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Unethical Practices In Marketing To Children

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Autor:   •  April 17, 2011  •  2,802 Words (12 Pages)  •  968 Views

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Unethical Practices in Marketing to Children

When I was a child, my famous answer to the inevitable "What do you want to be when you grow up" question was "a teacher". My brother wanted to be a race car driver and my cousin - an actress. Years ago, I would ask the same question and they would usually tend similar responses. Times have changed, however. More and more, children have adapted to the arguably unsettling reality of dollar awareness and when the famous question is raised, the more likely answer these days is "to make money". (Clay 1) Disconcerting as it may be, we have clearly entered into a new way of life, where materialism has penetrated even the innocent aspirations of a child. It is no secret that that child is now the biggest target of companies who are spending billions of dollars a year to promote their products. Obviously, they are succeeding. It is impossible to turn on the television without seeing a myriad of commercials aimed at the younger generation focused mainly around consumer goods and high in sugar and calorie foods. It is quite evident that today's advertising is not purely informational. It is linked directly to exploiting individual insecurities and creating false needs. Children are specifically vulnerable to this manipulation because they are inherently inexperienced as consumers. Bombarding them with products leaves no choice in their decision making process. Marketing to children is no longer used to aid the developing consumer, but increase companies' profits and promote the hunger for more, thus making these practices unethical.

Problem Recognition

In America, teenagers spend about $100 billion a year on sweets, food, drinks, video and electronic products, toys, movies, games, sports, and clothes (Beder 101), children under 12 spend $28 billion and influence a staggering $249 billion spent by their parents. (Clay 3). With figures such as these, it is no surprise why companies are consistently revamping their marketing strategies and promote the same product in various ways. Their goal is to make as much profit from these children as possible. According to psychologist Allen D. Kanner of Berkeley, California, it is not only the materialistic value that children are vulnerable to, they are also prone to what he calls "narcissistic wounding", explaining that because of advertising, "children feel inferior if they don't have an endless array of new things". (Clay 1) In a society where great value is placed on wealth and over-consumption, children are increasingly targeted to believe the capitalistic message from an early age. Although the clichй, "Money does not buy happiness" may be old, evidence shows that not only it is actually true, believing the capitalistic message is bad for people. Through a series of studies, Tim Kasser, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. found that people who "strongly value wealth and related traits tend to have higher levels of distress and lower levels of well-being, worse relationships and less connection to their communities." (Clay 4) Children, however, are not receiving these messages by accident. These companies know exactly how to reach our children.

Aside from psychological effects caused by marketing, children are facing other issues as well. Unhealthy eating habits and obesity are now more common in children than ever. Researchers at the Center for Science in the public Interest, CSPI, authors of Guidelines for Responsible Food Marketing to Children found that in the last 20 years, the rates of obesity have doubled in children and tripled in teens. (1) The increase is specifically rapid in the 1980s and 1990s. The graph (next page) shows the dramatic rise in child and adolescent obesity from a median 5% in the 1960s to an alarming 17% at the end of the 1990s. It also does not take into account another 40% of children that are overweight. It is evident that there is a positive correlation between food marketing and escalating rates of unhealthy weight in children.

(CSPI 5)

Children's diets consist of high counts of calories, trans fats, refined sugar and not enough fruit, vegetable, whole grain, and calcium. Guidelines expresses the growing concerns over increasing risks of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and other serious and costly diseases. (1) Many children experience "adult" adverse health effects like high blood pressure, elevated blood cholesterol levels, among other warning sign for heart disease. "Type 2 diabetes can no longer be called 'adult onset' diabetes because of rising rates in children." (CSPI 2) Children's food choices are admittedly affected by many factors; food marketing, however, plays a key role.

McDonald's, by strategically using the clown Ronald McDonald, incurred great success in developing their child customer base and brand loyalty. Ray Kroc, the man behind the McDonald's empire, understood that by creating the character and his playground, children would cultivate positive feelings and emotions toward the company. (Spurlock 78) The value in marketing McDonald's as a caring, kid-friendly place reflects in the company's dominant market share and Ronald McDonald as the number 2 advertising icon of the 20th century. (Spurlock 79)

Consumer Development

The key goal of a company trying to market their product is to understand how the child develops as a consumer. Psychological knowledge is therefore used to gain an insight into how children learn to shop and then used to develop programs based on that knowledge. Professor James McNeal developed a five-stage model of how children shop by visiting supermarkets:

Stage I: Observing Children begin making sensory contact with the marketplace and begin forming mental images of marketplace objects and symbols as early as 2 months old. At that age, only sights and sounds are being processed. However, by 12 to 15 months, most children can begin to recall some of these items. This stage ends when children understand that a visit to the market may produce rewards beyond the stimulation cause by the environment.

Stage II: Making Requests At this stage (median age is two years), children being requesting items in the store from their parents. They use pointing and gesturing as well as statements to indicate that they want an item. Throughout most of this stage, children make requests only when the item is physically present, as they do not yet carry mental images of the products in their minds. In the latter months of stage II, they begin to make requests for items at home, particularly


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