The Problem of Advertisting and Children

About the problems and effects that advertising and commercials have on children, setting up the argument to be continued in other articles.

P. T. Barnum Was Right

By Edward A. Merlis

Advertising which is informative, imaginative, tasteful, and appealing is the cornerstone of a healthy, free-market economy. But advertising which deceives and misleads, advertising which manipulates the vulnerable psyches of young children, advertising which absorbs enormous human and material resources in wasteful and spurious product differentiation, advertising which becomes a weapon for the preservation of concentrated economic power and inefficiency--that is advertising which cheats the consumer, saps the perfecting fires of true competition, and subjects our children to an onslaught of distorted, shallow values.

Unfortunately, the latter is more often the case than the former. The advertiser starts his intrusion into our lives while we are at a tender age. With the advent of television, and associated increases in income, the youth market expanded. And as the child is weaned from the bottle, he is introduced to the wonderful world of television advertising. Each year, our average child watches 25,000 commercials--220 minutes of such intellectual stimulation each week. Is it any wonder that 8- and 10-year-olds are cynical and skeptical?

No rational parent would allow a door-to-door salesman to peddle to his children, yet our children are subjected to an unrestricted assault upon their sensibilities by TV advertisers. During a sample week in 1969, according to testimony delivered to a U.S. Senate Subcommittee, CBS broadcast 72 minutes of commercials on a single Saturday morning. As Mother and Dad slept late, their 20th-century babysitter succeeded in exposing the little tykes to 130 individual sales pitches, 63 of which were for toys. Is it any wonder that upon awakening, Mom and Dad are routinely harangued by the toy makers' surrogate salespeople, the tiny tots of America?

Throughout the country, research organizations are dedicated to finding out how to sell products to parents through children. Motivational research houses experiment with children, seeking to find the way to the child's brain and on to the parent's pocketbook. This is the stuff upon which our free enterprise system thrives.

Fortunately, the unceasing prodding of pressure groups has succeeded in wearing down the resiliency of resistance groups. Today, the parents and educators have convinced the broadcasters that they can no longer continue their subterfuge unabated. The broadcasters' code of ethics has reduced the number of minutes of "nonprogram" (read that as "commercial") material in kiddie TV.

The lessons of childhood linger. If for no other reason, that is the objective and motive of the pitchman. In spite of new math, we do old math. In spite of Mali and Upper Volta, we call it French Equatorial Africa. In spite of reason, we buy Kellogg's Rice Krispies. Yes, even we rational and intelligent adults prove P. T. Barnum's axiom--"There's a sucker born every minute"--daily. Why else would the $20+ billion a year advertising industry survive? Advertisers have thoroughly researched human behavior and their findings would make Pavlov's dog and Skinner's pigeons small potatoes in the academic world. Observe some commercials and you will see certain repetitive patterns.

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