Advertising and children: A powerful combination

Child SafetyThanks to a task force study by the American Psychological Association, here are some basic facts you may not realize about kids and advertising:

• It is estimated that children view more than 40,000 commercials each year.

• A majority of all children in the U.S. today have a television in their bedroom.

•Children’s exposure to commercials increased dramatically with the advent of cable television and youth-centric programming, and has exploded in today’s digital age.

• Most children have unsupervised access to the Web via computers, tablets and smartphones, where digital advertising is abundant and nearly unavoidable.

• Advertisers spend $12 billion annually in commercials appealing to children.

• Children below the ages of 4 to 5 years rarely distinguish the difference between advertisements and “the real world.”

• It’s usually not until the age of 7 or 8 that a child will recognize (but still respond to) the persuasive intent of commercials, (leading them to want something, prefer something, expect something, ask for something, demand something, etc.)

• Product preference can occur with as little as a single commercial exposure. It deepens with each subsequent exposure.

• Advertising typically achieves its goal, and parents tend to make purchase decisions based on a child’s preferences.

Younger children have especially high awareness, positive attitudes and definite preferences when it comes to products promoted by licensed cartoon characters like Dora the Explorer or animated brand mascots like Honey Nut Cheerios’ Buzz. And, as they get a little older, they can be just as easily influenced by catchy characters like Joe Camel, Spuds MacKenzie and the Budweiser frogs.

If we can’t deflect all those commercials targeting our children, the next best thing is to be sure they understand the persuasive intent that drives all advertising, so they can distinguish between the real and the ideal. The CDC, PBSKids and the Federal Trade Commission offer interactive tools designed to educate children about advertising’s persuasive powers, teach them how to decode the ads they see and suggest how they can become wiser consumers.

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