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The last half century has brought about many changes. Technology has advanced, as well as techniques for achieving what we want. This has been a major success in the eyes of the advertising industry. With the help of researchers and psychologists, they are able to target an audience and suck them into what they are trying to sell. One particular target market that has exploded is the children’s advertising industry. From 1 to 16 alone, advertising in kid-specific media grew more than 50%, to 1.5 billion (Linnett 000). What implications does this have on children? The purpose of this study is to see how children’s advertising impacts popular culture. The main research questions to be addressed are (1)How much advertising is presented during children’s television programming? And ()What types of products are advertised?

Literature Review

Children have long since been a topic of controversy. How should they be raised? What schools should they attend? What types of educational toys should they play with? With America’s constant struggle for perfection, it is amazing that people haven’t picked up on the exploitation of children through marketing and advertising. Experts, such as Alvin Poussaint, say that advertising agencies are corrupting the youth of America by encoding in their minds that they must have the newest, latest, trend.


According to research conducted in the United Kingdom by Blades and Gunther (00), children do not understand the concept of an advertisement’s intent to sell. Blades and Gunther also maintain that children do not understand the use of bright colors, familiar product endorsers, and catchy jingles. In this particular study, they gathered 6 children and divided them into age groups. They then played a segment of Rugrats and inserted two commercials for “Action Man” and “Pound Puppies”, the kids were later asked to recall brand names and identify products. The kids were also asked a series of questions about advertising, one of which was, what is the purpose of advertising? Children answered, “to give us a potty break”, “to tell us about new things”, and “to tell us what we need.”Is it fair to subject children to advertising that they do not understand? Or even worse, is it okay to use the aide of clinical psychologists to manipulate the minds of the youth?

Alvin Poussaint (000), a child psychologist at Harvard Medical School, has somewhat lead the crusade against using child psychologists to aide in advertising research. Large corporations such as Griffin Bacal, Leo Burnett USA, Ogilvy and Mather Worldwide, and Walt Disney Co. are using psychologists, both clinicians and researchers, to “help better understand their clients.”Poussaint, as well as many other prominent figures, joined together to form the group, Stop Commercial Exploitation of Children (SCEC). The group has successfully put an end to the Golden Marble Awards, a ceremony that praises the most lucrative children’s advertisements of the year. The advertising of Kraft Foods in schools has also been put to an end by a request from the SCEC claiming that this promotes obesity among children. The group has put together a quarterly newsletter dealing with issues related to children’s adverting, such as obesity and loyalty to family not brands. The SCEC is also against “cross-promoting”that ties sales of junk food and junk toys in popular children’s entertainment- movies like Shrek and Spy Kids, along with outlets like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.

Susan Linn (00a), a Doctor of Education and director of the Judge Baker Children’s Center is also a member of SCEC. She has made congressional briefings and written several articles that criticize children’s advertising. Her briefing emphasized the commercialization of childhood. According to Linn, the average child in the United States spends more time in front of a screen than they spend doing anything other than sleeping. She is also very harsh on product tie-ins. When Rugrats and Sponge-Bob SquarePants are the number one selling types of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, we should be worried, Linn claims. Last year, nine of the ten best selling toys were media linked. Toy companies are partnering with food companies to create what Linn calls “advertoys” such as Barbie’s Fun Time McDonald’s and Hot Wheel’s miniature trucks and cars featuring M&Ms. She also points out that as children reach adolescence they become particularly vulnerable to word-of-mouth or “viral” advertising. They spread the word about what is cool, and if you don’t have it, you aren’t.

In her essay, “Sellouts”(000), Linn points out many scary facts about children’s advertising. According to her, corporations spend over 1 million dollars a year to bombard children with ads. American children ages four to twelve spent over $8 billion of their own money in 1 and influenced $500 billion of their parent’s purchases. Linn also comes down harshly on advertising in schools. She criticized grade schools in Connecticut for accepting $5,000 from a company in exchange for permission to interview ten to twelve year olds in classrooms after school. She also points out the very good point that the United States regulates advertising to children less than most other industrialized nations and that it is time for us to catch up.

Hayes, (1) in an article written in the New York Times, campaigns against the American Psychological Associations participation in research used to aide advertisers. He gathered over sixty signatures of prominent figures and sent a petition to the APA. The APA’s spokeswoman claimed that this was the first time this issue had been brought to their attention from an outside source and that they were planning on addressing the topic of much controversy in their March meeting.

Tom Socha, (17) advocates a commercial free classroom. He puts down Channel One, an “educational” channel broadcast in public schools. Channel One mercilessly advertises Nike, Kraft, Cinnaburst, and Pringles. Socha claims that unless we create more “ad-free” zones, the marketers of today will have an easy time harvesting the minds of our youth.

Purpose and Research Questions

For my original research, I will be monitoring television commercials aimed at children to see what types of products are advertised and how they relate to problems among children. For instance, is the obesity epidemic directly related to the marketing of snack foods? The research questions that will be directly dealt with are (1) How much advertising is presented during children’s television programming? And () What types of products are promoted to children?


A content analysis was conducted in order to obtain the basic information needed to answer the research questions. In order to assure objectivity and reliability of the research, this study followed the outline of chapter six in our research book.

A convenience sample of 8 hours of children’s television programming was videotaped in Owensboro, Kentucky, during a given Saturday morning in early November, 00. The use of Saturday morning television was a viable sample because children are out of school and there is a plethora of children’s programming on-air.

The definition of what constitutes children’s programming was provided by The Messinger-Inquirer’s program listings, which also determined the time-slot and the choice of channels used in this research. After verifying the time slot that had children’s programs scheduled the most, (7a.m. to 11a.m.), the networks were narrowed down to Nickelodeon and ToonDisney. The sample therefore consisted of two videotapes, each four hours in length.

Each ad was coded for the following major product categories non-computer or non-video-game related toys, computer or video-game related toys, cereals and breakfast food, snacks and drinks, fast food, and healthy food and drinks. All advertisements that announced other television programs, tied-in promotions or giveaways related to the channel, announced public or community service, and promoted movies were excluded from the research. Each tape was reviewed twice by one coder and the results were compared.

Statistical tests were performed in order to analyze the data collected. Percentages were calculated in order to effectively answer the research questions.

Results and Discussion

A total of 161 ads were coded, 76 from ToonDisney and 85 from Nickelodeon. Each videotape was reviewed twice and the results were compared to estimate the unicoder(?) reliability.

In answering the question of () What types of products are advertised to children?, toys were the main answer. Toys represented the great majority of products advertised (6.7% of the total ads). Non-video-game related toys represented 4% of all product categories aimed at children. Computer and video-game related toys were at a high (6.7%). Nickelodeon presented a higher percentage of toy ads than ToonDisney, 7% to 4%, respectively. Other major product categories advertised were cereal and breakfast foods (14%), snack foods and drinks (7.5%), healthy foods (%), and fast food (5.8%).

With all of the talk about the obesity epidemic, one would expect a higher percentage of the ads to concern food and beverages. Also, one would expect a larger market for educational toys. The truth is, most of the advertisements were for silly dolls and action figures. Sure, while many of these items help to enrich a child’s sense of play, what about enriching their minds? Advertising agencies claim that commercials aimed at children are providing products that kids truly need for development (Linnett, 000). Some may argue with that statement and question how “Flava Dolls” promote cognitive development.

Suggestions for Further Research

This research study, if given more time, money, and well…researchers, could have provided the intrinsic meaning of children’s advertising and why children relate to it the way that they do. However, this brief sampling of commercials aimed at kids has just pointed out the major areas in which advertisers try to target their audience. The results could have been more accurate if there was more than one coder for the commercials. Also, reliability would have been more precise if the sample came from various times of the year and more than just two major networks. The Christmas season is approaching and of course the airways are going to be bombarded with ads for toys that every tot must have. The fact that the advertisements were from morning cartoons probably explains the high instance of breakfast cereals and foods.

In conclusion, children’s marketing and advertising have recently become a major focus of parents, psychologists, and of course advertisers themselves. The industry will continue to grow until someone makes it their problem and solves it.

(I) Blades, M., Gunter, B., Oates, C., (00 February). Children and television advertising When do they understand persuasive intent?. Journal of Consumer Behavior. London. Vol. 1, Iss. pg. 8, 8 pgs. Retrieved September 14, 00, from EbscoHost.

(II) Buijzen, Moniek, Valkenburg, P.M., (Summer 000). The impact of television advertising on children’s Christmas wishes. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. Vol. 44, Iss. . Retrieved Ocotber 6, 00, from EbscoHost.

(III) Hayes, C.L. (October , 18) (Late Edition (East Coast)) A call for restrictions on psychological research by advertisers into products for children. The New York Times. Pg. C.6.

(IV) Linn, S.E. (000 October). Sellouts. The American Prospect. Vol. 11, Iss. . Retrieved September 1, 00, from Academic Search Premier.

(V) Linn, S.E. (00). Marketing to children An overview. Retrieved October 11, 00, from Stop Commercial Exploitation of Children.


(VI) Linn, S.E. (00). Overview of the commercialization of childhood. Retrieved October 11, 00, from Stop Commercial Exploitation of Children.


(VII) Linnett, Richard. (000). Psychologists protest kids’ ads.

Advertising Age.Vol. 71 Issue 8, p4, p.

(VIII) Socha, T. (Fall 17) Harvesting Minds How TV commercials control kids. Journal of Popular Film & Television.. Vol.5, Iss.; pg. 1, pgs. Retrieved October 4, 00, ProQuest Direct.

(IX) Sweeny, B. (Summer 00) Stop commercialization of children Newsletter. Retrieved October 11, 00, from Stop Commercial Exploitation of Children.


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