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Debate: Ban on advertising targeting children

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Should there be a ban on television advertisements aimed at children?

This article is based on a Debatabase entry written by Alastair Endersby. Because this document can be modified by any registered user of this site, its contents should be cited with care.


Background and Context of Debate:

A great deal of advertising on television is aimed at children, promoting not only toys and sweets but also products such as food, drink, music, films and clothing to young consumers from toddlers to teenagers. Increasingly this practice is coming under attack from parents’ organisations, politicians and pressure groups in many countries. Sweden, Ireland, Greece, Italy, Denmark and Belgium all currently impose restrictions, and these have also been proposed in most other EU countries and in the USA. Within Europe, the forthcoming EU Television Without Frontiers Directive, due to be issued by 2004, is likely to focus attention upon the issue as the advertising industry and anti-advertising groups battle over whether age restrictions should be imposed upon the whole EU in the future. A key factor in any debate will be the age definition of “children”. Recent campaigns in the USA and Britain have concentrated upon banning advertising to under-fives watching "toddler-television", but a Swedish proposal for an EU-wide ban applies to under-12s (a definition which might produce a livelier and more focused debate).

Argument #1


It is not ethical to target children with advertisements, as they are not yet able to distinguish advertising from actual programming in the way adults can. This means that advertising aimed at children is misleading and unfair. It is also clearly effective, as otherwise advertisers would not spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year targeting children who are not yet able to resist their sales pitch.

Argument #2


Advertising specifically to children is unethical because they have little or no money of their own and have to persuade their parents to buy the products for them. Rather than advertising directly to parents, companies use a "nag and whine" campaign that leads to bad feeling between parents and children. They rely on pester power to make adults spend money they don’t have on things they don’t want to buy, and which their children may well only play with for a few hours. Advertising which presents products to children as "must-have" is also socially divisive, making children whose parents cannot afford them appear inferior, and creating feelings of frustration and inadequacy, as well as leading families into debt.

Argument #3


Advertising aimed at children brings negative social consequences, as much of it is for food and drinks that are very unhealthy. Encouraging gullible children to consume so much fatty, sugary and salty food is unethical because it creates obese, unhealthy youngsters, with bad eating habits that will be with them for life. Society also has to pay a high price in terms of the extra medical care such children will eventually require, so the government has a direct interest in preventing advertisements which contribute to this problem.

Argument #4


This measure stands alone but has a good precedent in the restrictions placed in most countries upon advertising tobacco and alcohol. It also takes a stand against increasingly exploitative marketing campaigns that ruthlessly target children. In the USA marketing companies are already offering schools free televisions in exchange for their students being forced to watch a certain amount of programming and advertisements each day, and selling marketing data on those children. It is time that childhood was protected from such commercialisation.

Argument #5


Exploitative advertising brainwashes children into becoming eager consumers and capitalists. Multinational companies deliberately encourage them to be materialistic so that they associate happiness with purchasing power and the possession of particular goods. A study recently found that children in Sweden, where marketing campaigns to the under-12s are banned, wanted significantly fewer toys than children in Britain, where there are no restrictions.

Argument #6


Broadcasting is increasingly diverse, with state-funded, commercial and subscription channels all available in most countries. Restricting advertising a little will not make much difference to revenues of commercial broadcasters, and they can be regulated to ensure that they continue to offer a good standard of children’s programming. Programme quality is likely to improve as much children’s television these days involves considerable product-placement and advertising tie-ins, which result in poor programmes and unimaginative formats.


Advertisements are the means by which most television stations are funded. If advertising to children is banned, then broadcasters will stop showing children’s programmes, or greatly reduce their quality and quantity, which is clearly not in the public interest. State broadcasters funded by a license fee, such as the UK’s BBC, and specialist subscription channels that are also not dependent upon advertising revenue would both welcome restrictions upon the ability of commercial broadcasters to compete with them in children’s programming. As competition is the best means of improving choice, diversity and quality, their lobbying on this issue should be disregarded. Nor does advertising only benefit commercial broadcasters, consumers also benefit. Greece has banned advertising of toys, and this has led to a more limited selection of toys being sold in Greece. Children’s magazines rely upon advertising to be affordable - logically under this proposal they should be prevented from doing so, and so effectively shut down.



  • This House would ban television advertising to children
  • This House would restrict advertising aimed at children
  • This House would protect children
  • This House believes children have a right to their childhood
  • That advertisements deliberately targetted at children should be more strictly regulated

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