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BY: Sahid Abiola
1.0                                                                                                                    Introduction
“Whoever controls the media controls the culture”. Allen Ginsberg, Poet.
The quote above suggests that the media is so powerful that it can control everything that makes up the culture of a society especially people irrespective of age.  

The average child age 8 or older spends more than seven hours a day with screen media, watching TV, using the computer, playing video games, and using hand-held devices (Rideout et al., 2010). Even much younger children, age 2-8, spend nearly two hours a day with screen media (Common Sense Media, 2013). And through virtually all these media, children are exposed to advertising. 

2.0              Who are the Under-aged?
For easy understanding, this paper looks at the under-aged as children who fall within the age bracket of 3 to 17 years old. This is because the recognition of advertisements starts from this age. Within the Nigerian context, 18 years and above are considered adults.

3.0              What is an Advertisement?
While advertising is the activity of explicitly paying for media space or time in order to direct favorable attention to certain goods or services, advertisements are packaged messages for the purpose of advertising. For better understanding, television advertisement has been used as a point of focus because children pay more attention to audio-visual medium (Television) than any other with an average of approximately one hour a day among 2- to 8-year-olds (Common Sense Media, 2013) and more than two-and-a-half hours a day TV among those 8 and older (Rideout et al., 2010).

4.0              Media Advertisement and Under-aged: The Link
Many companies are now incorporating their products into the programming that under-aged children are viewing (cartoons, movies) or playing (games). Instead of featuring a company’s product or brand in a separate, distinct advertisement, companies pay to have their products and logos appear during the children’s program itself.
This explains that particular attention is paid to under-aged audiences by focusing media advertisements to them.
There are four related issues involved here:
1.      Are under-aged children capable of recognizing that advertisements are advertisements and do they understanding that the aim is to sell them something?
2.      Should they be regarded as a legitimate target for advertising?
3.      Because the way in which most advertising to children has to work is through 'pester power', is it right that advertisers should be encouraging children to put pressure on their parents in this way?
4.      Specific to nutrition, is the argument that the concentration of food advertising on 'junk' food (of a variety of kinds, according to current theories, or who is doing the complaining) leads to the development of a whole range of ailments.

A number of studies worldwide have noted a correspondence between the products children like and request and those advertised on television (Galst & White 1976; Caron & Ward 1975). TV advertising does appear to be effective in creating positive attitudes and behavior toward advertised products. Television advertising does go a long way in changing perceptions of the product in the course of shifting the relative salience of attitudes, especially when the purchaser is not particularly involved in the message. 

At the same time, a key concern underlying child advertising is the extent to which children have the ability to discuss, interpret and cope with advertising. It is generally perceived that younger children lack the guile and sophistication to adequately address the overtures of advertisers (Moses & Baldwin, 2005; Chan & McNeal, 2004; Bartholomew & O'Donahue, 2003).

In a study of Honk Kong children, Chan (2000) found that children preferred advertisements of food, drinks, toys and mobile phones. Research using an experimental paradigm has tended to support the view that the influence of commercials targeted at children is considerable. Galst & White (1976) report a high degree of influence between children’s purchase influence attempts and the foods that are heavily advertised on television.
A study conducted examined children’s recall of advertisements from a variety of perspectives. When experiments measure recall of advertisements immediately following viewing, more than half of the children studied, tend to remember advertisements for products such as toys, cereals, and ice-cream even when it is shown just once during a program (Gorn & Gooldberg, 1977, 1980; Zuckerman, Ziegler & Stevenson, 1978). When children are asked where they learned about toys they would like to have, they most often identify television commercials as the source (Caron & Ward, 1975).

Television has become an important economic socializing agent because of its massive presence in children’s lives. Children are exposed to numerous advertisements from an early age and are most likely the ideas advertising promotes. A study by Mittal (2009) shows that television advertisements were found to be more effective in creating a desire among children to own the advertised product. Also, celebrity endorsements are found to be more effective among children. 

From the advertiser’s perspective, the ultimate intended effect of airing a commercial is for their product to be subsequently purchased by viewers. Both Atkin (1978) and Galst & White (1976) found that the amount of prior television viewing was a significant predictor of children’s product purchase requests at the supermarket. Even cross-cultural research comparing families from Japan, UK and the United States has demonstrated a positive relationship between children’s amount of television viewing and their product purchase requests (Robertson, Ward, Gatignon & Klees, 1989).

Children do, in fact, learn to recognize advertisements as advertisements from quite an early age. Research by both commercial and academic researchers shows that they are well aware, as young as four or five, of what an advertisement is, and what it is trying to do. The Code of Practice aims to control the effects of advertising by (for example) ensuring that advertisements make clear to children the size and capabilities of, in particular, fantasy toys.

The broader issue is the one of involvement in the market, and how this affects parents. I do not see how children can avoid the market. It therefore makes sense that they should learn how to deal with it. This will (inevitably) mean that they meet with disappointments, when they have believed too much of the (inevitable) hype. You can argue that they should not have to cope with this until they reach a certain age--but what age makes sense? Eight? Ten? Fifteen? Some people already remain incurably naïve until they reach their dotage. It seems to me that—almost—the earlier you learn not to believe everything in the advertisements (just as you should learn not to believe everything you read in the papers or see on TV) the better.
It is also of note that under-aged children can also engage in the production of advertisements placed in the media. This is because some products’ advertisements are better understood when under-aged children are employed. For example, Pampers and Huggies baby diapers, baby wipes, toys etc. 

5.0              Why Advertise to Under-aged?
Immersion as Attentional Inertia
Observational studies of children watching TV indicate that for much of the time they do not actually watch the screen. In one study 54% of all looks at the screen were for less than three seconds. However, if a look lasts longer than about 15 seconds, a child is very likely to become progressively ‘locked in’ to the program. After about ten seconds, the researchers often noted that the child’s body relaxed, the head tended to slouch forward and the mouth to drop open. This phenomenon is called attentional inertia, but at least one writer has related it directly to the ‘hypnotic or trance-like quality of television watching’. This ‘attentional inertia’ is not confined to children. It has been documented in samples of college-aged adults as well. (Sutherland and Sylvester, 2000). This takes us to the pester power situation.

Pester Power – Children have learnt to wield power over their parents and get what they want. Pester power is a weapon under-aged children use on their parents to get them to buy things they want. They watch commercials on television, like the brand featured in them and ultimately want to buy them. Since, in Nigeria, children do not have the independence to make all their purchase decisions on their own, they need to seek the permission of their parents. Permission is not always easily granted by the parent. The child takes recourse to pestering the parent to buy the same. Consequently, the child demonstrates pester power that he is able to wield over his parents. Ultimately it boils down to the child watching commercials on television and developing a liking for the brand featured in the advertisements. He may use pester power to purchase the preferred brand. This is a phenomenon well understood by advertisers and often identified among parents. Examples of media advertisements that encourage pester power are: Indomie Noodles, Honeywell Noodles, fast food restaurants etc.

6.0              Effects of Media Advertisements on Under-aged: Positive/Negative

Our behavior can be influenced by observing what other people do, or imagining what they would do in the same situation. We identify with them and model ourselves on them. The closer our identification, the more likely it is that our behavior will be affected. In other words, the more similar we feel the other person is to us the more likely this modeling or copying influence will take place.

Children who are terrified of dogs can be greatly affected by watching another child play happily with a dog for 20 minutes a day. In one experiment, after only four days of observation, 67 per cent of previously phobic children were willing to climb into a playpen with a dog and stay there alone petting the dog (Sutherland and Sylvester, 2000).

Role-play: Children’s games are full of role-playing. Kids pretend to be firefighters, truck drivers, doctors and nurses. They imagine themselves in the role of their favorite TV or movie characters: Superman, Ben10, Spiderman, Cinderella. Television allows us to role-play in the same way. When we watch TV, we have the opportunity to ‘try on’ other people’s identities. We do this with TV serials and soaps, our favorite movies, and even advertisements. Advertisements that use this process to get a message across are sometimes called ‘slice-of-life’ advertisements. They often portray stereotypical situations in which an individual experiences a problem and finds a solution. The solution is linked to the advertised product. In this way, we indirectly experience the self-relevant consequences associated with using or consuming the brand. We learn how the brand or product is (purported to be) instrumental in attaining the desired goal.

Positive Effects are: Learning about the wider world; Learning or prosoical attitudes and behaviours; Developing the imagination; Provision of a basis for social interaction.

Negative Effects are: An increase in social isolation; Reduction of time and attention to homework; Increased passivity; Reduced time for play and exercise; Reduced time for reading (due to television adverts); Undermining of parental authority; Premature sexual knowledge and experience; Unhealthy eating and obesity (McQuail, 2010).

7.0              Why Regulate Under-aged targeted Media Advertisements?
By the mid-1920s, large numbers of parents, social workers, and public welfare organizations were worried about whether specific films might be negatively affecting youngsters. Invented just a few decades earlier, the movies had become very much accepted as children and teenagers became accustomed to movie going, adults fretted that the violence, sexual suggestiveness, and misrepresentations of reality in many of the films they watched might bring about a slew of problems in their lives. Among the ills suggested were bad sleep patterns, improper notions of romance, and violent conduct. In recent years, television programs, comic books, video games, sports programs, the internet, and songs, as well as movies, have all been accused of encouraging these same problems among youths.

Many have argued that advertising often has negative effects on society. As Hovland and Wolburg point out in their book about advertising ethics, “advertising is inherently controversial.” Most advertising historians claim that advertising developed hand in hand with a “consumer culture.” Just like any kind of communication message, advertising can contain falsities. In fact, it may contain true statements that are nevertheless misleading.

Advertising can promote what some consider the negative trait “materialism” or an excessive focus on buying and consuming material goods at the expense of human relationships, citizenship and other activities.
Advertising can lead to the use of dangerous products such as alcohol, cigarettes or dangerous behaviors such as imitating reckless driving of automobiles as they are shown in commercials. 

Advertising has been accused of preying on vulnerable audiences such as children or those likely to become addicted to alcohol, gambling, or overeating.
Advertising is often accused of stereotyping—women, race, children, minorities, really just about anything it depicts.
Advertisements that segment the elderly and children are often accused of negative stereotyping. For example, Ad Age reported that advertisers in the United States need to keep a close eye on the fairness and behavioral impact of targeting kids. Since the 1980s when the Federal Trade Commission, FTC declined to regulate children’s advertising, there have been many skirmishes over whether advertising that targets children is appropriate market segmentation. 

The article reports that advertisers are spending $17 billion a year to advertise to children. There are many arguments about why this tsunami of messages to kids is damaging. The fast food industry is accused of making kids overweight or obese. Television advertising is accused of creating materialistic orientations in the young, encouraging them to prefer processed foods over fruits and vegetables, and making them couch potatoes, unwilling to entertain themselves and get exercise.

As earlier mentioned, critics contend that children are simply not intellectually capable of interpreting the intent of these advertisements, nor are they able before the age of 7 or 8 to rationally judge the worth of the advertising claims. This makes children’s advertising inherently unethical. Television advertising to children is especially questionable because children consume it in the home- with implicit parental approval, and most often without parental supervision (Baran, 2013).

Avoidance of Harm: Advertisements should not contain any statement or visual presentation that could have the effect of harming the children and young people mentally, morally or physically or of bringing them into unsafe situations or activities seriously threatening their health or security, or of encouraging them to consort with strangers or to enter strange or hazardous places (Hasan, 2013).
The following provisions apply to advertisements addressed to children and young people who are minors:
1.      Advertisements should not exploit the inexperience or credulity of children and young people.
2.      Advertisement should not understate the degree of skill or age level generally required to use or enjoy the product.
3.      Special care should be taken to ensure that advertisements do not mislead children and the young people as to the true size, value, nature, durability and performance of the advertised product.
4.      Advertisement should be made clear. For example, if extra items are needed to produce the required result shown or described, it should be clarified.
5.      Price indication should not be such as to lead children and young people to an unreal perception of the true value of the product, for instance, by using the word ‘only’.

8.0              Conclusion/Recommendations
While some regard children as equal to any other consumer irrespective of age that should be targeted by media advertisement without necessarily considering their vulnerability to the hypodermic needle prowess of the media, others on the other hand, especially parents agitate for their protection because of fear of exploitation, exposure to social vices such as drugs, alcoholism, smoking and premature sexual exposure. Whichever ways you look at it, both have advantages and disadvantages. However, because of the dysfunctional aspects such as criticism of advertising, this paper recommends an emphatic media self-regulation on advertisement and government should pass a bill on Children’s Privacy Protection Act which will help combat deceptive advertising and protect children’s privacy. Advertising regulatory agencies such as APCON should be placed in charge of implementing the Act. Monitoring on a regular basis should be embarked to ensure strict adherence.

Baran, S. (2013). Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture. USA: McGraw-Hill Education.
Common Sense Media (2014). Advertising to Children and Teens: Current Practices. A Common Sense Media Research Brief.
Hasan, S. (2013). Mass Communication Principles and Concepts. New Delhi: CBS Publishers & Distributors Pvt Ltd.
Khandai, S. and Agrawal, B. (2012). Impact of Television Commercials upon the Purchase Behaviour of Urban Indian Children. International Journal of Marketing and Technology 2(4).
McQuail, D. (2010). McQuail’s Mass Communication Theory. 6th Ed. London: Sage Publications Ltd.
Sutherland, M. and Sylvester, A. (2000). Advertising and The Mind of the Consumer: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why. 2nd Ed. Australia: Allen & Unwin.
Thorson, E and Duffy, M. (2012). Advertising Age: The Principles of Advertising and Marketing Communication at Work. USA: South-Western Cengage Learning.
Turow, J. (2014). Media Today: Mass Communication in a Converging World. 5th Ed. New York: Routledge.
http://adage.com/columns/article?article_id=127144 retrieved on October 30th, 2016.