Marketing to Children – Effective but Undermining

Shannon Thomas Robards

ID: 215236944

article-2266060-02e89dcf0000044d-271_468x450Childhood obesity is currently ranked among the greatest challenges to global health in the 21st Century with Marketing listed as one of the principal sources of the epidemic (WHO, 2016). With clear links to low socio-economic status and poor education, obesity affects the world’s most vulnerable citizens (Popkin et al., 2012). Through the study of consumer behavior and the subsequent targeting of you
nger audiences, marketing has clearly hindered societies well-being (Jackson et al., 2014). But is this trend changing and are company’s now trying to amend their practices?

It is no secret that children are prime motivators for certain purchases within the supermarket. Most parents dread the cereal box aisle due to the specific nature in which children are targeted from the colours on boxes to placing them within a child’s reach (Berry and McMullen, 2008). Children don’t just remember products for their own consumption. On the contrary, it has been found that children absorb an array of advertisements (Teodora and Ana-Elena, 2011) becoming  unrelenting mobile billboards with a competence in public temper tantrums whenever they approach the marketplace. Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) engage television and movie media, video games and sports to promote foodstuffs, drinks, toys and experiences recruiting everyone from sport stars to cartoon characters in an effort sell goods to children (Teodora and Ana-Elena, 2011). There is money in children and knowing how to sell to them has been profitable.


The video above demonstrates how marketers targeting children focus on the visual and aural intensity of product advertisements, through unrealistic or sensational events derived from consuming or at the thought of consuming a product coupled with catch phrases delivered by brand mascots such as Mickey Mouse or Buzz Lightyear. This formula of advertising in the cereal industry was used to target 46% of advertisements towards children, with 18% of them using brand mascots such as fictional cartoon characters or sporting figures (Kraak and Story, 2015). Lee et al. (2006) discussed the notion of expectations been one of the biggest factors in determining positive product response. Marketers further involve children with an array of stimuli such as bright colours, cheerful music and catch phrases, conditioning children to recall products in supermarkets, sporting events and restaurants. The development of brand loyalty in children is a key strategy of companies whom seek to induce lifelong consumption (Jackson et al., 2014).


But this hasn’t gone unnoticed. As a result of the clear correlation between marketing and childhood obesity, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued recommendations for marketing to children in 2010. Advocates are now calling for greater corporate social responsibility (CSR) trying to bring awareness to the potentially unethical practices of companies who target children to the broader community (Inoue and Kent, 2014). Some companies are even jumping onboard. The introduction of the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) in 2006 compiled 10 companies within the U.S, requiring all members to have a policy in place when specifically marketing towards children 12 years or younger (Kraak and Story, 2015). However, regardless of these changes, many companies are not in the CFBAI, and those that are have been criticized for creating strawman policies in an attempt to appear responsible rather than being responsible (Kraak and Story, 2015).

The call for genuine relationships with customers has never been stronger. Iftekhar et al. (2013) posit that companies may actually benefit from frank and earnest conversations with consumers, which in the long-term boost the credibility of firms and increase brand loyalty. Marketing as a discipline is continually undermined by the use of perceived underhanded tactics (Inoue and Kent, 2014), and for marketing to truly positively add to the social agenda, marketers must put aside bottom line objectives and acknowledge the consequences of their actions on humanity.


  1. BERRY, B. & MCMULLEN, T. 2008. Visual communication to children in the supermarket context: Health protective or exploitive? Agriculture & Human Values, 25, 333-348.
  2. INOUE, Y. & KENT, A. 2014. A Conceptual Framework for Understanding the Effects of Corporate Social Marketing on Consumer Behavior. Journal of Business Ethics, 621.
  3. JACKSON, M., HARRISON, P., SWINBURN, B. & LAWRENCE, M. 2014. Unhealthy food, integrated marketing communication and power: a critical analysis. Critical Public Health, 24, 489-505.
  4. KRAAK, V. I. & STORY, M. 2015. accountability evaluation for the industry’s responsible use of brand mascots and licensed media characters to market a healthy diet to American children. Obesity reviews.
  5. POPKIN, B. M., ADAIR, L. S. & NG, S. W. 2012. Global nutrition transition and the pandemic of obesity in developing countries. Nutrition Reviews, 70, 3-21.
  6. TEODORA, T. & ANA-ELENA, O. 2011. THE IMPACT OF THE 21ST CENTURY FOOD MARKETING ON CHILDREN’S BEHAVIOUR. Annals of the University of Oradea, Economic Science Series, 20, 786-792.
  7. WHO 2016. Report on the Commissioning of Ending Childhood Obesity. World Health Organisation.
  8.,. Sorry Your Childs Puppy Fat Isn’t Cute – It Could Be A Sign Of Unhealthiness. 2013. Web. 27 July 2016.
  9. Compilation Of Junk Food Commericials Aimed At Children And Teens. Youtube: LessyNitty, 2015. video.



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