Media is a form of communication that is used widely all over the world. There are various forms of media ranging from commercials, advertisement, magazines, to drawings, and billboards. Media is a great tool in advertising and marketing because it can be seen on television, heard on radios, billboards, and the internet; which is readily available at any time and place. Many companies are using different forms of media as a marketing tool, geared toward children and adolescents. Marketers make funny commercial, use upbeat music and catchy jingles, or animated characters to draw youth into purchasing their products.

Food and beverage industries are marketing their product to children and adolescents. They are interested in the youth as consumers because of their spending power, purchasing influence, and as future adult consumers.  Food and beverage marketed to children are high in sugar, salt, and fat (Gallo, AE., 1997).

The definition of marketing is any activity an organization engages in to facilitate an exchange between itself and it customers. Advertisement is a form of marketing. TheUS food system is the second largest advertiser in the American economy. The reason the food advertising market is so large is due to food being the most highly branded items, food is a repeat purchase item, and food captures about 12.5% ofUS consumer spending.

Millions of dollars is spent on advertisement. Breakfast cereal being one of the most advertised products to young children- expenditure was $792 million; candy and gum was second with an expenditure of $765 million; then soft drinks expenditure was $549 million. In theUnited States, it is estimated that over $1 billion is spent on media advertising to children, mostly on television.

Television is the largest outlet for media messages of food for children. The advertisement budget for theUSfood system is 75% and 95% of fast food restaurants are allocated on television. Children in theU.S. start watching television as early as 2 and view approximately 2 hours per day; this increases to 3.5 at the end of grade school, and then drops off to 2.75 in adolescence. Children from low income families and minorities watch more television, which have greater exposure to food ads (Borzekowski, DL., & Robinson, TN., 2001).

Studies show that U.S. children may view approximately 20,000 – 40,000 commercials each year and by the time they graduate from high school the exposure could range from 360,000 ads on up. Food is the most frequent advertised product during children programming. Children view an average of one food commercial every five minutes of viewing time and could see three hours or more of commercials in a week. Most of these ads promote food high in sugar, salt and fat (Kotz, K., & Story, M., 1994).

Companies use in-school marketing to promote and sell their products. The reason for these companies to promote in-school marketing is to increase sales and generate brand loyalty. Getting children to like a particular brand starts when the child is young and this behavior continues until adulthood. In recent reports from the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), food sales were the most prevalent form of commercial activity in schools. Soft drinks sold from vending machines, school store, or snack bar was in 58% of elementary schools, 83% in middle schools, and 94% of high schools, many of the schools have a contract with the company which gives them the right to sell their products at the school. The company makes revenue from these sales and the schools get a percentage of the revenues or school equipment; when the revenues reach a certain amount.

High schools are selling fast food from vendors such as Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, or Subway (Craypo, L., et al., 2002). Vendors are placing their logos on equipment, sponsoring context to students such as reading a certain amount of books, you receive a coupon from fast food vendor or receive free food such as hamburgers, French fries, and soft drinks. Food companies are now using the internet to attract children to their sites to play games and sale their products by offering toys and books to children.

Product placement is increasing in popularity and is more acceptable. What this involves is placement of a product in movies. The product is used as a prop or could be placed in the script. Producer state that product placement seem more realistic and it helps define the characters and setting in the movie production. Plus it can help with offset production cost. Product placement first gained attention in 1982, when reported that Hershey’s Reese’s Pieces increased sales by 65% within a month due to placement in the E. T. movie.

Regulating Advertisement to Children

As children become more important to the food industry, consumers and child advocates have become increasingly concerned that adequate measures are being taken and enforced to protect children from exploitative commercial gain. TheU.S.regulations have decided to tighten the control on food advertisement to children.

There are few policies or standards for advertisement and marketing aimed at children in regards to food and nutrition. The advertising industry follows self-regulatory policies established by the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU), of the National Council of Better Business Bureaus. CARU’s guidelines apply to all forms of children advertisement, but it has no legal power over advertisers and can only seek voluntary compliance. The CARU, consists of people whom are from the food industries, such as Burger King, Frito-Lay, McDonald’s and Hershey. It is questionable how well the CARU can self-regulate their guidelines when the primary members are from the food industry.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) share authority for regulating advertisement but each agency has a different emphasis. The FCC is responsible for establishing public interest in broadcasting, the FTC regulates advertisement they deem unfair and/or deceptive.

Action for Children’s Television (ACT), an advocacy group; raised concerns about advertisement on children television programs in the early 1970s. They had urged the FCC and FTC to prohibit advertising aimed at children. In 1974, the FCC had placed limitations on the amount of advertisement during children programs (to about 12 minutes/hour on weekdays and about 10 minutes/hour on weekends) with a clear separation between programs and commercials. This involved the policies against of “host selling”, which advertisers would use the host or program personality to sell their product. The FCC required a clear delineation when programs were interrupted by advertisement. This would help children distinguish program content from commercial messages. This resulted in television programs to air “bumpers,” such as “We’ll be right back after these commercial messages”.

In 1978, the FTC proposed a rule to formally ban or severely restricts all television advertisement toward children. The FTC, provided scientific literature that showed advertisement directed to children was inherently unfair and deceptive. This proposal was fought by food, toy, broadcasting, and advertising industries, that opposed the ban. The key argument was the First Amendment, which these industries had the right to provide information about products to consumers. Congress refused to approve the FTC’s proposal and passed legislation titled the FTC Improvements Act of 1980 which removed the agency’s authority to restrict television advertisement. This act specifically prohibits any further action to be proposed on children’s advertisement.

 In 1990, children’s advocacy groups persuaded Congress to pass the Children’s Television Act that limited the amount of commercial time during children’s programs to about 11 minutes/hour on weekends and about 12 minutes/hour on weekdays. These limits remain in effect today. A chronology of key events in regulating food advertisement is shown below.


Chronology of Key Events in US Regulations on Advertising to Children
1961 National Association of Broadcasters’ first adopted self-regulatory toy TV advertising guidelines.

Early 1970s Action for Children’s Television (ACT), a children’s advocacy group calls on FCC and FTC to prohibit or limit TV advertising directed at children.

1974 FCC adopts first federal policies restricting TV advertising. These include:
1. limits on overall amount of advertising allowed during children’s programming (12 min/hr on weekdays and 9.5 min/hr on weekends)
2. clear separation between program content and commercial messages (no host selling)
3. clear delineation when a program is interrupted by a commercial
Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) of the National Council of Better Business Bureau’s is established by the advertising industry to self-regulate advertising policies. The group was created in response to legislation to restrict or ban advertising to children.

1977 ACT ad the Center for Science in the public interest (CSPI) file petitions to FTC to ban TV advertising of highly sugared products.

1978 FTC formally proposes a rule that would ban or severely restrict all TV advertising to children. FTC presents a review of the scientific evidence and argues that all advertising directed to young children is inherently unfair and deceptive. The proposal provokes intense opposition from the broadcasting, advertising and food and toy industries and an aggressive campaign to oppose the ban based on First Amendment Protection.

1980 In response to corporate pressure, Congress refuses to approve FTC’s operating budget and passed legislation “FTC Improvements Act of 1980” which removes the agency’s authority to restrict advertising. The Act prohibits any further action to adopt proposed children’s advertising rules.

1984 Deregulation of Television occurs during the Reagan administration. FCC deregulates all limits on the amount of advertising times, and the restriction on program-length commercials.

1990 Children’s advocacy and consumer groups pushed Congress t pass the Children’s Television Act which directed the FCC to require educational programming for children and to limit the amount of commercial time during children’s programming to 10.5 min/hr on weekends and 12 min/hr on weekdays. FCC reinstates the policy on program length commercials but redefines them.

1998 In response to advocacy groups and an FTC report, Congress passes the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) that directs the FTC to develop rules restricting certain data collection practices and requiring parental permission for collection of personal information for children under 13 years of age.

Story and French International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2004 1:3   doi:10.1186/1479-5868-1-3


Key Events in the U.S. Regulations on Advertising to Children

Advertisement and marketing has increased on the internet aimed at children. Advertising on the Web is virtually unrestricted.  In 1997, the CARU revised its Children’s Advertising Guidelines to include a section addressing the Internet. However, the guidelines regarding online and Internet advertisement is weaker than those applied for television.

In the mid 1990s, companies started using marketing strategies to collect personal information and data from children to learn their interests and preferences. This information allowed companies to personalize marketing and sales appeals to children. In 1998, Congress passed the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which allowed the FTC to develop rules restricting certain data collection practices without parental permission for children under the age of 13. This law went into effect in 2000.

Majority, ofU.S. schools and states don’t have any policies about commercial marketing in schools. The U.S. GAO report found only 19 states have statutes or regulations addressing school-related commercial activities. Only 5 states have more comprehensive policies covering certain activities related to product sales, direct and indirect advertisements.New York andCalifornia have adopted laws prohibiting many types of commercial activities in their schools.

The Consumers Union Education has urged parents and teachers to unite and make schools ad-free zones, where children can pursue learning free of commercial influences and pressures. The first thing schools should do is get rid of soda vending machines.


I think the U. S. should study other countries media guidelines. If the U. S. looked at Sweden’s advertisement guidelines; we would see that Sweden had no food advertisement on their children programs (Dibbs, S., Harris, L., 1196). The main goal of food advertising and marketing aimed at children is to influence brand awareness, brand preference, brand loyalty, and food purchases among youth. Marketing to children and adolescents has become so pervasive, that many child advocates and media experts believe that such marketing constitutes an escalating public health problem. Children are more susceptible to the effects of marketing than adults. Studies, show that children under the age of 8 aren’t developmentally able to understand the intent of advertisements and accept advertising claims as factual. The intense marketing of high fat, high sugar foods to young children can be viewed as exploitation because they don’t understand that commercials are designed to sell products. There is a larger need for national discussion and dialogue on these issues.

Work cited:

Borzekowski, DL., Robinson, TN., (2001). The 30-second effect: an experiment revealing the impact of television commercials on food preferences of preschoolers. Journal American Dietetic Association, 101, 42-46.

Craypo, L., Purcell, A., Samuels, SE., Argon, P., Bell, E., & Takada, E., (2002). Fast food sales on high school campuses: results from the 2000 California high school fast food survey. Journal of School Health, 72, 78-82.

Dibbs, S., Harris, L., (1996). A spoonful of sugar. Television food advertising aimed at children: an international comparative study. London, UK, Consumers International.

Gallo, AE., (1999). Food Advertising in the United States. America’s Eating Habits: Changes and Consequences. Edited by: USDA/Economic Research Service. Washington, DC, USDA; 173-180.

Story, M., and French, S. (2004).  Food Advertising and Marketing Directed at Children and Adolescents in theUS. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. doi:10.1186/1479-5868-1-3

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.