Selling stuff to kids

Mark Bittman has an opinion blog post deriding the ability of food corporations to direct advertising to children. (An aside: how sad is it that Bittman has moved from the Minimalist column to opinion writing? His Minimalist column was a great resource; his opinion pieces are always just recycled Michael Pollan or Marion Nestle.)

He first dwells on the negative effects that TV food ads have on the obesity rate, apparently assuming the truth of it. I don’t think it’s absolutely clear that TV advertising is directly responsible for the obesity rate. The number of TV food ads seen by a given child also correlates with the number of hours spent sitting on her ass watching TV, which might also be a cause of obesity. And perhaps it is also correlated with a certain kind of more permissive parenting style that might be more likely to yield to demands for cookies. But maybe there’s something to it. In any case, here’s a view that there is a link between TV ads and obesity, and here’s a skeptical view.

Regardless, however, of whether TV advertising results in obese kids or it doesn’t, it’s immoral. Simply advertising to children (under 12) is immoral. It’s coercion, by its nature. Advertisers are trying to get children to do something that is not in the interests of the child, but the interests of the advertisers. Children cannot give informed consent. We have to override their consent when it is in their interests (so we should give them vaccines over their howls of protests), but this is not a similar case. They are unable to fully understand who the advertiser is and what they are trying to do to them and why. This same reason is why it’s never okay to molest children, even if the children  say they’re all right with it. It’s still rape. Why? Because it is attempting to persuade a child to do something that is not in her interests, when they cannot consent to it. I am not saying that TV advertising is just as bad as raping a child! Obviously it is not! But it is wrong due to a similar line of reasoning. TV advertisers are trying to get children to do something that is not in their interests – and they cannot consent to it.

There are surely some adults who are ill-equipped to discern what advertisers are doing. But I think something like the doctrine of double effect might be true in this case: while advertisers can foresee that someone ill-equipped to resist persuasion might see their ad, it is not their intention to aim the ad at those people. But with children, it is exactly their intention.

Bittman addresses a legal argument that regulating advertising to children might not violate the free speech of food corporations:

Which brings me to this: an article published in the journal Health Affairs called “Government Can Regulate Food Advertising To Children Because Cognitive Research Shows That It Is Inherently Misleading. (Journals are not known for tabloid-like headlines, but this does get the point across.)

The authors, Samantha Graff, Dale Kunkel and Seth E. Mermin, note that advertising was only granted First Amendment protection in the 1970s, when a series of decisions established that commercial speech deserves a measure of protection because it provides valuable information to the consumer, like the price and characteristics of a product.

“When the court extended the First Amendment to commercial speech,” Graff told me, “it focused on how consumers benefit from unfettered access to information about products in the marketplace. But this notion has been twisted to advance the ‘rights’ of corporations to express their ‘viewpoints’ in the public debate — not only about their favored political candidates, but also about the wares they are hawking.”

There is a legal test for judging whether commercial speech qualifies for protection under the First Amendment. Called the Central Hudson test, it says that such speech must be truthful and not “actually or inherently misleading.” Since, as the authors point out, children under 12 cannot fully recognize and interpret bias in advertising, they’re not equipped to make rational decisions about it. (Never mind that this is true of many adults also; that’s a different story.) Based on relevant court decisions and scientific evidence, they contend, all advertising directed at children under 12 meets the legal definition of “inherently misleading,” and therefore can be regulated by government.

I am not a legal scholar, and am not qualified to judge whether TV advertising meets the legal definition of “inherently misleading.” Whether or not ads to kids should be regulated or banned is not what I’m addressing. But the same line of reasoning applies to the moral case . All ads aimed at kids under 12 are indeed inherently misleading (in reality if not legality). For that reason, all ads aimed at kids — whether for food or for toys, whether they cause obesity or they don’t — are wrong.

Rose Woodhouse

Elizabeth Picciuto was born and reared on Long Island, and, as was the custom for the time and place, got a PhD in philosophy. She freelances, mainly about disability, but once in a while about yeti. Mother to three children, one of whom is disabled, two of whom have brown eyes, three of whom are reasonable cute, you do not want to get her started talking about gardening.


  1. Corporations definitely think advertising works, that’s why they spend so much on it. They also spend buckets full of money on psychologists, market researchers and other science guys to learn how to manipulate the effects they want.

  2. I agree with you, mind you.
    But I’m wondering ho wit is that new products might gain the attention of consumers?
    Surely, Legos and Barbie could do without the advertising. They’re already staples.
    But a new product? Say, a competitor to Barbie?
    What are your thoughts on this?

    • Advertise to parents, who will, after all, be buying the toys.

      • Ye gods, can you imagine how god-awful toy commercials aimed at parents would be? Rose has already posted elsewhere about the preposterous claims of cognitive enhancement that append to just about every toy marketed for infants. Can you imagine Mattel trying to find some way of making their newest contraption somehow sound good for kids?

        On the other hand, I would probably take a second look at any toy whose makers could plausibly claim to occupy my child’s attention relatively quietly for 30 mintes.

        • Most crappy toys would never see the light of day, since you or I could recognize perfectly well when a toy does only one thing, it would be cool for the first two minutes, and then the toy would never be looked at again.

        • The ads that bugged me are the ads showing the kid… oh, let’s use bikes as an example… riding his bike with his friends and the parents are watching and the dad yells “GO!” and the neighborhood gang has a race and, of course, our protagonist wins. The kid’s parents applaud.

          They’re not selling a bike, they’re selling friends and parental approval.

          That always struck me as vaguely sleazy.

          • I remember the Capri Sun commercials as the epitome of what cool kids had. Sadly, my mother never bought me any. Which is why I am the shell of a human being who blogs today.

          • Well, it’s not *EXACTLY* a lie.

            Similar to “serving suggestion” when they show cheese, salami, and a toothpicked olive on top of a Ritz on the side of a box of crackers.

          • I keep trying to figure out how many servings are in a box of cereal.
            And I keep losing track.
            I think there’s two servings in a box of Grape-Nuts.
            I’m under the impression that the “family size” has three.

          • They’re not selling a bike, they’re selling friends and parental approval.

            They’re not allowed to sell sex to eight-year-olds.

  3. It’s important for the government to protect us from evil ideas.

    Like abortion. Or universal suffrage. Or recreational consumption of alcohol.

    • I didn’t say they should be legally prohibited.

      • So it’s “wrong”. But it shouldn’t be banned. But it’s “wrong”.

        Like abortion. Or universal suffrage. Or recreational consumption of alcohol.

        • I can think of hundreds of things that are “wrong” but shouldn’t be banned.

          It’s fairly easy to do, actually.

          • Like putting the lime in the coconut– perfectly legal.

        • Why is wrong in scare quotes? just because people have been mistaken about what is moral is not a reason to conclude that there is nothing wrong.

          And I agree with Jaybird. Plenty of morally wrong stuff shouldn’t be banned

        • Wrong merely means that people shouldnt do it. Not that people should be forced not to do it. This should be obvious, but I don’ know why I keep repeating it like a stuck record.

          • So what was the point of this lengthy post about the evils of advertising, then?

          • Because I think it’s worthwhile and sometimes useful to talk about what is right or wrong. I’ve been persuaded on certain moral issues, both in reading or writing on them. I have a strong interest in applied ethics and have studied it for a little while now. My thoughts on political philosophy and legal issues are much more ill-formed and amorphous. So I have thought a lot more about what’s right and wrong than I have about what we should do to people who have done wrong. If you don’t also find it worthwhile or interesting, it’s probably not worth your time reading my posts on the topic.

    • I believe that Rose’s supposition–which I subscribe to, as well–is that advertising aimed at children is immoral, because children don’t have the intellectual capacity, or theory of mind, or life-borne cynicism to react appropriately to advertising. Children, particularly those under the age of seven or eight, do not understand that advertisers can lie, that they have their own agenda, and that the things that are being advertised can be harmful.

      Even those libertarians among you will be forced to acknowledge that there are certain prerequisites that must be met before one has a true “marketplace.” And chief among them is the ability to understand and discern how a marketplace works, and the ability of all parties to reason in such a way as to perceive and pursue their own self-interest. We understand that children do not have those abilities, so we protect them: we don’t let them sign contracts, or get tattoos, or buy cars, or drink, or vote.

      • FWIW, there are ways to teach children to be critical consumers of media. It takes time and doesn’t necessarily call into question anything presented here. Much of the work is but seeds planted to be nurtured and harvested later. But we need not concede the idea of nurturing healthy skepticism and appropriate challenge to authority and active engagement. Media consumption, which includes advetising, doesn’t have to be a passive experience. We are just woefully bad at identifying and developing the necessary skills. I believe this is in part because we presume we have them and that we are not susceptible to advertising. Which might be believable if car commercials didn’t include disclaimers about the portrayal of a car crowd surfing was not indicative of the car’s ability to safely drive on top of people.

        • I refuse, as much as possible, to pay extra for products that are advertized. i avoid advertising as much as possible (thanks adblock!)

        • I think some skills can be cultivated and some can’t. Of course, you can and should try. But a 4-year-old has just begun to be able to talk about someone simply having different beliefs from herself and has only the vaguest concept of money.

          • Oh, absolutely. As noted, much of this work is sowing seeds for later growth. And no matter of development in this area mitigates any of what you’ve said. I just don’t think we should presume kids to be incapable of being anything but passive recipients of the world around them.

          • You know what I do. I’m a farmer by nature! Much of my work does not bear fruit for years. I just hope to be around to see it!

  4. What? No. Advertising to children is no less moral than advertising to adults. Your discussion of consent ignores the fact that there is no act being consented to.

    Children and adults both have preferences, and both have interests. A child’s preferences are likely less in line with his interests than those of an adult. A child, though, has less agency to bring about his preferred outcomes–those are mostly the result of his guardian’s preferences (which are presumably in line with the child’s interests)

    Advertising is an attempt to shape preferences. You seem to contend above that advertisers necessarily try to shape one’s preferences in ways that are counter to one’s interests. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, but I don’t think it makes any difference to the morality of the situation.

    As discussed above child’s preferences are unlikely to bring about an outcome counter to his interests. If advertising convinces me that Trix cereal is the best thing ever, I can hop in my car, drive to the store, and buy a box. If advertisers convince a child that Trix is the best thing ever, their guardian can just say no. If advertising is morally problematic, then surely it is more problematic when it affects the preferences of those who have the agency to enact their preferred outcomes–that is, it’s worse for Trix to advertise to me.

    The above suggestions of advertising to adults seems to be the worst of both worlds–altering the preferences of those who do have agency, and in doing so, subverting the child-guardian relationship.

    If we assume that a child eating junk food is automatically opposed to that child’s interest. Than surely, it’s the evil bit is making the junk food, not advertising it. (And frankly, I don’t think the advertising ever has much affect on whether or not children enjoy junk food. No matter how much you advertise broccoli, it won’t be more popular than chocolate.)

    • How is a speech act that attempts to change someone’s preferences not an action?

      I should have phrased it that advertiser shape preferences without regard to interests (I.e., treat children as mere means).

      Children have plenty of agency to enact their preferences. Why else would people advertise to them? The vast majority of junk food eaten by my kid happens outside my purview (school parties, birthday parties, etc.). And while parents can just say no, there are often reasons why, in some given instance, they do not.

      Adults can understand the intentions of the speaker and understand that their preferences are being deliberately shaped. Children cannot.

      • Also, I should say, I’m not totally sure that advertising to adults is a-ok. To the degree that understanding a speaker’s intentions allows you to resist a change in preferences to which you do not consent, then it is. That depends on empirical data that I don’t have(I.e., how much ads can shape your preferences despite your resistance). But in children, it’s clear they don’t have the resources to resist.

        FWIW, as stated in the post above, I suspect the link between advertising and obesity may not be clear cut. That’s not the point. I think toy advertising to children is immoral, too.

        • are all attempts at persuasion then, in some sense, immoral?

          like this post? 🙂

          • We’ve covered the topic a bit elsewhere.
            Legally, the persuasion must be “corrupt” to be actionable.
            The case that really stands out to me is the one involving a married couple. The man was facing charges on something related to securities trading, and the wife was a witness. He tried to talk her in to refusing to testify on spousal immunity. This led to witness tampering charges, of which he was acquitted (no corrupt intent).
            I read that and thought that the marriage probably wasn’t meant to last.

            I think Rose can cover the moral aspect better than I can.

          • No, not at all. Because I am not treating you as a means to my end. What I’m doing is offering reasons to believe a particular proposition. You can think they are plausible or not. Judging by some blowback I’ve gotten on recent posts, I’d say people have no problem refusing to consent to take on the positions to which I’m attempting to persuade them :). And I take it that it is in everyone’s interest to be exposed to more points of view on certain issues, and it’s in my interest to read the responses and make sure that I really think what I’m saying I think.

            Pointing out reasons to do something is fine with adults. And I think an ad that says, say, “We offer a better interest rate than our competitors” or “Our watch can still work to a depth of 400 meters” or whatever is totally fine!

            This can be done with children as long as it’s in the child’s interest. And ads are not working in a child’s interest. And I do think persuasion should be done quite cautiously with children. It’s always a little disconcerting to see a child at a rally holding up a sign, I think – but I suppose that’s arguable.

          • I dont think advertising is immoral, but as an ex-salesman, here are some things we used to get people to buy. Just remeber GIFTS

            1. Greed/Guilt – try to emphasise what they get out of it

            2. Indifference – Being pushy can cost you a sale. Indifference in terms of both verbal and body language tells people that you are confident of your product and that you don’t have a problem making a sale

            3. Fear of loss – tell them that this is a limited time offer, that your roadshow is going to close soon, that your guys are not going to be in the neighbourhood soon, and you cannot get your product anywhere else!

            4. The Joneses Theory – Tell your customer that lots of people like them are buying. Everyone wants whatever the joneses have

            5. Sense of urgency -Gget your own _____ now!

          • I pressed submit too soon. The thing is, that these techniques are fairly generic an can be used to sell anything to adults.

          • Murali,
            Greed and Sex sell. End of story.
            How else do you think they get women to buy so much chocolate??

          • [i]This can be done with children as long as it’s in the child’s interest. And ads are not working in a child’s interest. And I do think persuasion should be done quite cautiously with children. It’s always a little disconcerting to see a child at a rally holding up a sign, I think – but I suppose that’s arguable.[/i]

            i was jesting, a bit, because persuasion is a tricky thing. especially when it comes to children. we indoctrinate, implicitly and explicitly, our children as we raise them. it should be a cautious thing, but i can’t say how carefully anyone can approach it. some of my friends and colleagues bring their kids to rallies and the like, which i find troubling (despite of /perhaps because of having done it as a child as well) in a way that selling XTREME ROBOT SPACE AWESOME 2.0! isn’t. that said, the kid doesn’t watch a lot of tv in my house and he’s too young for ads to be much more than a distraction anyway, but the time will come soon enough.

            that said, i don’t think advertising is nearly as powerful as critics (and especially agencies) pretend it to be. much of my daily life revolves around healthcare marketing – which is quite different from retail sales or political rhetoric – and i certainly sometimes wish it was that powerful.

            and while i’ll certainly have a lot of detailed and no doubt boring interactions with my son about advertising and how it works, it’s also a sled to nihilism*, as advertising is the hyperkinetic stepchild of rhetoric, which permeates everything from religious instruction, moral argumentation and political argumentation. perhaps i’m being a bit dworkin-ish on this point but the line between persuasion and manipulation is essentially a pov rather than something that could be dissected in a lab.

            * which is less dire than it sounds – the tools to deal with persuasion/manipulation/whatever are of the most importance. figuring out the meaning is going to be his problem.

          • Murali: Surely the most morally reprehensible aspect of GIFTS is that the T stands for “the”. The noble Acronym deserves better.

        • Consumer advertising is not “persuasive,” it is manipulative.

          They do not attempt to get you to buy a product on the basis of its superior characteristics. They try to get you buy their product on the basis of deep emotional criteria that we barely have consciousness of. So most cars are sold on the basis of rank and status. And most sodas are sold on the basis of “carefreeness” and freedom. Nikes are sold using identification with achievement. Hair and grooming products are sold on lovability.

          Ad agencies have armies of psychologists and researchers that work on developing strategies for hooking branding into deep evolutionary drives. I’m not so sure we’re really equipt to counter this type of “persuasion.”

          • so what’s the line between persuasion and manipulation? after all, calling advertising “manipulation” is an attempt to manipulate your audience, because who wants to be manipulated? they’re suckers; i make choices of my own free will!

            (adbusters is an amazing brand for exactly this reason.)

          • dhex, I would probably say one of two things. Something like manipulation is disregarding the interests of the person you are trying to win over, whereas persuasion is not. Or that manipulation involves trying to prevent the person in some way from using her rational capacities to the fullest extent to come up with a considered view. I think those two concepts do not overlap entirely, but they get at what I’m thinking about.

    • “If advertisers convince a child that Trix is the best thing ever, their guardian can just say no.”
      Can? Yes. Do they? In my line of work*, I say increasingly not. This has nothing to do with the morality of advertising but seems worthy of note. I don’t know to want extent advertisers are aware of this and how, if at all, it impacts their efforts. If they do and it does, in a way meant to prey on this trend, that says something troubling about those individuals.

      * I am a private school teacher, primarily of families of means. I would not be surprised to learn this trend is not universal. However, even if isolated to this demographic, that is no less appealing to advertisers.

      • Hi! A while back we did some demographics around here, and there’s a ton of soul-searching on the archives on “why we can’t get women”…
        So I gotta ask — What’s your gender, race, ethnicity? Am purely curious, ya don’t have to feel like you need to answer, but most people around here do answer — so needn’t feel like I’m singling you out.

        I’m female, spotted american (got freckles), and Jewish.

        • I’m happy to answer but first, may I ask you… what do you peg me as? And what about what I’ve said/how I’ve said it makes you think that?

          Note: Your answer to these questions is incapable of offending me, so please do not worry about that.

          • Damn fine question! (I started out commenting around here as Kim, because I wanted to be known as female, as everyone was bellyaching that there weren’t female commenters. Everyone promptly concluded/asked if I was from Korea. Hence Kimmi, or Kimsie when I’m feeling whimsical).

            I’ve got you down as more than 75% odds of being black (and higher of coming from an inner city upbringing, or other cause to claim that you know a bit more than most folks do). You’ve put statements in ways that I, as a white person grown up in a WASPy neighborhood would softtoe a lot more, and identify with a lot less. Where I might have put “I can see why blacks feel discriminated against…” it feels like you would put “black people feel discriminated against for good reason” (and have the reasons to back it up!). [something in how you described the people you work for.]

            70% -30% female to male, mostly due to you not identifying as “I am trayvon” earlier, a bit because of your work (and knowing a 4-5 yr old’s teacher), and a good bit because you ain’t the argumentative bitch that I am.

            80%-20% American versus English/non-American. You used “may I ask you” — which may be a teacherly affectation, but is far more likely to simply be English.

            Now, if you aren’t English, that is an affected way of speaking — an almost self-conscious way of attempting to talk grammatically correct. Me? I’m white. I can get away with talking anyway I please,and It don’t affect how folks look at me, much. I switch between voices like the wind (hick, city, black, white, Jewish). Which is why I’m marking you as probably black.

            Also, your name? Female. Americans don’t tend to end in zy except as a diminuitive (Danny Sammy — masculine names don’t end like that)

            Kazzy in particular seems black. Perhaps in the “black as different” naming scheme, perhaps just because you could have used Cassie, which is a far more white way of writing it.

            This has been FUN! Lovin’ the question.

          • I’m sorry to disappoint. I’m white, male, American, grew up just outside a major city in a racially diverse middle-class suburb in the North East.

            I’m actually a frequent commenter posting under a new name after a bit of a hub bub that I am trying to start anew. I am the one formerly known as BSK.

            I’ll attempt to guess at how I might have presented as such…

            As noted, I grew up in a town with a large African-American population, and went to a minority white high school. Beyond my personal experience, I’ve done a TON of professional work on diversity, collaborating with numerous colleagues of color and feel a bit better able to speak on behalf of their experiences of the average white person. This might be a bit presumptious, but I am still working on the whole “what it means to be an ally” thing.

            Yes, yes, I am one of the few, the proud, the male pre-school teacher. My lack of identification with “I am Trayvon” had to do with race, not gender.

            I have some weird verbal tics. I spent a lot time with my grandma growing up, picking up phrases I didn’t realize were outdated by 50 years that my wife still mocks. Additionally, I like to dally with language and indulge in odd turn-of-phrases, thought often do this without knowing. “May I ask” was just me being polite and playful…

            Kazzy is a play on my last name.

            So, again… sorry to disappoint… 🙂

          • I am the one formerly known as BSK.

            So you are like the artist formerly known as prince, then known as something else, then represented by a symbol and now just called prince again

          • Well, “Kazzy” –

            I hope you find another adorable avatar!

          • I am still known in many real world circles as both BSK and Kazzy.

            I’ll see what I can do on the gravatar.

  5. I’ve said this before. When my kids were little, I videotaped some of the Saturday morning advertisments for my kids and sat them down to analyse them. We pulled the ads apart, frame by frame. We looked at the settings, but especially at the child actors.

    “Look at this ad for cereal. What the hell is a cartoon character doing in there? Making it taste better or something? And notice how they always show that ‘part of a healthy breakfast’ bit, the government makes them put that part in because the cereal is about as nutritious as the box it comes in. Want sugary cereal? Sure, I’ll get you some, just so you can see how it really is, but why not just go to the cupboard and put spoonfuls of sugar in your mouth. Same effect. You can shovel as much sugar in your mouth as you want.

    “That boy looks so happy, but he’s not, really. They told him to smile, look, that’s not a real smile, you don’t smile like that. When you play with a toy, you don’t look like that, you’re absorbed in the toy, running around, with a voiceover, ‘vrooom, vroom, there goes Batman on his way to Gotham!’. And notice how only one boy is playing with that toy and all the other boys are just looking on. Don’t you wish you were that boy? That’s what they want you to want.

    “And look at that girl, she’s holding the doll up but she’s not looking at it. She’s looking at the camera and her ‘friends’, except she doesn’t know any of those girls, they’re not really friends, they were all picked out of a pile of audition tapes by a producer and most of those girls went home and didn’t get to be in the ad and I don’t think they were very happy, sitting in the back seat of Mom’s Volvo. Notice all her friends have the same doll, she’s showing them she has one, too. That’s a nasty trick, telling kids their friends have toys they don’t, but it’s especially mean to say you don’t and make you wish you were in that group of ‘friends’ who really aren’t friends. Real girls would be playing with their dolls together, anyway.”

    “And let’s look at all this stuff. The people who made that ad spent many hours watching children play with it. They’ve worked out the best possible way to show it in action. So pay attention, this is the very best that toy can do. Is it good enough? Are there other ways to play with it? Doesn’t seem like it. The best toys are versatile and tough. That thing looks like a One Day Wonder, all those pieces are going to get lost or broken.

    “Playing is learning. It’s pretending, and that’s always good. And good toys help you play. And what’s more, I like buying you toys. Bad toys, well, they break and all the parts get lost and they just make you unhappy. But I’ll tell you this, I hate listening to you cry when they break. So don’t be stupid and gawp at these ads and be fooled by these guys who make them. You’re smarter than that. Lots of people remain stupid all their lives and have to buy the latest toys and the really expensive toys are sold to adults, not to kids, like cars that can go 200 miles per hour or can drive in two feet of mud and these dumbasses will only drive them to work or the grocery store. Or perfume so men will love you. Politics, too, some asshole playing scary music and showing his opponent’s picture, so you’ll vote for someone else — preferably him. Advertising works because people are stupid. Advertising is great at telling you one thing and one thing only, that you need something you never realised you needed before. They just want your money, just like the people who make those ads, taking the toy maker’s money.”

    Advertisements attempt to sell happiness. They’re playing on your own desires. The Buddhists have an extensive vocabulary to describe this problem, embedded in its core doctrine of the Four Noble Truths, that desire can only lead to suffering. Suffice to say Things won’t make you happy. You already know they don’t make you happy. Forget the kids for a moment, you’re the one trapped in desire. So am I. So’s everyone you know. Screaming, you entered the world, you have hungered and been fed, yet you hunger for more.

    You have stumbled from desire to desire your whole life. But when were you ever content?

    I once met a elderly Buddhist monk who’d come to Oxford to give lessons on Pali on Chinese characters. After the lecture, I shyly approached him. ‘I’m sure this is a trite question, but I must ask it anyway. Is there a way to contentment? I have never felt contentment.”

    He smiled and winked at me. “It is simple. You must eat when you are hungry and sleep when you are tired.”

    Go down to your local supermarket and analyse the checkout counter. It’s completely engineered to the impulse purchase. The candy is within arm’s reach of a three year old child. The magazines are exactly where your eyes will be as the adult stands in line. The tschotschkes are displayed where you have to look as your groceries go onto the belt.

    You will never be satisfied until you learn to eat when you are hungry and sleep when you are tired.

      • Watched some of it, while I was living in hotels. Haven’t seen much of it, since. I wasn’t in America during that period of time. I lived out on the edge of the Sahara desert. The road ended at our house and the desert began in earnest just beyond it.

        Even there, I knew I lived a very different life than any of my Hausa friends. Compared to them, we were incomparably wealthy. Niger’s always been one of the poorest countries in the world. It’s in the midst of a famine just now.

        Some guy asked me in a restaurant, over lunch. “what’s it like, living in the Third World?”

        “See that glass of water? Notice how it’s nice and clean? It’s full of nice cold chlorinated water, I don’t have to worry about parasites. And it has ice in it! That means electricity and a working freezer. What luxury! And if I wanted, I could drink it all up and ask for more. All I want. And for free, too. But the part you don’t see about this glass of water is that you expect it. And you expect it to be free.

        “Take all that away, no nice clean glass, no water treatment plant, no chlorine, no piping, no water quality inspections, no ice, no waitress, take it all away except for a dirty uncovered well with some slimy water at the bottom and an unsanitary bucket to pull it up in, there’s the Third World for you.

        “My Dad had a windmill and a water storage tank and we boiled and filtered our water and we had a kerosene refrigerator so the water was cold and we washed our dishes and rinsed them in boiling water. So I was never really part of the Third World, you see. But I was completely amazed, when I came back, that they didn’t charge for water in the restaurants, because I’d never been in a restaurant.”

        Take a teenaged kid out of Niger Republic and Nigeria and plop him down in New York City and the first thing he ever sees on television is the moon landing, well, advertising and its little skeevy tricks seemed pretty obvious to me and I wasn’t taken in.

        • +1

          For me it’s — “Am I rich? My god, I bathe in drinking water!”

          • Fifty miles or more,
            It’s a hell of a long way to go.

            I put it like this — I go on vacation to be nearly in the third world. yeah?
            Dats how I know I’m in the first world.

    • A teacher I know did a similar task with her 4- and 5-year-olds with the annual Toys-R-Us catalogue. She went through it and said, “Hey, notice how some pages are blue and some are pink? Why do you think that is? Why are only boys playing with the cars and girls with the dolls? Do any girls like cars? Do any boys like dolls?” My favorite question was: “What do you think the people who made this magazine think they know about kids? Are they right or wrong?” Mindblowing.

  6. Rose, I am sympathetic to arguement that advertising to children is immoral. My sympathy increases significantly when this arguement is accompanied by the caveat that just because it’s immoral doesn’t mean it should be banned by the force of law or regulation.

    Once thing I very vehemently feel is that when people start citing the bad outcomes of advertising to children they’re mostly losing the arguement. All of the examples I’ve seen are not indicative of bad advertising but bad parenting. How much TV and ads should well parented children be exposed to without parental input? How much control should well parented tots have over what they’re gobbling and noshing? All of this comes off to me (a mild liberal no less) as the advocacy of people to have some committee do their parenting work for them to which I’d reply somewhat acerbicly “it’s your kid damnit, do it yourself”.

    All of that said, I’m not a parent myself so I am aware that there’re likely dimensions and considerations to this I’m not aware of. Or maybe this is another sphere non-parents should just avoid.

    • I don’t think that non-parents should necessarily avoid it. But let’s put it this way. Let’s say there’s a woman standing in the aisle of a store, totally exhausted from work and stressed out about some other aspect of her life (caring for an elderly parent, etc.), who has to be somewhere with the kid at 5 pm, and the kid is absolutely refusing to move until he gets cookies and is unpersuaded by the argument that she is in a rush and cookies are not good for you, and she knows it will make the kid at least momentarily happy and the kid has been stressed out about some stuff too, and she can’t drag the kid out of the store and she can’t just leave him there, and even though she knows she shouldn’t give in to this behavior because cookies will encourage it in the future, but just today she wants to get out of the store and get somewhere on time, so she buys it.

      Now that I have kids, I am a lot more sympathetic to that woman. Not saying she should buy the cookies. Just that it is not so easy to just say “Parents can just say no.”

      • I’m sympathetic but I’m not forgiving.

        I remember vividly seeing a man look at his 4 year old at EPCOT center and say “If you don’t stop this tantrum we’re going back to the hotel. You are not getting that toy.” And then he stood up, handed his wallet to his wife, said good bye to the 7 and 9 year olds, and carried this daughter towards the gates.

        I don’t know if they spent the day in the hotel or not. I hope that after $200 in tickets for the two of them that she calmed down and they did something fun.

        Either way, parenting is hard.

      • Here’s how I managed it. My middle daughter was having a tantrum in front of the toys in the grocery store. So I waited a minute or so, then yelled out “Hey come on over here, folks and have a look. R is pitching a fit!”

        She got up from the floor, gave me the stink eye, and never pitched a fit like that again.

      • I always counsel parents when the topic of discipline comes up that it is a question of general tendencies vs particular circumstances. Sometimes, it’s OK to cave. If your caving in the check-out line is a one-off, and is because of circumstances that are unlikely to become recurrent, then cave. You’re not going to ruin the kid. If your kid gets what he wants so often that it can’t reasonably be called “caving” any longer, then there’s a problem.

        • At a Walmart one day, when the kiddoes were whining and begging for toys, in exasperation, I pulled out my notepad and pen and told the kids.

          “I only came here for a few things. But just for you, I’m gonna reschedule this afternoon. We’re going to walk all around the store and you’re going to decide when you’re going home. While we’re here, you’re going to point out everything you want and I’m going to write it down in my notebook. When we go home, you’ll get to look at that list, and in three days’ time, we’re coming back here and I’ll get you each one thing off that list. Part of being a grown-up means learning to buy the things you really need, not just what you want at the time.”

          So we did! I mean they were there for two hours, and I wrote down a whole lot of items. How they pored over that list, finally picking out two things. So we went back and bought them.

          Thereafter, the whining and begging stopped, for the most part. I just wouldn’t cave in. They learned to ask for what they wanted, out would come the notepad, (without which I’d feel naked, now my Android phone does it for me) and we’d put it on the list. If kids learn that nagging and whining and pitching fits produces results, why should they behave any differently?

          Microsoft did an advert a while back, showing two little boys mucking about with Dad’s online shopping list while he was at the store. Finally the dad gets wise and tells the kids to go do their homework. Brilliant.

          • I have been both the parent that bought his kid the muffin he wanted to shut him up so the grocery shopping could get done, and also the parent that tolerated pushing a screaming toddler through the same grocery store on a different occasion rather than allow him to learn that doing so would reliably produce results. Parenting is a mixed bag.

          • Heh. It sure is a mixed bag. Which strongly argues for a gunny sack into which to thrust a screaming child and tote him about for a good long while.

            I remember threatening my kids. “There’s two seats in the front. Two in the back. But there’s plenty of room in the trunk, you little beasts!”

          • Me too on being the buyer of the cookie and the parent who waited out the tantrum. Also have been the parent who has given another parent the stinkeye and received the stinkeye.

            I’m actually moved to write another quick blog post on the stinkeye.

  7. It’s probably worth noting that advertising targeted to children is how children’s television programming gets funded. Advertisers aren’t going to want to buy air time during children’s television shows for advertising targeted to adults.

    The only workable alternative, I suspect, is a subscription channel with no advertisements, like the Disney Channel. There’s a market for it, but it seems that the majority of parents do not find advertising targeted to children so objectionable that they’re actually willing to pay for the alternative.

    • I think children’s television will get much worse if it becomes a good primarily purchased by parents for the consumption of their children, rather than a good selected by children and provisioned for by advertisers.

      Whether its’ a good thing or a bad thing that children’s TV will get worse is up for debate–if the object is to get kids away from the TV, making TV suck might accomplish it (or it might just make kids watch TV for grownups instead). I’m horribly biased because even at twenty-eight about half of my favorite shows are children’s cartoons. Them sugary cereal commercials subsidize my “Young Justice” and “Legend of Korra”.

  8. I’m under the impression, and perhaps mistakenly so, that there’s additional second order effects about this sort of advertising. Namely that by socializing children to it early, they become more prone to actually treating such ads with more credulity when they’re adults.

  9. Adults are mostly aware of what advertisements do to them because they grew up watching them. Can you imagine how bad it would be if advertising to children was banned and the first time they saw the advertisements they were in control of their own money?! These people would be believing everything they saw on TV.
    I am also a mom and I let my son watch advertisements. He doesn’t like them and can tell the difference between an ad and his shows. I don’t buy him everything he wants, only the things he needs. I also think that advertising things that are good for kids is great. I heard a radio ad today about spending more time in the outdoors (i.e. going to the forest, having a picnic or just playing outside.) I think there should be more of those types of ads running.
    I do agree that junk food and products that aren’t good for kids should not be on running.

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