For many years now, television advertising aimed at children has not been allowed in Swedish terrestrial television because of its perceived negative impact on children. Just recently, McDonald’s has been under attack for its seeming lack of responsibility in luring children into buying their “unhealthy” Happy Meals by offering it with toys. O’Brien states that McDonald’s has been accused of “deceptive marketing to children” (2011). Today, all over the world there are calls to totally ban all forms of advertising to children. There are many opposing views presented to support whether or not advertising to children should be eliminated.
Advertisements that are unethical are those that do not involve getting the parents’ consent (Smith, 2010). Using cartoon characters in advertisements are intended specifically to target on children. These are the advertisements that can easily manipulate children. Smith identified four elements that can indicate that the advertisement is aimed at children are the music, images, voices and colors (2010). Most advertisements directed to children use special effects in presenting the products. These are the factors which usually captivate children and capture their attention. These special effects cloud the real idea and use of the products being advertised (Bjurstrom, 1994). What makes it even more unethical is if it is placed in publications read by children alone or advertised in children’s television shows or displayed where there are lots of children. Other advertisements directed to children that are unacceptable are those that make children think that they are inferior if they do not possess a wide range of new products. (Clay, 2000). These advertisements do not promote the right values to children, instead distorts their values and encourage materialism at an early age. Impulsive buying may be a long-run effect of these unethical advertisements. And since most brands being advertised are those that cost more, children become more drawn to the expensive stuff rather than to the reasonably-priced items which most of the time do not advertise (Business Mantra, 2010). One major concern why some parents are fighting for the ban of advertising is its negative effects on the eating habits of children. Since most products being advertised on television are mostly food items which are low in nutritional values and with a high content of sugar, salt and cholesterol, it negatively influences the food preferences of children. In defense of McDonald’s advertising to children, its CEO Jim Skinner asserted that they have the right to advertise freely and it is the parent’s responsibility to choose what their children eat; that is, the company serves “a balanced array of quality food products and provides the information to make individual choices” (O'Brien, 2011). This defense by McDonald’s is often the argument articulated by most companies to justify their advertising geared towards children. Their excuse is that it is the parents’ responsibility, not the advertisers or the companies who commissioned the advertisement. A problem posed in advertising to children is its tilting of the power balance principle of marketing (Smith, 2010). To be ethical, the advertisement must adhere to this principle which states that the scales should not favor either the consumer or the marketer. Directing the advertisement towards children who are very vulnerable means tilting the scale in the marketer’s favor, which is abusive and not fair. There are moral issues involved in advertising to children. First, children are very naive and trusting that advertising can influence them unduly (Bjurstrom, 1994). According to Bjurstrom, children lack the experience and the capacity to decipher the messages that they receive in advertisements; thus, may view it as exerting pressure on them to buy (1994). Children are at a stage called proximal development where