A report released today by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science harshly criticizes the effects of marketing to children on obesity and children’s health. The report charges that, “Ample information and studies [indicate] that television advertising influences the food preferences, purchase requests and diets at least of children under 12 and is associated with the increased rates of obesity among children and youth.”
Advertising Age, clearly sensing the shifting zeitgeist suggests that this report may become, “a watershed on the scale of the 1964 surgeon general’s report on tobacco.” Even allowing for some journalistic overstatement, this advertising blog would agree that the turning point seems to have been reached on this debate. We believe the question is not whether we are witnessing the beginning of the end of some forms of advertising to children but how far this tide will take us. Specifically, we ask whether toy manufacturers ought not to be as worried as cereal companies. As loyal readers will know, the ThirdWay Advertising Blog has argued strongly against advertising to preteen children (Click Here to read “The Boomerang Effect: Advertising to Children”). We believe that children are not equipped to critically evaluate advertising messages and that the brand relationship established through advertising is inherently flawed if it is established before a child is old enough to meaningfully consent to a brand’s selling proposition.
Marketers developing products for younger children should consider returning to influencer-based strategies (reaching the parents) and look at ways to differentiate their products after purchase with children, not before. The opportunity for damaging PR for companies advertising to pre-teens will increase dramatically before this debate ends.