Harmful Effects of Food Advertising on Young Children


Junk food and advertisements have always had a rather controversial relationship with children who love junk food and parents who hate it with a passion.

From colorful advertisements featuring cartoon characters to packages with free toys, junk food and its advertising has always been a real treat for kids all over the world and a bane for parents.

In this article, we discuss the how’s and why’s of junk food advertising and the negative effect it can have on children.

Junk Food Advertising for Kids

Advertising Harms Kids

Advertisements targeted towards children first started appearing with the introduction of cable television and comic books. Strange as it may sound, comic books were not originally targeted towards children, as they were assumed to be largely uneducated.

However, when several studies discovered that children made up a significant amount of the target market, all of this would soon change.

Many marketeers discovered that in children, they were able to tap into a market that consisted of consumers that was and still is highly susceptible to suggestion and easily manipulated.

As a result, this made advertising to children a very attractive proposition, as they possessed what would be known as “pester power.”

By targeting children with advertisements that showcased must-have toys and other products, children would become convinced that it was absolutely necessary for them to have said advertised items.

Hence, when they are out shopping with their parents, they would continuously and repeatedly pester their parents or guardians to buy the products that they recognize as something they must have.

Along with this, younger children have a tendency to react in a negative manner should they not get what they want. They do so by expressing their frustration in the form of tantrums, crying and screaming.

For example, a particular toy advertised on TV has caught the attention of a young child who immediately takes a liking to said toy and decides that he must have it.

During a shopping outing with his parents, the young boy notices that the toy advertised is on sale at the shopping mall and he begs his parents to buy it for him. However, his parents refuse to do so and the child reacts by getting upset.

At this point, the boy howls at the top of his lungs and kicks his legs This situation is extremely unpleasant and embarrassing for the child’s parents and seeking to avoid a scene, they quickly buy the toy and all is well once again.

This illustrates the effect of pester power and how many children, especially in Western nations, are quick to use tantrums to get their way.

Advertising agencies and their clients were quick to pounce on this pattern and as such, advertisements targeted towards children would seem to be part of the norm.

Another reason as to why advertising to kids is so effective is the power of peer pressure, which can be seen in most children’s desire to conform to his or her peers.

For example, a particular toy has proven to be significantly popular with a large number of children, making said toy a “must-have.” In turn, this would result in children pestering their parents to buy it for them.

This illustrates how much of an effect advertising towards children can have. Toy makers and other manufacturers are able to dictate what is popular to children and in turn, inculcate them with an overwhelming desire to possess said item.

[Relevant: Ways to Get Toddler Eat better]

Junk Food Advertising

junk food advertising

Children have always had an affinity for junk food, thanks to a combination of savvy advertising and marketing. Along with this, junk food has been specially formulated to appeal to the imagination of kids, while also tasting good – which is another factor.

It is fact, without a doubt, that junk food advertising has had a significant effect on the spread of juvenile diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

With the introduction of the television, marketers have a rich market in children. This can clearly be seen by advertising campaigns for junk food and snacks that are specially designed to captivate the imagination of children.

One of the largest culprits of targeted advertising is none other than the fast food conglomerate McDonald’s.

The cheerful clown Ronald McDonald and his merry band of cartoon friends promised children a great time at their neighborhood, McDonald’s restaurant, which served to entice generations of children at a time.

Along with this, a large majority of McDonald’s restaurants featured indoor playgrounds where children high on soda and fries would be able to run wild, as their tired parents took a breather on the colorful plastic chairs.

Couple this with the fact that McDonald’s Happy Meals offer toys with every meal purchased and you can see why McDonald’s was able to become the world’s most popular fast food franchise.

Marketeers call this the power of association, where children were taught to associate McDonald’s with a good time. As a result, you have a recipe for success.

This strategy of advertising to children was so effective that Ray Kroc, the man who would take McDonald’s to stratospheric heights, often chose to open McDonald’s outlets close to churches, schools and playgrounds in order to attract children.

This is extremely harmful for children, as they would be hell-bent at having all of their meals at McDonald’s. In turn, it would lead to overweight children and juvenile diabetes.

Also, targeting children serves to create brand loyalty that can last a lifetime, which means that your children’s children would also inherit your child’s love for fast food.

Food Advertising to ChildrenFood Advertising to Children

If you have kids, chances are high that you absolutely dread taking them along to the shopping mall on a grocery run.

From the colorful boxes of cereal – with cartoon characters conveniently placed at eye-level for most children – to junk food promotions, food advertising to children has become an art form in itself.

For example, cereal manufacturers often commission ad agencies to craft cereal boxes that are especially appealing to children.

Through a combination of bright colors and cartoon characters, along with a taste that delights kids, cereal manufacturers have often been accused of causing childhood obesity through their marketing tactics.

Another tactic used by these companies is the deliberate placing of sweets and other products that appeal to children at a child’s eye level. This is to ensure that children are quickly attracted to such items and would, in turn, request for their parents to buy said item.

Let’s not forget that retailers also have a strategy for targeting certain food products at children.

Take the checkout counters, for example and notice how many checkout counters carry a selection of chocolates and sweets. Oftentimes, these are accompanied by a small screen blaring out some generic advertisement for said products.

This approach ensures that children waiting with their parents at the checkout counter would be attracted to these products on offer.

Junk Food Ads

A recent study conducted in Australia determined that children are exposed to an average of about 4 hours of junk food ads per year. This number was deduced to be a significant contributor to the growing fast food epidemic.

Being exposed to fast food advertisements for an extended period of time means that children are more likely to consume above-average quantities of junk food.

Coupled with the fact that most junk food ads are run at times when children are most likely to be watching television and you have trouble on your hands.

The numbers have shown that by just watching one extra junk food ad a year can result in children consuming a whopping 18,000 extra calories.

Unhealthy Food Advertisements

 Food Advertisements for kids

Social media has opened up the gates of communication and has ensured that we are all much more connected than before. However, social media also does come with its own set of problems and unhealthy food advertisements is just another one of those problems.

The age of social media also means that a wealth of data is available for anyone with the time and inclination to process all of this information.

With nearly every child getting his or her hands on a smart device of some kind, marketeers have also learnt how potentially lucrative this situation can be.

In the past, fast food adverts were aired on television during prime time i.e. 7pm to 9pm and 8am on a Saturday to reach out to children in particular.

However, algorithms can now be used to create a profile of a device’s user and in turn, use this information to show adverts that would resonate most strongly with the user.

This allows marketers to target their audience with greater precision than ever before. Instead of generalizing their audience, marketers can create content relevant to their target market and hone in directly without having to be too general.

This is extremely dangerous, as it would mean that young children can be easily targeted with unhealthy food advertisements.

The world of technology has opened up the universe to us, but care should be taken to ensure that our precious children do not fall prey to unscrupulous marketers looking to peddle their wares to unsuspecting children.

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