to Children

There are various arguments that have been put forward as abasis for putting a stop to marketing to children. Some of these reasons include:

First, according to a study byCarter, Patterson, Donovan, & Roberts(2011), marketing activities that are targetedat children under the age of 12 is inherently deceptive. The study established that children below age 12 do not possess the cognitive capacity to understand the goal of advertising, unlike adults. They cannot even differentiate between a commercial and a television program and when they do, they do not understand that the purpose of an advertisement is to sell them something. The study further found that until the age of 8, children do not understand the concept of selling, and as such, they believe what they see. Additionally, among children aged 11 and 12 years, only 40 percent have a full understanding of persuasive intent- that every marketing effort is meant to convince them to do things that they might not do.This makes children vulnerable to false advertising by puffery, hyperbole, and other advertising techniques.Further, according to Andreasen(2001), children lack the skepticism that adults possess, and they are therefore more susceptible to believe what they see in advertisements, even when it could be afalsehood. Therefore, marketing directly to this population leads to a purchasing decision that is founded on a falsity rather than on a factuality or evaluation of therelative benefits of a particular product to their well being.

Second, marketing thatis targeted at children preys on a child’s need for sensual and wanton satisfaction, play, and affiliation, thereby,manipulating them to opt for material objects as opposed to socially oriented options. Carter, Patterson, Donovan, & Roberts(2011) argue that marketing targeted at a children’s audience thusteach children to act impetuously and impulsively, become materialistic, and seeks out instantaneous indulgence and gratification.

Third,According to Hoyer & Maclnnis(2008), many parents do not watch television with their children and do not educate them about advertising. As a result, children may be particularly impressionable and subject to having their attitudes and behaviors influenced by advertisements. Advertisements incite children to intensify demands about purchasing products, eventually resulting to family quarrels, and children disappointment. Thus, this form of marketing ends up being a source of social rift and squabble.Advertising to children is alsosocially unethical as it becomes a tool for manipulating children for the goal of making money.Kidvertising, as it has been christened, lacks goodwill and views children as a means to an end.

The other argument why marketingto children is unethical is because according toCarter, Patterson, Donovan, & Roberts(2011) children’s mental faculties are yet to develop fully, therefore, they lack the ability to control their course of action.While adults can rationally evaluate the advantages and risks of advertised products on their own, children lack the understanding and experience prerequisite to inform their decision on the worthiness of products. Marketing to children is, therefore, an exploitation of a child’s psychological vulnerability.

Additionally, at a time when most of the populations, especially children, feel identified by their possessions, children feel pressure by marketing campaigns to possess the most fashionable products that they see in advertisements. According to Clay (2015), such pressure leads to children being materialistic, and to feel inferior if they do not possess the advertised products. Likewise, the pressure may harm children’s critical analysis by encouraging them to opt for particular products not for their actual value, but on the package. It discourages critical thinking and promotes a culture of impulse buying.

Lastly, marketing targeted at children exposes children to advertisements that shape, often negatively, their impressions of what it means to be an adult.According to Barlovic(2006)Children targeted marketing, in the form of media consumption, has also been blamed for promoting unhealthy attitudes towards particular foods, and resulting in epidemics such as childhood obesity and related diseases such as diabetics.

Possible Solutions to address Marketing to Children or its Effects

There is no social, moral, spiritual or ethical justification for marketing campaigns targeted at children. Social concerns such as increased rates of obesity, in addition to other concerns affecting children and the society such as sexualization, underage drinking, youth violence, excessive materialism and the erosion of critical thinking and creativity have been attributed to children-targeted marketing.As a result of the identified negative effects and unethicality of advertising to children, various steps have and can be taken to safeguard children against such marketing campaigns. Some of these interventions include the formation of consumer watch groups such as the Children’s Advertising Regulatory Unit (CARU) in the United States or the Consumer Association of Canada which were formed to assist in classifying what is appropriate and to put in place guidelines for marketers when advertising to the younger generation.Other solutions that can be adopted include a higher ethical, and regulatory standard for the marketing of products to the younger generation. For example, in Quebec, Canada, advertising to children below the age of 13 years is legally prohibited by law. Such restrictions have been adopted in countries such as Norway and Sweden. Such legal restrictions are meant to offer guidelines to marketers on how they should carry out their marketing activities without infringing or appealing to the vulnerability of children.Alternatively,Clay(2015) suggests that the number of time that children spend watching Television or playing electronic games can be limited. This will help reduce the impact that exploitative marketing has on the children and, therefore, the children targeted marketing will not have their intended impact.

Lastly, Parents should be encouragedto educate children on what marketing is about, how it works, what itsintentions are and how the child should be critical of advertisement. This will assist in lessening the harmful influence that children-targeted advertising has on the child.


In conclusion, marketing to children is unethical. It is inherently deceptive, it preys on a child’s need for sensual satisfaction, play, and affiliation,it manipulates children to opt for material objects as opposed to socially oriented options; and encourages materialism, impulsiveness, and instantaneous gratification. Marketing to children is also wrong for the reason that it may incite children resulting to family quarrels, and children disappointment, it is a tool for manipulating children for the goal of making money, and itlacks goodwill, viewing children as means to an end. Marketing to children is also an exploitation of a child’s psychological vulnerability and discourages critical thinking, promoting a culture of impulse buying. It has also been blamed for promoting unhealthy attitudes towards particular foodsresulting in epidemics such as childhood obesity and related diseases such as diabetics. As such marketing to children does not respect ethics of morality, and any rational society should not allow it for the reason that it inappropriately applies practical reason to exploit and take advantage of children’s psychological, mental, emotional, and social vulnerabilities for profitability. However, the practice of marketing to children can be addressed by use of legislations that prohibit such practices or consumer groups that pressure the marketing agencies to adopt ethical business marketing practices. On the other hand, parents can be encouraged to educate their children about the falsity of advertising as well as take steps to ensure their children viewership of such marketing practices is limited. This will ensure that the impact that these unethical marketing practices have on their children are minimal.



Andreasen, A. R. (2001). Ethics in Social Marketing. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Barlovic, I. (2006). Obesity, Advertising to Kids, and Social Marketing. Young Consumers, 26-34.

Carter, O. B., Patterson, L. J., Donovan, R. J., & Roberts, C. M. (2011, March). Children’s understanding of the selling versus persuasive intent of junk food advertising: implications for regulation. Journal of Social Science & Medicine, 72(6), 962-968.

Clay, R. A. (2015, April 3). Advertising to Children: Is It Ethical? Retrieved from American Psychological Association.

Hoyer, W. D., & Maclnnis, D. J. (2008). Consumer Behavior. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

Tepperman, L., Curtis, J., & Albanese, P. (2013). Principles in Sociology: Canadian Perspectives. Toronto: Oxford University Press.


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