The Negative Impact of Advertising on Children


In the modern business environment, advertising is an important element in promoting a company’s products. With rising consumerism, marketers use advertising to persuade customers to purchase their products and achieve increased market shares and sales volumes. The current business environment is becoming highly dynamic and competitive, and advertisers improve the creativity and appeal of their advertisement messages to influence consumer buying behavior and attract new customers in various segments of the market. With the increasing pressure to increase customer base, businesses target various audiences in their advertisements, including children (Gunter, 2016). Companies have realized that the buying behavior of parents can be influenced by targeting children because young people persuade their parents to buy the things they see on the media. In this regard, advertisers promote their products through advertisements on famous children’s programs on television or radio. However, these promotion efforts lead to several effects on children. Advertising has a negative impact on children experienced through health problems, exposure to inappropriate content, and psychological challenges associated with poor development of character and wellbeing.

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One of the effects of advertising on children is that it causes unhealthy eating habits in children, leading to health problems. Although advertisements do not force consumers to buy products, they attract their attention and encourage purchase decisions. Various restaurants and food vendors use appealing messages to persuade children to increase their consumption of fast food, leading to increased risks of obesity and other conditions. According to Story & French (2004), fast food companies influence the dietary habits of children through repetitive and persuasive advertisements in various media channels. Exciting advertisements create long term attitudes of children towards health, lifestyle, and consumer behaviors. Because children’s bodies are not fully formed, unhealthy food such as fats and sugar may have detrimental effects on them, including terminal illnesses causing death. World Health Organization believes that advertisements influence children’s behavior and cause negative consequences on public health. Furthermore, Dalmeny (2003) argues that advertising of food to children causes a negative image of what should constitute a child’s diet. For example, an advertisement may suggest that certain food brands make children intelligent and bright in class, leading to a wrong perception that makes children to consume unhealthy food. Gunter (2016) also suggests that most ads related to food promote products without nutritional value, but high levels of calories. Food rich in nutrients such as vegetables and fruits are rarely advertised; but those of poor nutritional values are aggressively advertised using animations, prizes, special effects, jingles, and celebrity endorsements to catch children’s attention and encourage them to buy unhealthy food products (The Australian Divisions of General Practice, 2003). Therefore, advertisements generally cause poor health and fitness in children.

Advertising also causes negative behavioral effects on children. Advertisements often target the affective aspects and perceptual cues of children (Wilcox et al, 2004). This advertising approach appeals to the children’s attitudes and interests by implying some kind of rewarding behaviors. For example, advertisement of alcoholic beverages often display energetic and strong men with good looks who feel relaxed after consuming beer following a long day’s work. Children may be persuaded to try such products, leading to changes in behavior. Children who find appealing advertisements of beer and cigarettes tend to indulge in alcohol and drug abuse at an early age. Story & French (2004) also suggest that children’s consumption of alcohol and tobacco leads to harmful development of children both physically and psychologically. Although alcohol and tobacco consumption is prohibited for children in the U.S., research indicates that underage abuse of alcohol and drugs is rampant in the country; and advertising plays a significant role in exacerbating it. Therefore, media commercial promotions increase physical, psychological, and emotional challenges associated with the consumption of alcoholic products and drugs among young people.

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Advertisements may also cause psychological problems in children, including low self-esteem and inferiority complex because they may expose children to adult content that affect children’s thoughts and attitudes. According to Wilcox et al (2004), children have unique vulnerabilities towards advertisements and commercial exploitations. At an early age children’s cognitive abilities are not well developed, so they cannot differentiate between deception, exploitation, and truth in advertising. Unlike adults who have the cognitive skills necessary to discern advertisement messages, children are often susceptible to the influence of such promotional campaigns.

Advertising also affects children’s psychological and emotional wellbeing because it focuses on emotion rather than rational appeal of the children. The advertisements targeting children emphasize the entertaining and enjoyable aspects of children. In fact, the TV commercials contain disclaimers, but children do not have sufficient cognition to understand their meaning. For instance, less than a quarter of children below five years can comprehend the qualifying messages in a TV promotional campaign (Wilcox et al, 2004). Nevertheless, advertisers associate their messages with happiness rather than providing factual information about the product. In this regard, most commercials tend to mislead children and cause emotional effects.

Promotional messages on the various media channels also cause social problems. Media advertisement encourages consumerism in children, leading to the development of attitudes of materialism, greed, and self-centeredness. Nonetheless, advertisements reduce children’s attention, causing to constraints in social relationships with their peers, parents, teachers, and other members of their communities. According to Gunter (2016), advertising influences children’s perception of products and the mechanisms of acquiring them, and makes them to attribute their personal worth to the consumption of the advertised products. In the modern era of increasing consumerism, material possessions are perceived as the determinants of self-worth and image – the bases for judgment for others as well as self-evaluation.

The consumption of media ads also leads to conflicts between parents and children. The parents’ refusal of children’s purchase behavior leads to parent-child conflict. Children often see several television programs and commercials that create in them the desire to consume the advertised products (Gunter, 2016). Because the advertised products are many, and some of them are not important for the child, parents often deny the children their wishes to purchase the product. Children often argue and become angry when their parents have refused to buy for them the products that are advertised in the media, including toys and chocolate (Wilcox, 2004). Generally, advertising causes strain on parent-child relationships because it encourages frequent purchase requests which are not possible to fulfil in the short term.

Although there is clear evidence of significant effects of advertising on children, there are various arguments that support such promotional efforts. First, marketers suggest that advertising gives children a wide variety of options to choose the best products. Without advertising, products children may end up buying substandard products because they may not be aware of the existence of other options. Media commercials ensure that children can make informed decisions about the best products based on the information they get from the internet. However, Wilcox et al (2004) argue that children do not have the cognitive skills to make informed choices from a variety of products. On the contrary, the availability of many products advertised makes them more enticed to try many things, leading to the consumption of many commodities without the knowledge of any possible risks involved.

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Supporters of advertisements for children also argue that that promotional messages contain information about the products so that children can identify quality products. Calvert (2008) counteracts this claim by postulating that children are more affected by the affective rather than rational aspects of the message. In this regard, they do not really examine information to identify good and poor quality; but they focus on the messages that appeal to their feelings and attitude; thus they prefer enticing to informative messages.

In conclusion, advertising has significant negative effects on children because they contain persuasive messages that attract young people and encourage them to buy the advertised product. Promotional messages on children’s programs may increase children’s consumption of fast food, leading to increased intake of calories; hence they may develop health problems such as obesity. Advertising may also lead to negative psychological effects of children as well as poor behavioral development including increased risks of alcohol and drug abuse. Nonetheless, children may develop consumerism and materialistic culture, leading to negative changes in personalities and parent-child relationships. Indeed, ads targeting children have a significant negative impact on the psychological, emotional, social and physical growth of children.

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  1. Calvert, S. (2008). Children as Consumers: Advertising and Marketing. The Future of Children, 18(1), 205-234.
  2. Gunter, B. (2016). Food Advertising: Informative, Misleading or Deceptive? Food Advertising, 109-146.
  3. Story, M., & French, S. (2004). Food Advertising and Marketing Directed at Children and Adolescents in the US. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 1(1), 1-17.
  4. The Australian Divisions of General Practice. (2008). What are we feeding our children? A Junk Food Advertising Audit. Manuka: Divisions of General Practice Limited.
  5. Wilcox, B.L., Kunkel, D, Cantor, J., Dowrick, P., Linn, S., and Palmer, E. (2004). Report of the APA Task Force on Advertising and Children. Washington: American Psychological Association.
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