Is Marketing to Children Ethical?

Studies have highlighted that children have a great influence on the purchasing decisions of their families, which has attracted many companies to target this population. Similarly, this does not only affect their parents’ choices, but also the children’s, since most of them buy goods for themselves (Burrow, 2011). Therefore, marketers have discovered this secret and for this reason, they are designing ways and strategies of reaching this significant population. Some of them have formulated messages that deeply convince and entice both the children and their parents towards influencing their purchases.

From an ethical point of view, it is wrong for marketers to present their offers to children. Instead, these promotions should be directed towards adults who finance children. Marketers are using their knowledge to psychologically mislead, exploit, and manipulate children for their commercial gain (Burrow, 2011). Similarly, most of the information used by marketers aims at psychologically manipulating children to increase their profits. Marketers view children as the market of the future and often direct campaigns at them with the intent of forging brand loyalties at an early age. For instance, it is disappointing to discover that children encounter thousands of marketing messages from licensed companies and cartoon characters on their preferred websites. Additionally, some companies have gone to the extent of marketing to small babies and toddlers with crib mobiles and baby toys (Donovan & Henley, 2010). Critics claim that marketing aimed at children triggers feelings of discontent and inadequacy, promoting undesirable social values, such as materialism, and hence shapes children’s behavior (Burrow, 2011).

Marketing to children is deceptive, as young people tend to take information given literally. People promoting products within media usually influence children’s decisions, since interpreting the marketer’s persuasive intent is difficult to understand at their tender age (Andreasen, 2001). It is disgusting to see that companies are spending millions of dollars on this. For instance, in 2002, $15 billion was used by companies in the United States on marketing and advertising to directly target children. This consisted of television and print advertising, product placements, sales promotions, packaging designing, and in-school marketing. The main reason as to why the ethical dimension in marketing among the children is compromised is that children lack the ability to comprehend advertising and differentiate between claims that are realistic and truthful and those that are just fantasized (Donovan & Henley, 2010). The main concern here is that marketing to young minds is detrimental to them both mentally and physically. This has emerged to be a hot debate where people are deliberating on whether this is ethical or not. This debate has resulted from the increasing sophisticated advertising media and the proliferation of the Internet in recent years, which is generating extra methods to target children.

Advertising and marketing are ever-present factors in the lives of many youths and estimates imply today’s children spend at least 4-5 hours per day watching television (Andreasen, 2001). This connotes that they are exposed to about 5 hours of commercial marketing and promotion. Moreover, studies have shown that the Internet is worsening the condition, since it is enhancing television watching instead of reducing it.

Marketing to children is unethical given that it is unfair and dishonorable since young people lack the cognitive skills and critical life skillfulness needed to understand the marketer’s motive. Likewise, they are not in a position to resist mere persuasive claims from sound facts about goods and services. Furthermore, children lack the ability to distinguish between commercial and non-commercial content, recognizing advertising persuasive intent, and the capacity to use it in interpreting marketing messages. Therefore, this should be permissive only to children of a higher age limit when they are skeptical and able to resist the marketers appeal (Andreasen, 2001).


Andreasen, A. R. (2001). Ethics in Social Marketing. New York: Georgetown University Press.
Burrow, J. L. (2011). Marketing. New York: Cengage Learning publishers.
Donovan, R., & Henley, N. (2010). Principles and Practice of Social Marketing. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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