Advertising to Children: Harmful or not?

Before most children are even born, they often already have a digital footprint, and digital advertising raises questions concerning privacy and childhood..

In today’s commercial world, children are beginning to be seen as an independent consumer group. They definitely influence family purchases, and are a market force on the rise. Therefore, they are a target audience for marketing and advertisements. So what does this mean exactly? What kinds of messages are being directed at children and how will they influence their cognitive development as well as shape their lives?

Since children obviously have not fully developed mentally, they are more vulnerable to manipulation through advertising and marketing messages and prone to accepting these messages as facts. They see these messages as truthful and unbiased statistics. As a result, marketing and advertising can cause children to adopt certain consumer behavior, which can then negatively impact children’s physical and mental health.

To begin, obesity is one of these consequences.  Obesity is linked to the consumption of energy-dense, micronutrient-poor products that are high in fat, sugar, salt, and which are marketed directly to children. Children are the consumers that tend to like sugary cereal, cookies, candies etc. So it is no surprise that they are the target audience for such products. 



US fast food restaurants alone spent $4.6bn on advertising to children and teens in 2012.

Children nowadays have access to many media outlets that are very hard to monitor, much harder than radio or television. Marketing to children includes messages being sent out at children’s clubs, sporting events, concerts, websites, and social networking sites and even schools. Marketing messages may introduce children to inappropriate content like violence, sexual related messages and unrealistic body images.



In the US the average child watches around 16,000 television adverts per year.

The Children’s Rights and Business Principles, is the first comprehensive set of principles to guide companies on the full range of actions they can take in the workplace, marketplace, and community to respect and support children’s rights. Principle six states that businesses must ensure that communications and marketing do not have an adverse effect on children, but instead promote children’s rights, positive self-esteem, healthy lifestyles and non-violent values. It also calls for marketing practices to comply with the standards of business conduct established by the World Health Assembly.

In order to follow and respect these children’s rights, businesses must assess and fully understand their potential impacts. They should ask themselves whether they have a global responsible marketing and advertising policy in place that prohibits harmful and unethical advertising related to children. Do they follow the guidelines and best practices for marketing and advertising, which includes participation in voluntary marketing codes and standards?

There is still a lot to learn about how to regulate marketing practices and business has a key role to play in respecting and supporting children’s rights in the marketplace. The only solution, in my opinion, is to work together and combine the efforts of governments, businesses, and other stakeholders and by doing so marketing and advertising practices can be shaped into a positive contribution for the children today and future generations.




Nylund, Victor Bo. (2014, February 24). Marketing and Advertising to Children: The       Issues at Stake. Retrieved from      business/marketing-advertising-children-issues-at-stake

2 thoughts on “Advertising to Children: Harmful or not?

  1. I don’t think marketing to children should be banned but there should probably be some sort of regulations. Although, this is difficult because advertisers have no ties to the media access children are subject to. Parents are in charge of that. I think regulations would probably be too difficult to be set into place because each child has different limitations when it comes to advertisements.


  2. I agree, I do not think marketing to children should be banned because there would honestly be no way to control that. It would mean not allowing a child to use a computer, watch a television show, or even look at a sign at the store with their parents. I agree however with the guidelines that it must help their self-esteem and portray positive images. I do not however think all companies are following this rule. Overall, I think some of the ads could be harmful to children but there is not a way to control what children are seeing sometimes making the guidelines ineffective sometimes.


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