Marketing and advertising have supported effectively in the promotion of goods and services. A strategy, which exploit consumers' feeling of inadequacy and means of alleviating consumers' negative self-image, was adopted by advertisers to create large markets for surplus fruits of mass production (Jacobson, Mazur, & Collins, 1995). Their strategy succeeded beyond their great expectations. Large part of their success can be attributed to the emergence and dominance of televisions in consumers' homes (Wartella & Robb, 2009). Advertisers quickly realised that they could use this to bring to the attention of viewers, the products and services, and thus deliver enormous supply of buyers to their businesses. The advertisements, in its various forms such as television commercials; branded characters and premiums; celebrity endorsements; product placements in movies; online interactive agents; advergames, are designed to target both young and old. Although television is still the dominant venue for advertising, marketers are exploring new ways to market through online media and wireless devices, often using stealth techniques.
Children are vulnerable to succumb to the intentions of the advertisers. Marketers and advertisers have found children and youth an ever more attractive audience and have adapted in their marketing techniques. McDonald's, for example, used toys as an attractive freebee to induce kids to clamour to go McDonald's (CSPI, 2010). Even though such methods have targeted children for decades, two recent trends have increased the interest of marketers in child consumers. First, the discretionary income of children and their power to influence their parents proved testimonial to promoted commercial messages to the youth. Parents supply 87 percent of young children's income, which drops to 37 percent for teens who have their own share of discretionary income (Rubin, 2004). From vacation choices to car purchases, youth shape the buying patterns of their families. It is estimated that children, between two to fourteen year olds, have sway over $500 million a year in household purchasing. Thus, to influence youth is to influence the entire family's buying patterns (McGinnis, Gootman, & Kraak, 2006). Second, the enormous increase in the number of television channels and online interactive technologies that have opened new opportunities to narrow focus to children (Calvert, 2009). Since, children and youth are heavy media users and early adopters of such new technologies, online marketing and advertising campaigns are efficient pathways into children's homes and lives (Roberts, Foehr, & Rideout, 2005). It is estimated that about four million children are using internet. They are online as often as five times each day, for a period from several minutes to more than an hour per session. The young internet users is increasing significantly (CME, 1996). Online technologies have created a new and trending media space for advertisers that is unprecedented, especially when it arrives to marketing to children.
Children, before they reach the age of eight, lack the cognitive skills to understand the persuasive intent of the advertisements; and they believe that these commercial messages are meant to help then in their purchase decision (Robertson & Rossiter, 1974). The three stages of Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development can be used to explain age based differences in children's comprehension of commercial advertisements –preoperational thought, concrete operational thought, and formal operational thought (Flavell, 1963). From age two to age seven, during the stage of preoperational thought, young children are perceptually bound and focus on properties. They tend to use animistic thinking, believing that imaginary events and characters can be real. With the advent of concrete operational thought, between age seven and age eleven, children begin to understand that perceptual manipulations do not change the underlying properties of objects. By the stage of formal operational thought, about age twelve and upward, adolescents can reason abstractly and understand the motives of advertisers growing cynical about advertising (Valkenburg & Cantor, 2002). Albeit analytical though process are developed in the final stage of cognitive development, all children can be influenced to purchase products if such products are made attractive enough through marketing and advertising (John, 1999).
Exposure to commercial advertisements are affecting the children's behaviour. Parent-child conflict, cynicism, obesity, and possible materialistic attitudes are some negative outcomes in both younger and older children. A request for purchase being denied by parents can lead to conflict between parent and child. Such arguments, have been found to depend on the child's exposure time to the advertisements. Advertisers call this the “nag factor” (Valkenburg & Cantor, 2002). This pester power seems to a preferred tactic of young children characterised by nagging, crying, or whining to get their parents. Preadolescent girls are attracted towards and purchasing more clothing and make-up products that were formally targeted to an adolescent teen market. Heavy advertisements and marketing campaigns are leading to sexualisation and exploitation of girls. Advertisements to children about food products have raised concerns, since the products campaigned are mostly fast foods, foods that are high in calories and low in nutritional values. Food advertisements affect children's food preferences, food requests, and short-term eating habits, and are partly to blamed for children being overweight and obese (APA, 2007).
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