Advertising has had a powerful impact on today's children. From songs, to logos,
to characters, advertisers keep in mind their audiences. Competition is the force which
causes advertisers to target children. Children are targeted through the catch phrases,
animated characters, and toys in these competitive advertisements.
The textbook used in class (Huffman, 2002) describes that "advertising has numerous"
methods to hook the individual into "buying their products and services." The advertising
company surrounds a particular candidate such as a child and immediately sinks their teeth into
the child's mind to manipulate the child into desiring their products. Through TV, cartoons and
magazine ads, child are hit by one subliminal message after another. They are shown how this
product will either improve their status by making them they envy of all their friends. Whether it
be a food, a particular catch phrase, a child can be the easiest for advertisers to prey on.
Many types of foods targeted towards children have a catch phrase associated
towards them. Commercials use these catch phrases to implant their product into the
children's memory. One example, are the goldfish crackers. "I love the fishes cause their
so delicious" This is the theme to a well-known commercial, which advertises
Pepperidge Farm goldfish crackers. Children sing the catch phrase over and over
throughout the entirety of the commercial. By the time the commercial ends the line and
products are inevitably stuck in a child's mind. The commercial says"and my mom says
that's okay," which implies to children that their parents will allow them to eat this snack.
Another example of a product with an addicting catch phrase is Oscar Meyer bologna.
"My bologna has a first name its O-S-C-A-R" Instead of this song selling the product
itself, its aim is to sell the brand. The Oscar Meyer Company has auditions for the next
Oscar Meyer child. Again, their goal is to sell their brand. The company also has another
product with another catchy song, Oscar Meyer hotdogs. "I wish I were an Oscar Meyer
wiener" The stress of this phrase is also the brand. Oscar Meyer commercials use
children to sing these songs and like the gold fish commercial, the song has been
imprinted into a child's memory by the ends of the commercial. Both companies goals is
to sell their product. By targeting children, whole families are then targeted. Competition
between companies with similar products, is the reason catch phrases are used. If one
company can create a catch phrase that everyone will know and remember, they are one
step closer to winning the race.
Animated characters are also a medium for ensnaring children. Animation has been the
way which companies from Disney to the Cartoon Network, capture the attention of children
everywhere. Tony the Tiger is the spokesman for Kellogg's frosted flakes. The image of this
tiger appears in all the commercials and on the boxes of cereal. "Their grrrreat!," is a catch
phrase used along with the animated character. Together these mediums imprint themselves into
a child's memory. When a child sees these commercials on television, the get placed in their
memory book. When a child goes shopping with their parents and sees the product on the shelf,
the memory resurfaces and the child asks for the product. Other animated characters associated
with food products, are the Trix Rabbit, the Flintstones, the leprechaun for Lucky Charms, and
the Quick Rabbit. The Flintstones is a well-known cartoon. Using these characters to advertise a
product takes something that children already love and gives it more meaning. Again, these
commercials get put into a child's memory bank, and the companies hope that the child will one
day ask for the product.
Toys are another way in which children are targeted. What kind of child does not like
toys? None. This is the answer that some companies keep in mind when advertising their
product. Cracker Jacks is just an average caramel popcorn snack until a toy is out inside the box
and advertised. The hope here is that the child will remember a particular brand has a toy in it
and will therefore ask for that particular product. Cereal companies are also famous for this type
of advertisement. The huge competition between the companies has caused a need for them to
somehow sell their products better. If they put toys in the boxes of cereal, children are more
likely to want the box with a toy in it. Fast food restraints also advertise to children. For
example, McDonald's has the Happy Meal, Burger King has the Kid's Club and Wendy's has
the Kids Meal. The only difference between these, is the toy that comes accompanies each meal.
These companies hope that when a child is asked where they want to eat, the child will answer
with their restaurant.
When I was a kid, I was constantly rewarded for getting an "A" or being well behaved in
church by going to McDonald's and getting a Happy Meal. I don't remember what kind of food
came inside the Happy Meal but I do remember the toys. They were collector's items and I knew
I had to have them all. Every couple of weeks they switched gears and came out with a new set
of collector's items. I felt rushed into collecting all four before the next batch of items were
available. The most disappoint occurrence was when I received a toy that I had already owned
and I would throw fits until I was able to go back to McDonald's and try again. I also remember
the Happy Meal box itself was another toy. It had games, puzzles, riddles and my favorite
cartoon characters on it. The best part was when I collected all four items and was the
first of my friends to do so. I felt like I was queen of the world. I had accomplished a great feat
that no one else had achieved.
Children, by nature, are very competitive. They strive to get something that no one else
has. A child loves to be the first one on their block to have the new toy, to try the new cereal, or
to own the new outfit. Advertisers know this and try to use it to their advantage. With all the
similar food in the world, there is competition to sell a certain brand. If an advertiser can suggest
to children that their product is better and more popular, then by their competitive nature the
child will have a need to have the product. This need comes from the fact that a child loves to be
the first to have something. If a cereal company uses the hottest cartoon character as their
spokesman a child will want that product because it is cool and they want to be the first one to
have it. If a child owns this product, in their mind, they too will be cool. There is also a
competition to sell name brands over generic brands. While generic brands are cheaper, they do
not appeal to children as much. Usually, these products are not accompanied by catch phrases,
cartoon characters, or toys. This takes all the fun out of the product.; making the product less
popular. A decrease in popularity will cause less competition between children and therefore the
product will not sell as well. Children want to be popular; to be popular, children want to have
the best of everything.
In the article entitled Protecting Children from Advertising, Dittman states that "the
advertising industry spends about $12 billion per year on ads targeted towards children"
(Dittman, 2004). That's too much money spent on trying to brainwash our youth to buy their
products. Dittman also stated that "the average child is bombarded with more than 40,000 TV
commercials a year" (Dittman, 2004). The campaigns shown on TV persuade children feel that
they desperately need the product and that they have to nag their parents into buying the
product for them or they will be left out of the cool crowd.
The findings in Dittman's article fully support my findings as well as my own personal
beliefs that advertising to children is unethical because a lot of the children watching the TV are
doing so without adult supervision. A lot of children watching TV are 8 or younger and they do
not fully comprehend the importance of the subliminal messages that the companies are sending
out by using their cartoons and catchy songs to hook the child into buying their products. I
believe that advertising is a modern example of brainwashing and that with no parental
supervision or no parental limits, our nation's youth will be so caught up in the power of
advertising, that their youth and innocence will end much faster than the generation before.
Advertising is using the power of suggestion to sell a product. In the case of children, a
company's advertisement hopes to suggest that their product is best. Many food companies target
children with the hopes that they can influence their parents choices when it comes to buying a
product. Animated characters, catch phrases, and toys are used to lure a child to the product.
Dittmann, Melissa. (2004, June 6). Protecting Children From Advertising. Monitor on
Psychology, 35, 1-4.
Huffman, Karen. (2002). Psychology in Action. New York: Palomar College.