Kids Still Being Targeted – But Differently

Discussion
May 16, 2011
Bernice Hurst

New guidelines proposed by
the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the Agriculture
Department and the Centers for Disease Control at the request of Congress aim
to encourage a re-think on how the food industry target markets to kids. Cartoon
characters used on television, packaging and online games were specifically
mentioned as manufacturers and restaurants were advised to choose between making
their food healthier or reducing the ways in which they are promoted to children.

As
Dale Kunkel of the University of Arizona, according to the New York Times,
put it, "Toucan Sam can sell healthy food or junk food."

Unsurprisingly,
support and disagreement were almost instantly aired.

"Kids are targeted too often," wrote Marion Nestle, professor
of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, in foodpolitics.com,
citing numerous examples.

However, the Grocery Manufacturers Association found
kids between two and eleven in 2010 saw 50 percent fewer ads on programs aimed
at them than they did in 2004, according to Supermarket News. The food industry,
according to the Times, was also critical because it claims to have "already
taken significant steps to improve recipes and change the way it advertises
to children."

Although voluntary at the moment, there is likely to be
pressure for compliance and suspicion. Dan Jaffe, an executive vice president
of the Association of National Advertisers, told the Times, "There’s
clearly a demand hidden behind the velvet glove of the voluntary language."

The
inclusion of digital media such as product-based games represents one of the
government’s strongest efforts so far to address the extension of
children’s
advertising into the online world.

According to the Times, food "companies
often selling sugar cereals and junk food, are using multimedia games, online
quizzes and cellphone apps to build deep ties with young consumers. And children
… are sharing their messages through e-mail and social networks, effectively
acting as marketers."

Kids also can’t tell the difference between games and ads,
wrote Matt Richtel in the Times. In spite of banners reading, "Hey
kids, this is advertising," he quotes Susannah Stern, associate professor
of communication studies at the University of San Diego, who believes brands
"do not raise awareness of who put the game up or why."

Some may ask whether sharing
favorite games equates to shilling for manufacturers.

Online activities cost
less than traditional ads to produce and disseminate, especially as kids do
much of the latter themselves.

Discussion Questions: What’s fair game for targeting kids in the new world of digital communications? Have manufacturers blurred and/or crossed the lines by shifting children’s advertising to online games and mobile devices?

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8 Comments on "Kids Still Being Targeted – But Differently"


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David Livingston
Guest
10 years 1 hour ago

Kids are smarter than we give them credit for. There should be no government interference. Kids should be taught in school how marketers are trying to scam them. That way, it’s more of a game to them when they are being scammed to figure it out. Kids need to be taught early on that the only purpose of advertising is to separate money from their pocket.

I think just as many adults fall victim to deceptive advertising. Just stay up all night sometime and listen to the infomercials. Most find them ridiculous, but let the buyer beware.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 1 hour ago

The shift might be happening. But the children receiving these are older, wiser and more savvy than those wanting a certain brand of cereal ten years ago.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
10 years 1 hour ago

There are lots of opinions floating around but the decisions need to be based on some solid research, like the research done on the impact of TV advertising to children of different ages. We need the same kind of research identifying the impact of advertising and product placement on children of various ages.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
10 years 1 hour ago

Many kids are digital junkies and will mentally “shoot up” whatever visual and auditory drugs are presented to them. Of course these lines are getting blurred. That’s how folks make money.

Is it fair? Maybe not, but it is good business.

Tony Orlando
Guest
10 years 53 minutes ago

Kids live on Facebook, and Twitter, so I would continue to chase that if that is the category of goods kids want. My sons cannot buy anything without my credit card, so I get to see what is promoted online, and I must say, there are some very good online merchants who “get it.” Video games, high tech gear, cool clothing, and outdoor gadgets are popular, and if I was in that line of business, I would spend a larger portion of my ad dollars online, no doubt.

Jesse Rooney
Guest
Jesse Rooney
10 years 51 minutes ago

Pre-adolescent children should not be targeted by advertisements, period. We should never assume that pre-adolescents or adolescents have the ability and knowledge to think critically about advertisements. Children these days may seem to be more aware of their media environment, but that’s because they are aping the behaviors of adults, not because they have ability to understand advertising. The brains of children are simply not mature enough to think abstractly or critically in a manner that allows for thoughtful decisions from advertisements. That’s not an issue with media awareness education or the culture becoming more or less savvy; it’s a physical fact about the human mind as it matures.

Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
9 years 11 months ago
Whether it is the TV or the Internet, anytime kids get on the airwaves or the network they are going to be targeted by marketers. That is simply the way things get paid for in a capitalist society. If there were no advertising, there would be no kids programming. There is nothing wrong in that. The challenge is that a few marketers will take it too far. As the result of the actions of a few, the majority are going to have to deal with regulations that may seem at times constraining or onerous. I am not sure whether advertising “unhealthy” food choices should fall in this category or not. I honestly believe that we would have less government regulation if it weren’t for our unwillingness to confront “bad behavior” when we see it. Whether it is the professional association that does nothing to police or certify its members or the consumer who seeks a “cash discount” from a service provider, it is the cumulative effect of many occurrences that motivates someone to say “we… Read more »
John Karolefski
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

Targeting kids with new media is an old idea in new clothes. Will it be effective? Maybe, but that’s free-market capitalism. Kids nowadays are sharper than when I wore a Davy Crockett coonskin cap. I believe many will recognize when they are being played.

BTW, the last thing we need is more government regulation. Where are the parents to monitor the kids? That’s the solution. If Dad is trying to wrestle the Xbox away from junior, that’s another problem altogether. Just sayin’.

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