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The Impact Of Screen-based Marketing On Kids

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Screen-based marketing influences adults. It convinces us to buy things we don't need and piques our interest in topics we don't care about.

If screen-based marketing wields such influence on adults, can you imagine its effects on children?

Kids' exposure to marketing messages affects their health behaviors and psychological well-being. 

Tens of thousands of advertising messages are seen by children annually. In the United States, the average young person watches between 13,000 and 30,000 television commercials every year (1). And this number excludes marketing material that appears online, in print, at theaters, and in video games.

Why does marketing have an impact on children’s psychological wellbeing?

According to studies, elementary school-aged children's capacity to comprehend selling intent and the social symbolism of brands is predicted by theory of mind (i.e., the capacity to consider the opinions and feelings of others) (7).

Preschoolers with an advanced conception of mind are able to recognize persuasive purpose (8).

Due to their open willingness to learn from their social environment, children are vulnerable to marketing until they develop skepticism (9).

Children's ability to deal with advertising usually emerges by late adolescence (10).

One example of this is that alcohol advertising has more influence on teenagers than adults. It persuades them to start drinking and drives up consumption among those of them who already do drink (2).

Although television has been prohibited from advertising tobacco products for more than 40 years, the amount of time that young people were exposed to e-cigarette advertising on television increased between 2011 and 2013 (3).

A review of the literature revealed a consistent link between materialism, exposure to advertising, and parent-child conflict (4).

Advertising and other media representations of the thin ideal for women are linked to a poor body image among women and girls, according to a meta-analysis (5).

marketing on adults as well as kids

How do online ads do more harm?

We know that marketing pitches in contemporary media differ qualitatively from conventional commercials. Online ads engage kids actively rather than passively through “advergaming” platforms (i.e., games with branded content) and/or by asking them to serve as brand ambassadors (eg, encouraging children to reach out to friends about a product) (11).

Evidence suggests that youngsters have more trouble recognizing that they are being sold to in these online contexts, making these practices particularly harmful (12).

Additionally, studies reveal that advertisers who target youngsters online frequently use more aggressive marketing techniques, without much monitoring.

It is getting harder to adopt and enforce advertising standards due to the online media landscape's limitless and subtle nature.

For instance, brands of alcohol and tobacco are very active on social media.

Marketing to children has drawn a lot of criticism, but it also has the potential to promote good habits. The effectiveness of social marketing demonstrates that positive attitudes, ideas, and behaviors may be promoted using the same strategies used to market commercial goods (13).

Our kids' attention is being sold

Dr. Gwenyth Jackaway offered Carrots&Cake an insightful explanation on how our children's attention is commodified:
"The way media companies profit off of our attention is by selling it in small bits of time to advertisers. So if somebody wants to sell Skechers sneakers to your children, they have to get their ad to your children. So if they're watching YouTube for kids or any channel that has advertising on it, they've paid to be there. In exchange for reaching your daughter, your family's not paying for your child to be on that platform.

What you're paying with is her attention. And a lot of ads look just like the content if it's animated and they're singing animals and creatures; the child won't necessarily understand I am now watching an ad that's designed to get me to nag mom to buy something to more surreptitious or manipulative because at least adults understand the concept of advertising, although we're also very vulnerable to it, children don't even know what advertising is."

Recommendations for Parents:

  • Your child's exposure to marketing content should be monitored and limited across all media channels, including internet ones.

Keep an eye on your child's exposure to commercials on the internet, social media, and television, and (within reason) restrict it. The use of laptops, tablets, and cell phones should be restricted to common areas of the house. Children should be encouraged to watch shows and movies without commercials (e.g., via Netflix and DVDs), and televisions should be removed from the bedrooms of young children.

  • Remember that kids, particularly older ones, find it difficult to comprehend and react to commercial messages.

Keep in mind that your child's cognitive development influences how well they can comprehend persuasive content. Therefore, even if your child has acquired some advertising literacy, they will still have trouble using specific cognitive abilities to assist them to deal with marketing offers.

  • Provide clues to aid children in processing persuasive messages to encourage them to consider them critically when possible.

There are two other things parents can do to help children handle persuasive messaging, in addition to continuing to communicate with their kids about the goals of advertising and the strategies marketers employ. First, parents should encourage children's commercial awareness when they use commercial media with their kids (for instance, by commenting on advertising), as this will likely inspire kids to critically analyze messaging. Second, in addition to providing factual information about the communication's nature, parents should offer evaluative judgments about the commercial message (such as, "That meal looks dreadful"). 

Children will become more skeptical of advertising as a result, which encourages them to analyze marketing messaging.

Working together to identify the ways that persuasive marketing messages are ingrained in new media environments may be especially beneficial for parents and children, as many adults are still learning about how new media (such as social media) function as commercial vehicles.

Also Read: Can the Internet Make Your Kids Smarter?

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Gantz W, Schwartz N, Angelini JR, Rideout V. Food for thought: television food advertising to children in the United States. 2007. Available at:

Duke JC, Lee YO, Kim AE, et al. Exposure to electronic cigarette television advertisements among youth and young adults. Pediatrics. 2014;134(1). Available at:

Anderson P, de Bruijn A, Angus K, Gordon R, Hastings G. Impact of alcohol advertising and media exposure on adolescent alcohol use: a systematic review of longitudinal studies. Alcohol Alcohol. 2009;44(3):229–243[PubMed]

Buijzen M, Valkenburg PM. The effects of television advertising on materialism, parent–child conflict, and unhappiness: a review of research. J Appl Dev Psychol. 2003;24(4):437–456

Grabe S, Ward LM, Hyde JS. The role of the media in body image concerns among women: a meta-analysis of experimental and correlational studies. Psychol Bull. 2008;134(3):460–476[PubMed])

John DR. Consumer socialization of children: a retrospective look at twenty-five years of research. J Consum Res. 1999;26(3):183–213

Lapierre MA. Development and persuasion understanding: predicting knowledge of persuasion/selling intent from children’s theory of mind. J Commun. 2015;65(3):423–442

McAlister AR, Cornwell TB. Preschool children’s persuasion knowledge: the contribution of theory of mind. J Public Policy Mark. 2009;28(2):175–185)

Moses LJ, Baldwin DA. What can the study of cognitive development reveal about children’s ability to appreciate and cope with advertising? J Public Policy Mark. 2005;24(2):186–201

Moses LJ, Baldwin DA. What can the study of cognitive development reveal about children’s ability to appreciate and cope with advertising? J Public Policy Mark. 2005;24(2):186–201

Culp J, Bell RA, Cassady D. Characteristics of food industry web sites and “advergames” targeting children. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2010;42(3):197–201[PubMed]

Owen L, Lewis C, Auty S, Buijzen M. Is children’s understanding of non–traditional advertising comparable to their understanding of television advertising? J Public Policy Mark. 2012;32(2):195–206

Gordon R, McDermott L, Stead M, Angus K. The effectiveness of social marketing interventions for health improvement: what’s the evidence? Public Health. 2006;120(12):1133–1139[PubMed])

Sam McDonald

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