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Advertising to Children: The 40-Year-Old Complaint
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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In AdLand, we would like to think that everything we do is new. An experience we face, or a thought we have, is the first time that same experience or thought has occurred. As many of us are also students of history, we would then be quick to adjust our thinking.

Yes, though some activities or ways of doing things are new, the reasons or ideas behind them are not.

In the 1950s, our advertising industry was going out of control. What will we do with all this new media? Does radio mean print is dead, since people won't read anymore? In the 1960s, TV exploded on the scene, thus signaling the death of radio.  

You get the idea. Different media. Same calls for funerals. Same erroneous conclusions.

Then we get to the issues in advertising. Namely, allegations that advertisers and marketers target children. If we hadn't known any better, we would have thought this was a recently developing issue.

It's not.

AdAge's History of Advertising shows that in the 1970s, advertisers were facing the same calls for banning ads geared towards children. The outcry was so loud that a group was founded in Boston called Action for Children's Television, and the group went on to petition the FCC and FTC, and actually forced the hand of AdLand to change some of its practices.

And now we fast-forward to today, where ACT is no longer (disbanded in 1992) but the cry against advertising to children is as loud as ever. Although there have been several reports on both sides about the scientifically insignificant affects advertising has on children under the 6th grade, people continue clamoring to change the way children's products are advertised. In the UK, a letter was printed in The Daily Telegraph about how today's youth are considered more as young consumers rather than children. The letter also notes that ads like to use "pester power."

Demanding parents to buy children the products "they deserve."

Instead of parenting, perhaps AdLand should just stop.

We understand the need to teach children the right way to eat as much as the next person. But skipping the "free enterprise" route straight and going straight to the regulation route teaches the wrong lesson.

First, this method has been tried for nearly 40 years. Do these groups honestly think that using their form of "pester power" will shift how the economy works? Second, in this society, knowledge truly is power. Educating children about advertising, and helping them tell the difference between programs and commercials, or — wait a second — not camping them in front of countless hours of media could dissaude advertisers from engaging in such practices. Another solution is patronizing those companies that these children lobbies support; making sure that your wallets send the message to these advertisers.

The thing is, if we are going to continue talking about this issue, let's start considering some realistic solutions. This conversation is getting old.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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