Kidvertising: Is It Ethical?

by Student 14 on Avril 7, 2015 - 4:55pm

     In 2009, American companies spent over $17 billion on advertising to children (“How Marketers Target Kids” 1).  In Bruce Watson’s “The Tricky Business of Advertising to Children,” the writer explores whether or not kidvertising is an appropriate form of advertising.  To be clear, kidvertising is child-targeted marketing achieved through various media platforms, including television, movies, magazines, and the Internet.  In Quebec, marketing to children under the age of 13 is prohibited (“Advertising To Children” 1).  This restriction applies in Sweden and Norway as well (Watson 2).  Contrarily though in the U.S., marketing to children is largely unregulated (Watson 2). In fact, today, on average, American children consume 16,000 television advertisements alone each year (Watson 1). This alarming degree of children’s exposure to marketing content suggests the pervasiveness of the media.  Further, it brings the controversy surrounding kidvertising to light and underscores the relevance of Watson’s piece. 

     To begin, in Watson’s “The Tricky Business of Advertising to Children,” the writer briefly describes Subway’s child marketing campaign, launched in 2014, designed to promote healthy-eating to children.  In this context, on the one hand, kidvertising is portrayed as an appropriate form of advertising because it allows Subway to directly appeal to children and encourage them to eat fresh, wholesome foods. Therefore, from a utilitarian perspective, kidvertising seems ethical because it can help achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people by promoting healthy eating habits to society’s youth.  On the other hand, however, kidvertising is portrayed as an inappropriate form of advertising because it seems intended to manipulate a vulnerable audience.  Therefore, from a deontological perspective, kidvertising seems unethical because it can manipulate children and treat them as a means to an end (i.e. to make money), rather than as ends in and of themselves.

     Basically, it is important to note that advocates of kidvertising argue that a supposed “matter of displacement” casts an unfair shadow over this type of advertising (Watson 2).  In this sense, when people have a problem with the content being advertised to children, they unfairly blame the medium, which is then wrongly put down despite not proving unethical (Watson 2). In addition, it is also important to note that people in favour of kidvertising may argue that this type of advertising is an effective means to communicate information about a good or a service to a child.  As such, by providing children with access to this information, kidvertising promotes the freedom “to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media” (The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 5).  Thus, kidvertising may mistakenly be believed to respect deontological ethics of morality, which values moral maxims and the promotion of fundamental human rights. I, instead, strongly believe that kidvertising is unethical because it manipulates children for the purpose of making money. Thus, from a Kantian perspective, kidvertising is morally wrong because it lacks good will and treats children as a means to an end (i.e. to make money). Children, in fact, are “vulnerable to advertising messages” and likely to falsely perceive such messages as “truthful and unbiased” (Nylund 1). Children, therefore, represent appealing targets for advertising agencies because they are defenseless and because they influence heavily on family purchasing decisions. In an era where children feel “increasingly defined by their possessions,” children feel pressure from advertising agencies to have the latest and greatest goods and services that they see in advertisements (Waurechen).  This pressure can cause children to value materialistic goods and to “feel inferior if they don’t have an endless array of new products” (Clay 1).  Similarly, this pressure can harm children’s critical analysis by encouraging them to “choose products not for the actual value of the product, but because of celebrity or what’s on the package.  It undermines critical thinking and promotes impulse buying” (Watson 2).  This pressure, finally, can further cause physical harm to children, contributing to childhood obesity, for instance, when unhealthy foods are being promoted. Kidvertising, hence, promotes the purchase of goods and services at the expense of children’s psychological and physical well being. Ultimately, it takes advantage of children, harms them, and influences them to pressure their parents to spend money. Certainly, by targeting and manipulating children, advertising agencies prove a blatant disregard for the fact that “people are ends in themselves and must be treated with respect” (Waurechen). Kidvertising, in sum, does not respect deontological ethics of morality and, as rational beings, we cannot tolerate it because it wrongly applies practical reason to exploit children’s vulnerability.  Nevertheless, from a relativist perspective, it is immoral to consider determining how other people and countries should approach the issue of kidvertising because that would imply having on group (e.g. the Quebec government) imposing their beliefs on the outcome of another group (e.g. the U.S. government).  Parents, still, should be encouraged to teach their children “what advertising is, how advertising works, what its intentions are, and how to be critical of it” to lessen its harmful effects (Watson 3).

     In conclusion, I am convinced that kidvertising strongly violates deontological ethics because children are being manipulated and used to earn revenues.  It further proves harmful to children’s psychological and physical well being. Kidvertising, at its core, is most definitely immoral.


Link to news article:


Works Cited

“Advertising To Children.”  The Weight Coalition.  n.p.  n.d.  Web.  3 Apr 2015.

Clay, Rebecca A.  “Advertising to Children: Is It Ethical?”  American Psychological Association.  n.p.  n.d.  Web.  3 Apr 2015.

“How Marketers Target Kids.”  Media Smarts.  n.p.  n.d.  Web. 3 Apr 2015.

Nylund, Bo Viktor.  “Marketing and Advertising to Children: The Issues at Stake.” The Guardian.  n.p  n.d.  Web.  3 Apr 2015.

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”  UN.  n.p.  n.d.  Web.  3 Apr 2015.

Watson, Bruce.  “The Tricky Business of Advertising to Children.”  The Guardian.  n.p.  24 Feb 2014.  Web.  3 Apr 2015.

Waurechen, Sarah.  “What Constitutes A Moral Action To Kant?’” Media Ethics.  Marianopolis College.  Westmount.  30 January 2015.  Notes.


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