Stop Advertising to Kids (2024)

Stop Advertising to KidsBill Field2023-10-24T21:35:27+00:00

Stop Advertising to Kids – Stop Predatory Advertising

Marketing to children under 8 years old should be stopped. The NFEC calls for a halt to advertising via all avenues that target this age group and safety measures to ensure that misleading marketing messages are not shaping our children’s values and financial behaviors.

Why? Data show that advertising can have a negative impact on children’s self-esteem, financial behaviors, health, and activities.(1–3) Children aged 8 and younger lack the cognitive ability to recognize advertising’s persuasive intent and are unable to discriminate between commercial and noncommercial content.(4) But even up until age 11, kids do not fully understand advertising.

Advertisers spend billions on child-targeted ads, with US expenditures on kids’ advertising estimated at $2.9 billion in 2021 and projected to reach $21.1 billion by 2031.(5) By the time they turn 21, young people will have been exposed to over one million advertisem*nts – many of which are highly-sophisticated ads that encourage them to make purchases based on wants rather than needs. According to studies cited by the American Psychological Association, after just one exposure to a commercial, children can recall the ad’s content and express a desire for the product.(6)


1.UNICEF. Prospects for children in 2022: A global outlook. New York: Office of Global Insight and Policy, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); 2022 Jan.
2.UPMC Health Beat. Social media mental health for children and adolescents [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2022 May 17]. Available from:
3.American Academy of Pediatrics. 5 unhealthy ways digital ads may be targeting your child [Internet]. 2020. Available from:
4.Radesky J, Reid Chassiakos Y, Ameenuddin N, Navsaria D. Digital advertising to children: Policy statement. Pediatrics. 2020;146(1):e20201681.
5.Guttman A. Spending on advertising to children worldwide from 2012 to 2021, by format [Internet]. New York: Statista; 2020 Apr [cited 2020 Oct 29]. Available from:
6.American Psychological Association. The impact of food advertising on childhood obesity [Internet]. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2010. Available from:

Stop Advertising to Kids Whitepaper

Advertising to children today is pervasive across a broad and growing range of platforms, which raises ethical and health concerns across the gamut of life aspects.

This report explores the problems posed by advertising to children and youth – with particular focus on kids’ financial health – and suggests two policy strategies to help mitigate those risks.


Stop Advertising to Kids (1)

Research: The Negative Consequences of Advertising to Children

Advertising to children is a multi-billion dollar industry, with US expenditures on kids’ advertising estimated at $2.9 billion in 2021 and projected to reach $21.1 billion by 2031.(1) A 2018 estimate was broken down as $3.2 billion for nondigital and over $900 million for digital marketing to children in the US in 2018.(1) The food industry alone spends more than $1.6 billion annually on child-targeted advertising.(2)

In 2015, children aged 2-11 viewed on average 11.8 ads per day on television just for food and beverages.(3) It’s estimated that the average US kid sees as many as 40,000 total televised ads annually.(4) However, that figure does not include marketing content children encounter online, on mobile apps, in print, at the movies, in video games, or at school.(5)

A common theme in marketing to children is to foster a positive connection between brand and product to create loyalty to brand.(6) Advertising to children specifically aims to encourage early consumer brand recognition and loyalty, re-conceptualizing child development as a learning process for purchasing goods.(6) Children develop an association convincing them that the brand product is superior to identical, non-brand products.

Research shows that children as young as preschool age (<6) do develop brand-product association.(3) For example, a study conducted in 2013 showed a positive interrelationship between children’s exposure to child-targeted fast food ads and consuming food from those restaurants, most notably McDonald’s.(7) In a 2018 study, Harris and Kalnova (3) found that children’s viewing of television advertisem*nts was strongly associated with knowledge of unhealthy food brands, but much less strongly with less-advertised, healthier brands. In 2023, kids and teens in a UK survey chose Netflix as the “coolest” brand, followed by YouTube, McDonald’s, Nike, and Oreo.(8)

Marketers also take emotional and/or subconscious approaches – like using celebrities or trusted characters – to appeal to children.(5) These positive emotional associations with brands may prove quite difficult to change, especially when formed at an early age when children’s brains are more malleable.(6)

The literature clearly demonstrates that advertising to children can have harmful effects which may be lifelong. Critics of the practice say child-targeted marketing contributes to the development of unhealthy habits, perpetuates gender and social stereotypes, encourages materialism, and fuels family disputes.(9–12)

People agree, advertising to kids should be stopped. In a recent survey from the National Financial Educators Council, over 80% said adverting to kids under 8 years old should stop.

Stop Advertising to Kids (2)

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A review of the literature in 2003 supported the hypothesis that advertising exposure makes children more susceptible to materialistic values.(9) A child’s desire for advertised products has increased in pace with commercialization and social media, leading to countless negative side effects on childhood well-being.(5) Kids increasingly have their own pocket money and thus purchasing power and greater control over their own spending; they also strongly influence their parents’ buying behaviors.(6,13) American children up to age 11 spend around $18 billion a year; and children and teens combined influence their parents’ purchases totaling up to $670 billion a year.(14)

Consumerism and desire for products leads to a desire to spend rather than to save or handle money wisely. Therefore, exposure to marketing across today’s broad media landscape can negatively affect financial health as well.(15) Childhood materialism has been linked with risk of future overspending and debt, and with undesirable character traits like self-centeredness and entitlement.(11,16,17)

Advertisem*nts for unhealthy activity or food are shown to contribute to childhood obesity.(18,19) Products with harmful qualities, e.g. fast food; processed foods high in sugar, salt, and fat; and sugary beverages, are heavily marketed to children.(2,3,7,20) And advertising of unhealthy food products disproportionately targets children from ethnic minority backgrounds and low-income families.(16,21) Further, although tobacco advertising has been banned from television since 1970, children are increasingly exposed to ads for electronic cigarette products through online and other media.(22)

Research has demonstrated that advertising exposure can affect a child’s self-esteem through eliciting powerful emotional responses.(6,9) Marketing can have negative impact on children’s self-esteem by propagating gender and social stereotypes (23) and poor body image,(24) even potentially leading to eating disorders.(25) Because children’s brains are not fully developed to sufficiently regulate impulsive behaviors and delay gratification, child advertising exposure also has been linked to drug and alcohol use in adulthood.(26)

Regarding interpersonal relationships, an early review of the literature suggested that advertising may contribute to parent-child conflict (9) and more recent research confirms this connection, often as a result of parents’ denial of their children’s requests to purchase products for which they saw advertisem*nts.(26,27) Finally, some researchers have expressed concern regarding violent media, such as movies and video games, being marketed to children and the potential for such marketing to increase violent behavior.(28)

As a direct result of growing concerns about the adverse impact of advertising on children, policymakers in some countries have taken action. Sweden prohibited all televised advertising during children’s peak viewing hours as of 1991.(6) The UK first banned junk food advertising during TV programs aimed at children under age 16 in 2008. In 2021, the UK government introduced further restrictions placing a 9 p.m. watershed on adverts for unhealthy foods.(29)

To date, the US has relied upon industry self-regulatory measures to curtail advertising to children.(30) In 2021, the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) of the Better Business Bureau released new self-regulatory guidelines that would go into effect in January 2022. The updates included now covering ads to children aged 13 and under, rather than 12 and under; guidance for in-app and in-game advertising and purchase; advice that advertisers “not use unfair, deceptive, or other manipulative tactics”; and updated guidance on influencer marketing to children.(31)

But industry self-regulation has traditionally been weak, inconsistently enforced, and there is little evidence that it has been effective. And preschoolers continue to be exposed to such advertising – young kids continue to see, and express liking for, large numbers of ads. In a recent policy statement, Radesky et al. (5) called for a ban on all commercial advertising to children under age 7 years and a ban on targeted, data-driven behavioral advertising to all youth under age 18. And a task force of the American Psychological Association in 2004 recommended that advertising targeting children under the age of 8 should be restricted.(26)

This research makes a strong case that advertising to children is a predatory and unfair practice which leads to a multitude of harmful consequences to individuals’ physical, mental, and financial health and thereby to society as a whole. We advocate banning all child-targeted advertising aimed at children below the age of 8 in the United States.

1.Guttman A. Spending on advertising to children worldwide from 2012 to 2021, by format [Internet]. New York: Statista; 2020 Apr [cited 2020 Oct 29]. Available from:
2.Harris JL, Graff SK. Protecting young people from junk food advertising: Implications of psychological research for First Amendment law. American Journal of Public Health. 2012;102(2):214–22.
3.Harris JL, Kalnova SS. Food and beverage TV advertising to young children: Measuring exposure and potential impact. Appetite. 2017;123:49–55.
4.American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Communications. Children, adolescents, and advertising. Pediatrics. 2006;118(6):2563–9.
5.Radesky J, Reid Chassiakos Y, Ameenuddin N, Navsaria D. Digital advertising to children: Policy statement. Pediatrics. 2020;146(1):e20201681.
6.Grad I. Ethical considerations on advertising to children. Postmodern Openings. 2015;6(2):43–57.
7.Dalton MA, Longacre MR, Drake KM, Cleveland LP, Harris JL, Hendricks K, et al. Child-targeted fast-food television advertising exposure is linked with fast-food intake among pre-school children. Public Health Nutrition. 2017;20(9):1548–56.
8.Beano Brain. Beano Brain unveils the 100 coolest brands for kids & teens for 2023. TangerineCoffee [Internet]. 2023 Aug 16; Available from:,the%20world%20beyond%20their%20doorstep.%20…%20More%20items
9.Buijzen M, Valkenburg PM. The effects of television advertising on materialism, parent-child conflict, and unhappiness: A review of research. Applied Developmental Psychology. 2003;24:437–56.
10.Campbell AJ. Rethinking children’s advertising policies for the digital age. Loyola Consumer Law Review. 2017;29(1):1–54.
11.Opree SJ. Learning about materialism and consumer culture. In: Hobbs R, Mihailidis P, editors. The International Encyclopedia of Media Literacy. New York: John Wiley & Sons; 2019.
12.Spotswood F, Nairn A. Children as vulnerable consumers: A first conceptualisation. Journal of Marketing Management. 2015;32(3–4):211–29.
13.Schor JB. Born to buy: The commercialized child and the new consumer cult. New York: Scribner; 2004.
14.Shah A. Children as consumers. Global Issues [Internet]. 2010 Nov 21; Available from:
15.Sandhu N. Television advertisem*nts and consumerism: Implications for financial health of viewers. SCMS Journal of Indian Management. 2017;October-December:112–20.
16.Nairn A, Opree SJ. TV adverts, materialism, and children’s self-esteem: The role of socio-economic status. International Journal of Market Research. 2021;63(2):161–76.
17.Rasmussen EE, Riggs RE, Sauermilch WS. Kidfluencer exposure, materialism, and U.S. tweens’ purchase of sponsored products. Journal of Children and Media. 2022;16(1):68–77.
18.American Psychological Association. The impact of food advertising on childhood obesity [Internet]. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2010. Available from:
19.Russell SJ, Croker H, Viner RM. The effect of screen advertising on children’s dietary intake: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews. 2019;20:554–68.
20.Ertz M, Le Bouhart G. The other pandemic: A conceptual framework and future research directions of junk food marketing to children and childhood obesity. Journal of Macromarketing. 2022;42(1):30–50.
21.van der Bend D, Jakstas T, van Kleef E, Shrewsbury VA, Bucher T. Making sense of adolescent-targeted social media food marketing: A qualitative study of expert views on key definitions, priorities and challenges. Appetite. 2022;168:105691.
22.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. E-cigarette ads and youth [Internet]. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2017 Mar [cited 2020 Oct 29]. Available from:
23.John DR, Chaplin LN. Children as consumers: A review of 50 years of research in marketing. In: Kahle LR, editor. APA Handbook of Consumer Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2022. p. 185–202.
24.Jiménez-Morales M, de Lenne O, Montaña M, Vandenbosch L. Body image in advertising messages. In: Mas-Manchón L, editor. Innovation in advertising and branding communication [Internet]. New York: Routledge; 2020. Available from:
25.Bozzola E, Spina G, Agostiniani R, Barni S, Russo R, Scarpato E, et al. The use of social media in children and adolescents: Scoping review on the potential risks. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2022;19(16):9960.
26.Wilcox BL, Kunkel D, Cantor J, Dowrick P, Linn S, Palmer E. Report of the APA Task Force on Advertising and Children. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2004.
27.Lapierre MA, Fleming-Milici F, Rozendaal E, McAlister AR, Castonguay J. The effect of advertising on children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2017;140(s2):e20161758.
28.Brocato ED, Gentile DA, Laczniak RN, Maier JA, Ji-Song M. Television commercial violence. Journal of Advertising. 2010;39(4):95–108.
29.Department of Health and Social Care. New advertising rules to help tackle childhood obesity [Internet]. London, UK: Gov.UK; 2021 Jun. Available from:
30.Federal Trade Commission. Advertising to kids and the FTC: A regulatory retrospective that advises the present. FTC; 2004.
31.BBB National Programs, Children’s Advertising Review Unit. Self-regulatory guidelines for children’s advertising. McLean, VA: Better Business Bureau; 2021.

Stop Advertising to Kids (3)

Research: Children’s Ability to Understand Advertising

The debate over advertising to young children has been a long one. Since the 1970s, research has been exploring the “cognitive defenses” children have developed against the influences of advertising – in other words, the ability of young kids to comprehend that advertisers are trying to sell them something and to develop a healthy distrust of those messages.(1) According to the American Psychological Association, marketing to kids at or under 8 years old is “inherently unfair because it capitalizes on younger children’s inability to attribute persuasive intent to advertising.”(2)

Recently, we have witnessed many advances in advertising strategy due to the advent of the Internet, social media, mobile apps, and digital television, which have made child-targeted advertising increasingly more sophisticated.(3) Today digital marketing messages reach children through sponsored content, social influencers, data collection, persuasive design, and personalized behavioral marketing.(4) Across all platforms, marketers now use “embedded” advertising techniques where marketing messages are merged with media content, for example, integrating brands into television shows or other forms of entertainment.(5)

User-created content such as the highly-popular “unboxing” and toy-play videos can have powerful influence on child behavior.(4) Multi-screening – an increasingly prevalent practice – can lead children to be exposed to multiple advertising messages at one time.(3) Kids now engage actively with advertising through advergames (where fun, exciting games feature branded content); and by being solicited as brand ambassadors (where companies encourage children to reach out to friends about a product).(6) There also is strong evidence that digital marketers collect data on children’s online behaviors, which are then used to target advertising messages to them.(3,6) Such targeted messaging may further undermine children’s ability to identify or think critically about the message.(4)

Kids under age 8 are especially vulnerable to advertising influence because of their level of cognitive development. At the preoperational stage identified by Piaget, children have not yet reached the ability to comprehend another person’s perspective or to process multiple aspects of a situation at once.(1,7,8) Young kids (under age 7) have been clearly established to lack the cognitive ability to recognize the persuasive and biased nature of advertising information, and so accept the messaging as true and accurate without qualification.(2,6,9) Children have difficulty recognizing the commercial nature of televised advertising, and that task becomes even more difficult with embedded and sponsored content online.(3,10) Therefore legal scholars have come to the conclusion that any advertising to young children is inherently misleading and unfair.(2,11)

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Children’s underdeveloped state of advertising literacy is particularly true in the embedded advertising context.(5) Advertising literacy requires development of executive functioning (i.e. emotional and impulse control, planned behavior, and categorization skills), which usually has not begun forming in children under 12 and is not fully developed until about age 18.(5,6) Kids will not be able to understand advertisers’ goals and intentions toward them, and thereby critically analyze the intent of advertising messages, until they become capable to view the world from the perspective of others.(5)

There is some evidence that parents can be effective in helping their children attain advertising literacy and coping strategies, if they begin talking with their children about advertising and its influencing techniques from a young age.(4) However, experimental studies of interventions to increase children’s ability to implement advertising coping strategies have had inconclusive results.(10)

The ubiquitous and subtle nature of advertising in online environments makes it increasingly difficult to craft and implement advertising policies.(6) But the research cited here makes it clear that policy restricting advertising to children is long overdue. This represents a call to action to US policymakers – ban all marketing targeted to children under age 8 – stop advertising to kids.

(1) Brucks M, Goldberg ME, Armstrong GM. Children’s cognitive responses to advertising. Adv Consum Res. 1986;13:650–4.
(2) Wilcox BL, Kunkel D, Cantor J, Dowrick P, Linn S, Palmer E. Report of the APA Task Force on Advertising and Children. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2004.
(3) Campbell AJ. Rethinking children’s advertising policies for the digital age. Loyola Consum Law Rev. 2017;29(1):1–54.
(4) Radesky J, Reid Chassiakos Y, Ameenuddin N, Navsaria D. Digital adverising to children. Pediatrics. 2020;146(1):e20201681.
(5) Hudders L, DePauw P, Cauberghe V, Panic K, Zarouali B, Rozendaal E. Shedding new light on how advertising literacy can affect children’s processing of embedded advertising formats: A future research agenda. J Advert. 2017;46(2):333–49.
(6) Lapierre MA, Fleming-Milici F, Rozendaal E, McAlister AR, Castonguay J. The effect of advertising on children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2017;140(s2):e20161758.
(7) Ferguson CJ, Contreras S, Kilburn M. Advertising and fictional media effects on healthy eating choices in early and later childhood. Psychol Pop Media Cult. 2014;3(3):164–73.
(8) Cherry K. The concrete operational stage of cognitive development [Internet]. verywellmind. 2019 [cited 2020 Oct 29]. Available from:
(9) Harris JL, Kalnova SS. Food and beverage TV advertising to young children: Measuring exposure and potential impact. Appetite. 2017;123:49–55.
(10) Rozendaal E, Figner B. Effectiveness of a school-based intervention to empower children to cope with advertising. J Media Psychol. 2020;32(3):107–18.
(11) Harris JL, Graff SK. Protecting young people from junk food advertising: Implications of psychological research for First Amendment law. Am J Public Health. 2012;102(2):214–22.

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Stop Advertising to Kids (2024)


Why shouldn't we advertise to children? ›

Children are in a development phase and due to this they are not capable of understanding the persuasive character or ironic connotations hidden in advertising messages. When they are young they do not even know how to distinguish advertising from media content. Until about 8 years of age, they mix fantasy and reality.

How to stop advertising to children? ›

Keep your children away from advertising as much as possible. Let them watch commercial-free TV or use a DVR to skip through ads. Teach kids the difference between a TV program and a commercial. Point out commercials and use a timer to show your children when a commercial begins and ends.

Should advertising to children be even more restricted than it is at present explain your answer? ›

Answer and Explanation:

Yes, advertising to children should be even more restricted than it is at present. Currently, marketing has a more powerful influence in the lives of kids than ever before. Marketing impacts what children want to play with, learn from, wear and eat, as well as whom to have fun with.

What are the negatives of marketing to children? ›

Long-Term Effects

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, excessive exposure to advertisem*nts may lead children to smoke, use alcohol and practice poor nutrition, which often leads to obesity. The advertisem*nts aimed at children send them the message that they need things to be happy and accepted.

How do advertisers affect kids? ›

Several studies have found strong associations between increases in advertising for nonnutritious foods and rates of childhood obesity. A variety of studies have found a substantial relationship between children's viewing of tobacco and alcohol ads and positive attitudes toward consumption of such products.

How do ads affect mental health? ›

The false promises of advertising can lead to a sense of dissatisfaction when we do buy their products, trapping us in a cycle of purchases and disappointment.

How many ads do kids see a day? ›

INTRODUCTION. Several European countries forbid or severely curtail advertising to children; in the United States, on the other hand, selling to children is simply “business as usual.”1 The average young person views more than 3000 ads per day on television (TV), on the Internet, on billboards, and in magazines.

Is it illegal to show ads to kids? ›

Advertising that is intended for children or is on content set as made for kids must not be deceptive, unfair, or inappropriate for its intended audience. This includes: Incitement to purchase: Paid ads must not incite children to purchase a product or urge parents or others to buy the item.

Do ads make kids materialistic? ›

Children who are exposed to a greater amount of consumer advertising go on to display stronger materialistic values and a greater desire to purchase the advertised products. This effect is particularly strong when people perceive advertisem*nts to be an accurate portrayal of real life.

How can kids resist advertising? ›

There are 5 things we can do to help our kids to resist ads and become savvy consumer kids.:
  • Research: the best tool for any consumer.
  • Math: your opportunity to prove school isn't a total waste of time.
  • Patience: kids can be patient when they really want something.
  • Goal-setting: the foundation of a successful life.
Jun 20, 2022

Do you think children should be subject to advertising? ›

Because of their lack of life experience, children are less likely to be as well equipped to understand and process commercial messages in ads than adults. They are also often more sensitive and likely to be adversely affected by inappropriate, scary or offensive images.

How to explain advertising to a child? ›

Tell kids that the purpose of advertising is to persuade you to buy or to like something. Make sure they understand that not all ads make a “buy this” appeal: a lot of it is just aimed at making us feel good about a brand, by doing things like using cartoon mascots or hiring social media influencers to endorse it.

Why should ads not target children? ›

The harmful effects of certain products explain why exposure to advertising “may contribute significantly to childhood and adolescent obesity, poor nutrition, and cigarette and alcohol use,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Why you should never stop marketing? ›

If you stop marketing, the number of leads and new customers you've been getting will start to drop off immediately. Eventually, you'll have no leads coming in at all. If your marketing isn't giving you the results you want, try changing strategies instead of stopping altogether.

Is marketing to children ethical or unethical? ›

Those who are against marketing to children claim that the practice is inherently unfair and unethical because youngsters lack the cognitive skills and life experiences necessary to understand the motives of marketers and to resist persuasive claims.

Why should companies not market to children? ›

Unhealthy foods and food brands that are relentlessly marketed to children can influence their food preferences for a lifetime. The marketing can trigger family tension when children nag parents to purchase unhealthy foods they've seen advertised.

Why should we ban advertising targeted at children? ›

Because children are more gullible than adults, they are likely to want more of the products that they see in advertising, many of which have negative effects on their health, safety, and well-being.

Why is it unethical to target children with advertising? ›

Advertising to children is unethical because the ads cause children to make the choices that the companies want and pay for in ads, rather than independent choices the child can make.

Why you shouldn't post kids? ›

Cybercriminals can find out the name of your child, their date of birth and their place of birth from the images and captions you post. So always be careful of the surroundings in your pictures. This can eventually lead to identity theft which is also known as “digital kidnapping.”


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