Evils of Advertising
Contemporary advertising industry exploits children by using the most efficacious techniques, among them psychology. Apparently children constitute the segment of market most liable to subconscious persuasion of commercials which, in turn, translates into tremendous efforts of marketers to exploit children s gullibility. And on the closer survey of western giant toy companies revenues, these efforts appear productive. The complexity and subtlety of mechanisms working in this branch of advertising business is particularly worth further analysis. This essay s purpose is to highlight children marketing, which gradually becomes the topic of much heated debate. What are the aims, methods, and reservations concerning marketing to children are the questions of interest in this work. First of all, present state of affairs in this branch of advertising will be discussed.
As there is abundance of research data gathered on advertising alcohol and cigarettes, relatively little data concerning children oriented-marketing is available. It seems that this branch of advertising has been neglected by public opinion s criticism. Of course marketers have taken advantage of this dominating research programmes on children s psyche. Such research programmes are being arduously carried out at R and D (research and development) departments of various companies directing their products to children. James McKinnon, the author of the article Psychologist Act against Ad Doctors states that psychological research is now widespread source of corporate inspiration. Psychologists are regulars at marketing conferences an n magazines like Selling to Kids and Sales (2). One could wonder where lies the reason of such intensive effort by marketers to discover the intricacies of children s thinking.
Obviously, the aim is first and foremost to make money and to draw as many clients as possible. Children s vulnerabilities are cunningly manipulated by psychologists whose main aim is to trap the unconscious customers into the ambush of consumerism. Materialistic values rooted early in childhood shape the psyche of a future youngster, teenager and eventually a grown up. At all those stages the victim of this process is conned into fallacy that he cannot be happy without constantly buying top products. The sooner the marketers achieve this goal the better for them as their investment will yield a tremendous profit. Children as a target group of customers represent probably the most lucrative segment of advertising industry because they influence at least three different markets. First of all, the direct market which s sustained by the money spent by children themselves (direct market embrace: toys, sweets, gadgets); then parental market which is influenced by children (mainly: toys, clothes, food) and, last but not least, the future market, which is acknowledged to be also very important. As Sharon Bender, one of the speakers at the conference Caring for Children in the Media Age, remarked: advertisers recognise that brand loyalties and consumer habits formed when children are young and vulnerable will be carried through to adulthood (2)
Consequently, the habits developed during childhood will emerge again in later life. These children become parents themselves and will probably buy their children products with which they are emotionally bound. These adults, exposed to the impact of advertisements, may suffer harmful effects. What was shown in a survey proves that people highly valuing wealth and related traits are prone to higher level of distress and lower levels of well being. Furthermore, they are unable to maintain firm connection to their communities. Of course this is not meant to criticise the affluent but only to explain what effects may result from the commercial message inserted into developing brains. Particularly interesting seem the methods of inserting this message into the children s subconscious.
First method I will present is the rule of commitment and consequence affecting mainly parents. To explain this rule I will use an example. Before Christmas companies begin very aggressive campaign of a given product (let it be a toy) but issue only few products on the market. Children get hooked on it and parents, constantly bothered by their children, are compelled to buy the product even after Christmas when it could seem that the sales should dramatically fall (Mandal 3). Additionally, it allows companies to set exorbitant prices as they know that once parents promised something to their child they will not escape it.
Another rule which is applied in advertising to lure customers is the fame association consisting in binding a product to a famous personality. Thus we may watch successful sportsmen recommending a yoghurt or corn flakes. Such popular person induce trust and make the product automatically sought-after as it supposedly let the customers enter the higher status to which also the given person belongs. Yet another ploy of forcing a product on the market is the rule of inaccessibility. According to this rule a commercial should include a hint that the number of products available is very small or the products are almost completely sold out. Retailers who state that they managed to put aside some supplies, although their stores are full of the merchandise, do a roaring trade then (Mandal 4). Associating a product with a particular character familiar from television series, cinema or cartoons is common as well. Thus children may fail to remember the name of the company producing toys but it suffices if they remember the name of their favourite hero. When kids nag their parents for toys they usually beg for Lion King mascot, Pokemon dolls or Ninja Turtles, not for a product of specific company. James T. Kline, a specialist in marketing, works out this phenomenon stating that:
Marketers emphasis on personality is taken to its rational ends with toy-based
television (Care Bears, Ninja Turtles, My Little Pony etc.) and other media.
Personality not only plays a greater role in establishing product identity. Personality practically becomes the product. The character isn t just trying to sell something else,
it is selling itself (Kline 2).
Obvious as it is that children are especially fond of any cartoon and film characters, the tie-in products are bound to reach high sales. This interconnection between media and advertising is a real vicious circle or maybe, more aptly, perpetum mobile. Media propel advertising industry which, in turn, boost the popularity of television/cinema productions. One campaign over, the cycle recurs perpetuating the continuity of profit influx from this mutual co-operation.
However clever these techniques are, the most effective, dangerous and morally questionable is the subliminal advertising which strikes directly brains of receivers. This kind of subconscious influence used to be experimentally exerted on the soldiers of U.S Army to induce aggressiveness in them. It consist in inserting single flashes of images into the flow of the picture. They are emitted for such short moments that it is impossible to register them with the naked eye. The images may be of various type, from scenes involving toys to those of erotic contents. To confirm the effectiveness of this type of advertising one of the American universities carried out an experiment which was applied to a group of young men and women. They were shown a film with several insertions of Coca-Cola ad during the show. The result proved that the beverage which was most often bought during and after the film was (easy guess) Coke. This experiment backs up the theory of helplessness against the power of advertising. While most of the adult population is able to recognise some ways and means of emptying their purses, children cannot see through the criss-cross of complicated tactics devised to make business on their credulity. For this reason ethical doubts arise concerning cunning marketing to children and teenagers.
The reservations entering the agenda in the discussion over children advertising are manifold; they span ethics, economy, and society. Among many wrongs made by commercials, the most blatant require marking.
- wasting enormous sums of money
- public uselessness
- crime of lie
- crime against intelligence
- crime of suspicious persuasion
- glorification of stupidity
- crime of isolation and racism
- crime against language
- crime against creativity
Especially serious charge is that of promoting isolation and racism. It is due to the segregation of products according to the criterion of targeting precise contingents of customers. The unquestionable fact is that increased market segmentation more and more toys designed exclusively for girls or boys; for blacks and Asians discourages kids from playing with those not like themselves ( McLaren Carrie 1-2). Whereas racial prejudice is not so visible on European markets, gender stereotypes are. Especially toys create boundary between toys for girls and toys for boys. G.I. Joe, for instance cannot play with Barbie in child s mentality. Furthermore, kids set terms of acceptance based on the brand of clothes their mates wear, toys they play with, and overall external appearance. If someone do not fulfil the conditions of acceptance s/he is pushed outside the group. Kids advertising only exasperate the childish preconceptions by selling fashion, associations ad stereotypes attached to products. If you buy the newest Nintendo computer game you are cool . If you eat Kellog s cereal you are healthier and so on; examples multiply ad infinitum. It is indisputable that marketers failed to shun prejudice in their products.
Apparently, stereotypes concealed in commercial transmissions may seem quite innocent at first sight. Nevertheless, taking into account how easily children surrender to the entrenchment of associations, it should be realised that these stereotypes will be imprinted on children s minds and carried into adulthood. Mike Sealers, former president of Kids-R-Us, a major American clothing store, was caught saying: if you own this child at an early age, you can own this child for years to come (Cassey, internet). So it appears that the imprinting of stereotypes is a deliberate means of acquiring a customer. A good example constitutes a series of Barbie doll advertisements in which all the incarnations of the doll are slim, posh, good looking ladies usually furnished with luxuries of various assortment. Moreover, the doll itself may be considered a luxury as they are quite expensive. It cannot be denied that this ad conveys mainly materialistic values.
Concluding, advertising is surely pertinent to development of global enterprises and media. Nonetheless the youngest generation should be guarded against its overwhelming impact. The arguments of people, who do not see any harm in marketing to children, holding that ever man has free will and it is parents who have means of protecting their offspring against the influence of marketing, are invalid. Nowadays parents are simply incapable of guarding their kids against exposure to commercials. In many countries a solution was introduced consisting of regulating advertising to children on the level of state. One of the regulations is that the ads cannot be aired at certain times. Another one forbids subliminal techniques and exaggerating the features of the products. Such solutions could be universally applied in many countries as a means of restricting some of the questionable aspects of children marketing.
Eugenia Ewa Mandal. Marketing i Rynek . Working paper, Uniwersytet l+ski w
Cassey Allan. Make your school an ad free zone . Adbusters magazine 13 January 2000
Kline Stephen. Out of the Garden: Toys and Children s Culture in the Age of TV Marketing.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999
McKinnon James. Psychologists Act against Ad Doctors . American Journal of Sociology.
10 February 1997
McLaren Carrie. Review of Out of the Garden: Toys and Children s Culture in the Age of TV
Marketing . Stephen Kline. Adbusters magazine 12 July 2000
2. Present state of affairs in the children-oriented branch of advertising
3. The goals of marketing to children
4. Enumeration of the most popular methods of advertising
5. Evils of contemporary advertising
6. Conclusion/ proposal of solution