Written by: Shani Fowler
Children listen to the commercials more than we think. “Mummy,” my little boy began, “can you have an accident at work and ‘win’ some money?!” I was actually shocked! Now I don’t think he really wants me in a plaster cast dishing out the orders from my hospital bed, (I hope not anyway) but rather worryingly, I realised by listening to a simple radio advert he believes that having an accident might be a good way to obtain money. It made me think; I know this advert isn’t unsuitable for children, it isn’t frightening, scary or immoral, but it demonstrates how the message though intended for adults, (even if we barely listen) is soaked up and skewered by children. I couldn’t even blame watching too much TV – TV adverts are on top of everything else.
Is advertising manipulating the young mind?
It is estimated that on average, children in the UK are subjected to around 10,000 TV adverts per year and advertising affects us all. I mean, who hasn’t fallen in love with Alexander and the rest of the meerkat family? Cute and funny adverts appeal to children, even if they are not the initial intended audience. No doubt advertisers are happy that they have the kids on side; children can be a marketer’s dream.
Advertising is designed in some way to manipulate and seduce us all, it’s kind of the point. But whereas adults can become a little immune to the onslaught, the young mind can be all too attuned and we can be unaware as to the effect commercials have on vulnerable little sponge like brains. They can soon buy into the glamour and imagery!
There are guidelines that advertisers have to abide by. The Advertising Standards Authority is the independent regulatory body of advertising in all media dealing with any complaints and ensuring all UK advertisers ensure a responsibility to adhere to advertising codes. This has to be fulfilled across the media board from TV and radio, to newspapers and direct mail. If any advert is offensive to someone they have the right to complain. The ASA ensures adverts that children may see or hear cannot contain anything that will cause them physical mental or moral harm, but it nevertheless, their perception of ads can be quite alarming.
It is a commercial world and most programmes, radio stations and publications rely heavily on revenue from advertising. Our favourite programmes magazines etc. wouldn’t be available without this support, but we do sometimes seem somewhat bombarded. Commercials come at us from other means too: gaming, internet, billboards – all designed with the ultimate aim to purchase from the advertiser.
We are unlikely to witness a decline in advertising, we can be sure that it is here for good. We can minimise it by using non-commercial media such as BBC, but avoiding it altogether is impossible. The main aim has to be being aware of what children hear and perceive and be aware of how the manipulation, false imagery, glamorisation and wording used can shape a child’s view of the world.
Adverts can be good
It isn’t all bad though – let’s not forget the good side. Many health or awareness campaigns are in the form of commercials and these too are seen and soaked up by the younger generation. At least when they witness these, they soak the facts and dangers of habits like smoking and drinking, or sugar overload. In my day not too much of this went on!
Children are vulnerable and can be a somewhat captive audience. They are ultimately mini consumers and big business in the making. Adverts are here to stay but we need to remember, even if they aren’t aimed at children, they’re still taking them in. We just need to be aware of their power to seduce, their ability to confuse and sometimes mislead children. We must be ready to answer any questions that come from them whilst being aware that bad imagery can cause problems and even health issues – and then we have it! Simples!