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REPORT OF THE APA TASK FORCE ON ADVERTISING AND CHILDREN Section: Psychological Issues in the Increasing Commercialization of Childhood _____________________________________ Submitted by Dale Kunkel, PhD Brian L. Wilcox, PhD Joanne Cantor, PhD Edward Palmer, PhD Susan Linn, EdD Peter Dowrick, PhD February 20, 2004 In 1874, the English Parliament passed the Infants’ Relief Act to protect children “from their own lack of experience and from the wiles of pushing tradesmen and moneylenders” (James, 1965, p. 8). The act, which absolved fathers from their children’s debts, is one of the earliest governmental policies to address children’s unique vulnerability to commercial exploitation. This law was produced in an era long before major corporations earned huge profits by marketing products such as toys, snacks, sugared cereals, and fast food products directly to children, and also before the advent of television provided marketers of such products with unprecedented access to the minds of young people. The issues underlying this 19th century policy remain much the same today, more than 100 years later. Because young children lack the cognitive skills and abilities of older children and adults, they do not comprehend commercial messages in the same way as do more mature audiences, and, hence, are uniquely susceptible to advertising influence. A substantial body of research evidence documents age-related differences in how children understand and are affected by television advertising. This evidence has formed the basis for a wide range of policies in the United States designed to protect children from advertising that would take unfair advantage of youngsters’ limited comprehension of the nature and purpose of commercial appeals (Kunkel, 1990; Kunkel & Roberts, 1991; Young, 1990). These policies form the foundation of a broad societal consensus that children require special treatment and protection from the unbridled efforts of the economic marketplace. Television has long been the predominant medium that advertisers have chosen for marketing products to children. It is currently estimated that the average child sees more than 40,000
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television commercials a year, most of which are 15 to 30 seconds in length (Kunkel, 2001). Children from ethnic minority families are likely to see even greater numbers of ads, given that these groups tend to have heavier exposure to television than White families (Huston & Wright, 1998). Advertisers spend more than $12 billion per year to target the youth market because of its strong contribution to the consumer economy (Lauro, 1999; Rice, 2001). According to one estimate, children age 14 years old and under make $24 billion in direct purchases and influence $190 billion in family purchases, underscoring the high stakes involved (McNeal, 1998). In addition, companies now recognize that brand loyalty built at an early age may reap economic rewards over a child’s lifetime (McNeal, 1987). The Increasing Commercialization of Childhood
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