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Young children are trusting of commercial advertisements in the media, and advertisers have sometimes been accused of taking advantage of this trusting outlook. The Independent Television Commission, regulator of television advertising in the United Kingdom, has criticized advertisers for "misleadingness'—creating a wrong impression either intentionally or unintentionally—in an effort to control advertisers' use of techniques that make it difficult for children to judge the true size, action, performance, or construction of a toy.
General concern about misleading tactics that advertisers employ is centered on the use of exaggeration. Consumer protection groups and parents believe that children are largely illequipped to recognize such techniques and that often exaggeration is used at the expense of product information. Claims such as "the best' or “better than" can be subjective and misleading; even adults may be unsure as to their meaning. They represent the advertiser's opinions about the qualities of their products or brand and, as a consequence, are difficult to verify. Advertisers sometimes offset or counterbalance an exaggerated claim with a disclaimer—a qualification or condition on the claim. For example, the claim that breakfast cereal has a health benefit may be accompanied by the disclaimer "when part of a nutritionally balanced breakfast.' However, research has shown that children often have difficulty understanding disclaimers: children may interpret the phrase 'when part of a nutritionally balanced breakfast" to mean that the cereal is required as a necessary part of a balanced breakfast. The author George Comstock suggested that less than a quarter of children between the ages of six and eight years old understood standard disclaimers used in many toy advertisements and that disclaimers are more readily comprehended when presented in both audio and visual formats. Nevertheless, disclaimers are mainly presented in audio format only.
Fantasy is one of the more common techniques in advertising that could possibly mislead a young audience. Childoriented advertisements are more likely to include magic and fantasy than advertisements aimed at adults. In a content analysis of Canadian television, the author Stephen Kline observed that nearly all commercials for character toys featured fantasy play. Children have strong imaginations and the use of fantasy brings their ideas to life, but children may not be adept enough to realize that what they are viewing is unreal. Fantasy situations and settings are frequently used to attract children's attention, particularly in food advertising. Advertisements for breakfast cereals have, for many years, been found to be especially fond of fantasy techniques, with almost nine out of ten including such content. Generally, there is...
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- Fall '13