Lynn Sharp Paine: Children as Consumers:

Ethical Evaluation of Children’s T.V. Advertising (1983)


1.   History

      a. Targeting of children started in mid 1960s

      b. 1980 FCC had hearing to ban TV ads directed to or seen by large numbers of children

      c. Received 80,000 letters in support of a proposed rule to eliminate sponsorship and commercial content in children’s programing

      d. Big $ fighting these proposals of FTC came from sugar, candy, chocolate makers

      e. Today? Full speed ahead? Marketing “make-overs” for 7 year old girls...

          i.        In 2006, American Academy of Pediatricians worried about “A rising tide of advertising aimed at children”

          ii.       Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood


2.   Evaluating the moral, not the legal issue

      a. Even if advertisers have constitutional right to advertise lawful products to young children in non-deceptive ways, doesn’t follow it is the right thing to do

      b. Having a right to do something does not mean it is the right thing to do

          i.        Can have rights guaranteed legally (and morally) and it may be unethical to exercise that right under certain conditions

          ii.       For example, get off the elevator because a Black/Jew/Yankee/Southerner gets on

      c. Paine ignores the 1st Amendment right to free speech issues involved with Children’s T.V. advertising and focuses on ethical evaluation

3.   Evaluating ethical issues not same as evaluating appropriateness of government regulation

      a. Even if a practice is unethical, could be lots of reasons (legal, social, economic, political) for why government could/should not forbid or even regulate the practice

      b. Even if it were unwise or impossible for government to restrict children’s advertising, doesn’t shield advertisers from ethical responsibility for the practice

4.   Public opinion about this type of advertising settles neither the ethical nor public policy issues

      a. Can’t say advertising to children ethically permissible because many people do not object to it or because people’s objections are relatively weak

          i.        Must look at ethical principles

      b. One survey of adults about children’s ads: Strongly negative 23%; Negative 50%; Neutral 23%; Positive 4%

          i.        Paine’s point is that these attitudes may make a case that we should look into the ethical issues, but they don’t resolve them

5.   Setting aside legal and public policy issues and looking at ethical question of propriety of directing TV ads to young children


6.   Paine’s conclusion: “Good ethical reasons why advertisers should refrain from directing commercials to young children”


7.   Definition of “young children” (YC): Children who can’t make responsible consumer decisions (because they lack the required conceptual abilities)

      a. “Certainly children under 8"

      b. Comprehending persuasive intent of ads (happens between kindergarten and 9/10) is only a small part of being able to make a responsible consumer decision


8.   Definition of kind of ads she’s evaluating: Advertising directed to YC and that try to persuade YC to want and request the advertised product

      a. Current voluntary guidelines prohibit ads from instructing children to request their parents buy product (Still true?)

      b. Still ads designed to induce favorable attitudes that result in children requesting this of adults

          i.        Use techniques that particularly appeal to children: magic, fantasy, super-heroes, clowns

      c. Ads that intend to sell to or through children; Ads that target children

          i.        Ads directed at children are only a subcategory of those they see (e.g., ads for adult products, like Viagra)

      d. Not talking about ads for children’s products that are directed at adults

          i.        An alternative way to market children’s products,

                    (1)     Especially make sense if very young would use it


9.   Argument in favor of advertising to children (advanced by advertising agencies) (p. 368-9)

      a. Most important benefit of advertising to children

      b. Provides information to child herself

      c. Information that is geared to children’s interest and appropriate level of understanding

      d. Allows child

          i.        To learn what products are available and how they differ

          ii.       To make decisions about them based on their own personal wants and preferences

      e. Product diversity responds to these preferences and insures consumers (children) dictate the ultimate success or failure of a product offering (consumer sovereignty)

      f. Gives children same access to marketplace adults have

      g. Would be unfair not to provide them the same access as adults

      h. Ads to children are morally good


10. Paine’s analysis/critique of this argument

      a. Portrays children as autonomous consumers with relevant decision making capacities who differ from adults mainly in types of products they prefer

      b. Paine argues that it is inappropriate to regard children as autonomous consumers

      c. Young children (=YC) lack the capacities needed to function as responsible consumers

          i.        Their different sense of self, time, and money makes this true

      d. Rational choice requires one to be able to monitor, study and reflect upon oneself and one’s choices and one’s desires (and YC lack these abilities)

          i.        Must be able to reflect on one’s desires, evaluate them, have desires about one’s desires (2nd order desires) and desires about what one wants to desire

      e. YC lack (or only have in rudimentary form) ability to see themselves as having desires they may wish to modify, cultivate, or suppress

      f. YC also lack self-control to act on these higher order desires even if they could have them

      g. YC have extremely short time horizons; very limited ability to project themselves into the future and imagine themselves as having different preferences

          i.        W/o understanding one’s continuity in time, can’t evaluate one’s desires and make rational choices about them.

      h. YC don’t understand the value of money

          i.        Her child knew that $5.00 was too much for a trinket, also thought $5.00 was too much for a piano

11. Summary

      a. Children know very little about own personal wants/preferences, how related to each other, how quickly they will change

      b. They experience wants/preferences, but can’t critically reflect on them and curtail felt desires for sake of other more important/ enduring desires expect to have in future

      c. Can’t assess how well products will satisfy their desires

          i.        Will they have fun and be popular because they possess the advertised product?

      d. Children can’t understand commercial exchanges, unable to evaluate their own consumer preferences

          i.        Kids are always promising to pay each other $25 for things

      e. YC can’t make responsible and rational consumer decisions; treating them as if they can is a mistake

          i.        Do adults do these things? NO, but at least they can (or many can to some extent)

      f. Paine believes advertisers in free market economy have responsibility to promote consumer satisfaction and cultivate responsible consumer choice

          i.        Advertising to children cultivates irresponsible consumer behavior

          ii.       This is a strong claim about the duties of advertisers/marketers


12. Facts and statistics that support

      a. “Program length commercials--children’s programs designed around licensed characters”

      b. YC develop affection for and even personal relationships with heavily promoted product characters

      c. YC can’t assess the status of these characters as fictional or real, let alone assess any minimal product information (and there is almost none)

          i.        90% of 3 year olds (73% of 7 year olds) thought selling character liked them

          ii.       82% of 4-7 year olds thought selling individual ate the product they advertised and wanted children to eat like they did

      d. Children trust selling characters

          i.        70% of three year olds (60% of 7 year olds) trusted selling character as much as their mother!




14. (1) Principle of veracity: Devotion to truth

      a. Ads should not intentionally deceive children

          i.        Advertisers should do research to see when kids are misled by their ads

      b. But YC conceptual abilities make it likely that children’s ads will generate false beliefs in them or highly unreasonable product expectations

      c. To extent this happens, can questions advertisers devotion to truth


15. (2) Fairness and respect for children

      a. Children’s ads benefit the advertiser while nourishing false beliefs, unreasonable expectations and irresponsible consumer desires among children

      b. Take advantage of children’s limited capacities and susceptibilities for the benefit of advertisers

          i.        Former FTC chair: “Advertisers seize on children’s trust and exploit it as a weakness for their gain”

          ii.       “What kind of a society allows the exploitation of children for $?”

      c. Advertisers use children as unwitting means to the parent’s pocketbooks

          i.        Children’s advertisers treat children as instruments for own gain

      d. Shows a lack of respect for children


      e. Objection: Children are protected because parents exercise control over purse strings

      f. Paine’s reply: Objection ignores that the criticism is not about potential economic harm, but about the attitude toward children that is reflected, an attitude that treats them unfairly and with disrespect


16. (3) Harm to children

      a. Parent/child conflicts when parents refuse to buy product requested:

          i.        One study suggested that heavy viewers of Saturday morning commercials got into more arguments with parents than light viewers

      b. Unhappiness and anger of children whose parents say no

      c. Unhappiness when products don’t meet expectations

      d. Unhappiness of those children exposed to a lifestyle more affluent than their own.

17. Paine raises this argument but does not develop it

      a. For example, she does not respond to the counter-argument that conflicts between parents and children are instructive and thus not bad.

          i.        “Teaches children to navigate consumer culture at very low cost.”


18. An analogy to consider: Advertising to young children is like targeting advertising to retarded people

      a. If you think that is wrong, why isn’t advertising to children also wrong? Both are not capable of responsible consumer choice.

19. Are children’s T.V. advertisers like a neighbor who tries to sucker your kids into buying something or tries to get your kids to get you to buy it?


20. Alternatives: Eliminate children’s ads and replace with ads geared to adults

          i.        Especially get rid of programs designed around a selling character

      b. Ads should give children’s product information that interests adult viewers

      c. Ads should let children know consumer choices require responsible decision-making skills

      d. Believes advertisers could come up with appropriate ads

      e. Some children’s programing might suffer

          i.        But other ways to sponsor ads

          ii.       1949 42% of children’s programing lacked ad sponsorship

      f. Long term results would be that products that didn’t depend for their success on susceptibility and immaturity of children would do better

          i.        Greater market efficiency result

      g. Some European countries limit advertising to children.....