Marketing to Children Should I Do It?
Flipping through the television channels, I recently stumbled upon an electoral advertisement. It was on BBC I think, or another European channel and it depicted the message of a political party, forwarding its candidate to the presidential elections. The symbol of the respective party, I later on found out, is that of three red roses. So, the advertisement featured a young girl, of no more than 10 years, holding three red roses and sending the message of the respective political party. I was entirely grossed up by the usage of children to draw electorate. But hey, that's politics, right? And all is fair in love and war, isn't that so? Still, the usage of children to attain one's personal objectives is neither new, nor strictly pegged to politics.
McDonald's is one of the modern day corporations that set the children at the core of their product and service offering. Before its occurrence, food companies would traditionally advertise to the mature audience. The company founded by the McDonald brothers nonetheless spotted a great opportunity in targeting children. They created special meals for children; they included toys in the Happy Meals; they decorated the stores in a means that would appeal to the children; they opened small parks in the yards of the stores and they organized birthday parties. The immediate result was that of a frenzy created around the imposed necessity to go to McDonald's not only because the children loved the meals here, but because the children in the advertisements promised great fun, and most importantly, because the other children from school went to McDonald's.
The fast food giant was eventually forbidden from using children in their media campaigns, but other companies continue to engage in such endeavors. Just watch television during week-end mornings and you will stumble upon several advertisements for toys, books or other items destined for the usage of children. The problem is not so much that they use children to promote the items, but that they construct their advertisements in a means that appeals to children, rather than the parents. Instead of focusing on the educational and safety feature that would convince the parent to buy, the advertisements focus on the fun the toys will give the child, as well as on the fact that other children have the respective item, and that the children watching the television also needs to purchase one.
Children are easily impressionable, and the messages send by the advertisements which are generally constructed with the aid of psychologists specialized in child care will be perceived as social necessities to own the advertised item, or otherwise face the threat of social exclusion. The direct impact on the children is then the enhanced peer pressure and even a sense of social inferiority if they do not get the respective toy. They will feel socially inadequate, and their very future development as social beings could be negatively impacted.
The current legislators understood some of the risks implied in advertising to children, but the adequate laws have yet to be developed and implemented. What has nevertheless been achieved is the obstruction of children from ordering items through telephone. Finally, in order to answer the question in the title, it would be socially responsible to not use the naivetι of children to sell our products, and as such trade the innocence, happiness and future development of the young generation for a few extra bucks.