The Ethical Dilemma of Advertising to Children

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Advertising to children

Advertising to children has been a bone of contention among policy makers with most moralists citing that it is unethical. Technological enhancement has made it possible for children to regularly consume advertising messages, coupled with their long hours of watching television. Advertising in itself is governed by a set of principles that determines the value, content and the benefit to the target market. An appropriate advertising message ought to ensure that they have the right content and it is not deceiving. For the purpose of this research paper, I will argue that advertising directed at children is wrong. Children have not yet developed the cognitive ability to decode the messages and they may hence follow messages that may alter their habits, health or perception in life.


Unhealthy Eating and Behaviors

Advertising aimed at children may be harmful to their health. MacDonald’s was once on the spotlight for encouraging unhealthy eating in young children thus forcing them to device better marketing strategies (Hallmann 33). Evidently, snacks and fast food looks appealing and it is only sensible that the children will only want to consume such food (Taylor and Riklan 9). Encouraging unhealthy eating translates to lifestyle diseases and obesity, something that Mitchell Obama strongly fought against (Watson). The advertising further tells the children that they have the option of not accepting what their parents present to them and hence can dictate their own eating terms which is wrong (Allhoff 4). Companies should instead seek to instill healthy eating and behaviors in children in a way that adds value to them.

Sneaking to Advertise

Some of the companies are crafty and do not make it obvious that they are advertising. Some of the advertising messages are aired during the day when the children are busy watching cartoons unsupervised (Kamal 253). The adverts often come in animated films and this means that the children have no one overseeing what they are watching (Watson). Since the cartoons appealing and compelling to the children, it hence becomes difficult for a parent to convince the child to adopt a different behavior as they are determined to follow what they have seen on the television (Murphy 88). Other cartoons seems to have been made specifically for the children and supposedly shut out the parents (Calvert 210). The parents hence have zero control over the messages because they seemingly fail to understand the advertisement (Allhoff 8). It is important that adverting companies acknowledge the input of parents in their children lives and hence avid sidelining them in their messages and visuals.

Teaches Children to be Nagging and Resist Parental Authority

The advertising companies seem to forget that the parents needs to be consulted before some of the purchases that the children make since they are the buyers (Watson). The companies should instead include a clause in their adverts that reminds the children that they should seek the permission of their parents before consuming some things (Matthew, Fleming, Rozendaal, McAlister, Jessica 154). There should indeed be some sense of responsibility for the companies and a close association with parents to identify what works and what so far has failed.

Use of Psychotherapists

Some companies are notorious for using children psychologists to manipulate the minds of the young children. Notably, children are easy swayed by colors, sounds and cartoon like pictures (Watson). The psychologists have well studied how the mind of a child works and are hence in an excellent position to advice the marketing companies on how to present themselves (Allhoff 24). It is indeed unethical to use such professionals to manipulate children instead of adding value to them (Ariff 6). Advertising is aimed at evoking emotions and not logic and using therapists to influence children is this wrong and unethical (Kamal 253). It is important that the psychology organizations watch out for professionals who go against their agreed code of conduct and impose disciplinary measures on them.

Leads to Unhappiness in Children

Some advertisement makes children feel left out for not buying a product (Woodward and Denton 23). There are indeed companies that make it appear that buying their products would make the children have a prime life and failure to do that would make the lose their position in the society (Ariff 4). For instance, a toys and a clothing company may be targeting children from middle income homes. When there is such an advertisement therefore, the children ends up nagging their parents until they get the products (Watson). Such advertisement teach children how to be intolerant and disrespectful to their guardians.


Advertising can shield Children from Harm

Some of the advertising messages are an excellent way of barring children from engaging in harmful activities (Watson). For instance, an advert directing children how to behave around strangers may teach them essential life skills that they may use for protection (Watson). Parents especially in the first world countries are busy, sometimes taking up several jobs to sustain themselves. It hence becomes difficult to always monitor the children who at times are left under the care of a hired nanny. Such advertising should be encouraged to guard children.

Advertising can encourage Good Behaviors

Some of the companies encourage good behaviors and they should be tolerated (Murphy 86). For instance, Dettol advertisement encourages children to wash their hands after visiting the toilet and before eating also tends to encourage good hygiene. Some companies have also gone a step higher to teach children through animated pictures how to brush their teeth, a very essential skill in children. Advertisement should hence seek to educate and improve the lives of the children and not simply focus on making profits from the children.

My Take

Advertising is indeed an excellent way of informing, educating and guarding the children against potential harmful behaviors. Advertising targeted at the children should, however, be minimized because children have not yet grown the mental muscle to sieve the messages they receive thus always taking them as gospel truth (Rozendaal, Buijzen, and Valkenburg 79). Children cannot at this stage tell whether the messages are misleading them and when they should not play heed to what they receive online. Companies ought to instead teach the children about advertising and why they should not always buy into the messages that they receive on their media. Parents should also be involved in making of the messages so that they can ensure that it is appropriate. It is hence wrong to manipulate the children and hence forcing them to pressure their parent into giving into their demands. Advertising should only be done when it is educative and when there is no emotional manipulation on the children.


While advertising is a good strategy that companies use to sell their products and gain market entry, it should be done the right way. Advertising should not be a means of manipulating children and encouraging ill behaviors and mannerisms. Marketing companies should be mindful about their messages, the timings and the visuals they display on media. Further, adverting companies should aim at been sincere and hence reduce their conniving antics directed at the children. Any advertising that seeks to mislead the children or deceive them should be banned from being aired on the media platforms. Food manufacturing companies should also understand the effects that their pictures and messages have on the children’s minds. As such, it is important that such companies present healthier food in a fashionable way that will make the children desire more of it. Further, it is also important that advertising companies are ethical in that they do not try to manipulate the young minds for their selfish gains (Rozendaal, Buijzen, and Valkenburg 81). Above all, the parents have the overall responsibility for their children and control the content they watch on media.

Works Cited

Allhoff, Fritz. "What are applied ethics?." Science and engineering ethics 17.1 (2011): 1-19.)

Ariff, Mohamad. "Commercial morals and ethics in modern advertising and sales promotion." Scholedge International Journal of Management & Development ISSN 2394-3378 2.11 (2015): 1-6.

Calvert, Sandra L. "Children as consumers: Advertising and marketing." The future of children 18.1 (2008): 205-234.

Hallmann, Anna L. Food Advertising to Children: A Critical Evaluation of Public, Governmental and. Place of publication not identified: Anchor Academic Publishin, 2014.

Kamal, Sara. "Ethical Issues in Marketing Communication in Emerging Markets." Ethical Issues in Communication Professions: New Agendas in Communication (2013): 253.

Matthew A. Lapierre, Fleming M. Frances, Rozendaal Esther, McAlister Anna R, Castonguay Jessica. "The effect of advertising on children and adolescents." Pediatrics 140.Supplement 2 (2017): S152-S156.

Murphy, Patrick E. "Research in marketing ethics: Continuing and emerging themes." Recherche et Applications en Marketing (English Edition) 32.3 (2017): 84-89.

Rozendaal, Esther, Moniek Buijzen, and Patti Valkenburg. "Comparing children's and adults' cognitive advertising competences in the Netherlands." Journal of Children and Media 4.1 (2010): 77-89.

Taylor, Eric, and David Riklan. Mastering the World of Marketing: The Ultimate Training Resource from the Biggest Names in Marketing. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley, 2011.

Watson, Bruce. "The Tricky Business Of Advertising To Children." the Guardian. N.p., 2018. Web. 7 May 2018.

Woodward, Gary C, and Robert E. Denton. Persuasion and Influence in American Life. Long Grove, Illinois : Waveland Press, Inc. , 2013.

September 18, 2023




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