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Consequences of Advertising Directed at Children

Most youths do not acquire an understanding of the true nature of advertising before early adolescence, that is, towards the age of 11-12 years. Before then, children are vulnerable in the face of different marketing strategies used to reach them because their intellectual development does not allow them to discern the persuasive intentions of advertisers and to exercise critical judgement.

The numerous potential consequences for children of being exposed to such advertising include:

Unhealthy eating habits

Research has shown food marketing directed at children to influence in particular:

  • their knowledge of food and nutrition;
  • their attitude toward junk food;
  • their food preferences;
  • their eating behaviours.

Unfortunately, the food and beverage products most advertised are those that fall in the “eat least” category [1,2]. In Quebec, during children’s peak TV-viewing hours and on children’s specialty channels, 3/4 of the food products advertised do not fall in any of the four food groups of Canada’s Food Guide [3,4]. Consequently, messages to promote healthy eating are drowned out by a torrent of junk food advertising.

Advertising to children has an impact on the quality of children’s nutrition by cultivating in them a preference for less nutritional high-calorie foods. This is the case especially among children who watch more television [5] and those who are already overweight [6].

In this regard, it has been demonstrated notably that:

  • children prefer food products that bear a character or logo that they recognize and that they attribute to these products a better taste than they do to identical products in different packaging [7,8]. Accordingly, children 3 to 5 years old not only prefer food and beverage products served in McDonald’s packaging over the same products offered in unmarked packaging, but they consume more of the former as well [9];
  • children most exposed to advertising believe that Frosted Flakes sugar-sweetened cereals have a higher nutritional value than do Corn Flakes, whereas children less exposed to advertising qualify the products more appropriately [10].


[1] OMS (2003). Régime alimentaire, nutrition et prévention des maladies chroniques. Rapport d’une consultation OMS/FAO d’experts. Série de rapports techniques 916. Repéré le 23 août 2011 au

[2] Mink, M., Evans, A., Moore, C.G., Calderon, K.S. & Deger, S. (2010) Nutritional imbalance endorsed by televised food advertisements. JADA, 110(6), 904-910

[3] Union des consommateurs (2006). Marketing de la malbouffe pour enfants. Repéré le 18 août 2011 au

[4] Laperrière J-P., Renaud, L. & Des Rivières-Pigeon, C. (2010). Les stratégies publicitaires qui plaisent aux jeunes : une présence accrue sur les chaînes jeunesse. Repéré le 11 août 2011 au

[5] Food Commercials Increase Preference for Energy-Dense Foods, Particularly in Children Who Watch More Television (2011). Pediatrics, 128 (1), e93-e100.

[6] Halford JC, Boyland EJ, Hughes GM, Stacey L, McKean S, Dovey TM (2008). Beyond-brand effect of television food advertisements on food choice in children: the effects of weight status. Public Health Nut, 11, 897–904.

[7] Lapierre, M.A., Vaala, S.A. & Linebarger, D.L.. (2011), Influence of Licensed Spokescharacters and Health Cues on Children’s Ratings of Cereal Taste, Arch. Pediatr. Adolesc. Med., 165(3), 229-234.

[8] Roberto, C.A., Baik, J., Harris, J.L. & Brownell,K.D.. (2010). Influence of Licensed Characters on Children’s Taste and Snack Preferences, Pediatrics, 126(1),: 88-93. Repéré le 8 juillet 2011 au

[9] Robinson,T.N., Borzekowski,D.L.G, Matheson, D.M. & Kraemer,H.C.(2007). Effects of Fast Food Branding on Young Children’s Taste Preferences. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med, 161(8),792-797.

[10] Signorielli, N. et coll. (1992) dans Union des consommateurs (2006). Marketing de la malbouffe pour enfants. Repéré le 18 août 2011 au

Brand bonding

When a brand seizes their attention, children become very loyal to it and make demands for it on their parents. By as early as age 3 to 5 years, children use advertising to define the fun products that will make them popular, even if they are unable to read yet [1]. By age 3, one out of five children in the United States already asks for specific brand products [2].

As consumption habits and preferences tend to last over time, children are a target of choice for advertisers keen on creating a bond between them and brands in early childhood.


[1] Cornwell B., McAlister A. (2010). Children’s Brand Symbolism Understanding: Links to Theory of Mind and Executive Functioning, Psychology & Marketing, Vol. 27(3): 203–228.

[2] McNeal, JU. & Yeh, C. (1993). Born to shop. American Demographics. 15( 6), 34-39.


Advertising directed at children contributes to aggravate the repeated demands of children on their parents. In order to obtain what they want, children can irritate their parents by requesting a product repeatedly or by having tantrums. This exacerbates stress and financial pressure for some parents [1].

  • Around age 2 is when the first requests are made to parents for consumer products [2].
  • Many advertisements directed at children depict them as autonomous consumers. This type of advertising contributes to undermine parental authority and to make it harder for parents to set boundaries for their children [1,3].


[1] Option consommateurs (2008). La publicité destinée aux enfants : identifier la meilleure protection possible. Rapport présenté au Bureau de la consommation d’Industrie Canada. Repéré le 11 août 2011 au

[2] Office de la protection du consommateur (2008). Vos enfants et la pub. Repéré le 11 août 2011 au

[3] Center for Science in the Public Interest (2003). Pestering Parents : How Food Companies Market Obesity to Children. Repéré le 10 avril 2014 au

Why does the industry target children?

For industry, commercial advertising directed at children carries considerable short- and long-term economic interest. In fact, children are ideal targets for a number of reasons:

  • They have purchasing power.
    • Canadian children 2 to 12 years old reportedly spend from $1.5 billion to $3 billon each year in pocket money [1,2].
  • They have a substantial influence on the purchases that their parents make.
    • Children apparently influence the purchase of as much as $15 billion to $20 billion in household items [1,2,3].
  • They can become brand loyal at an early age and for the long term.
    • Babies apparently have the ability as early as at age 6 months to form mental images of corporate logos or mascots [4].
    • By age 3, one out of five children in the United States already requests specific brand products [4].
  • They are credulous and easily influenced.

Given the many financial benefits pushing some industries to target children, it is important that children be protected and that marketing directed at them be regulated. This is a choice that Quebec has made.


[1] Institut Vanier (2002) cité dans Régie du cinéma (2009). Mon enfant devant l’écran. Repéré le 25 juillet 2014 au

[2] Radio-Canada (2007). Émission Enjeux. Repéré le 25 juillet 2014 au

[3] Option Consommateurs (2008) , La publicité destinée aux enfants : identifier la meilleure protection possible, Montréal, Bureau de la consommation d’Industrie Canada, 130 p.

[4] McNeal, JU & al. (1993). Born to shop. American Demographics. 15(6) : 34-39.