The Checkout

Should the 30-Year-Old Guidelines Governing Kids Marketing Be Revised?

How vigorous should the advertising industry be in policing itself, particularly when it comes to promotions aimed at children? That's the question that will be at the heart of the debate soon to be underway by a new task force just named to review the industry's 30-year-old self-regulatory guidelines on children's advertising.

To lead the review, the Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU) has tapped a longtime Washingtonian attorney, Joan Z. (Jodie) Bernstein, who headed the Federal Trade Commission's consumer protection division during the Clinton administration.

The broad review comes two months after a prestigious national science panel called on the industry to revise and expand its guidelines for governing the marketing of food and beverages to children. Noting that most food products promoted to children were high in calories, sugar, salt and fat and low in nutrients, the Institute of Medicine said there was strong evidence linking television advertising to obesity.

CARU has become a central issue in the debate about children's advertising, with food companies and advertising firms pointing to CARU as proof that the industry is being careful about what it promotes to children, noting that CARU has made sure such ads are truthful, accurate and age-appropriate.

But CARU's critics say that that's not enough--it's time for CARU to play a more active role in policing ads aimed at children, perhaps even limiting certain products that can be advertised to kids, such as highly sugared sodas or cereal. The critics also say the guidelines are out of date since they don't address a lot of the current ways companies are using to attract kids, such as advergaming, where kids can play online games featuring Cheetos or M&M's, in-school promotions or special marketing events.

All those issues and more will be on the table--and all interested parties will be invited to give their thoughts in what Bernstein has promised to be a thorough review of the 30-year-old guidelines. Bernstein has also promised results in about four months--a tall order for the nation's smallest consumers. The bottom line, however, will still be up to the industry since these are voluntary standards run for, and by, the industry.

By  |  February 6, 2006; 10:00 AM ET Kids Marketing
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Hey! I have an idea! Maybe the parents of those children being advertised to should simply NOT BUY THOSE PRODUCTS!!! Or do all those millions of children do the food shopping for their families???

Posted by: M. | February 6, 2006 2:45 PM

Suspect it's not quite as simple as that, M. I am all for parents controlling their child's exposure and understanding about commercials, but there needs to be other kinds of oversight.

It's hard to train kids to understand what advertising is and why it makes us want stuff. Advertising works especially well on young kids because you can't explain to them that the food is bad for you (but it tastes so good), or that the toy really isn't as cool as it looks (look how happy those kids are), or that all these people want is your money. The understanding of how advertising manipulates us isn't available until a child can think abstractly, which isn't until they're 8 or 9.

I'm not sure if you're a parent, but I know the pressure that a child puts on parents to get what they want. Think Chinese water torture done by someone you love more than almost anyone else. The best route for a parent to take is to limit exposure and to make kids ad-savvy, both of which can be challenging and won't alleviate the entire problem.
I think a little more in the way of regulation in this pervasive industry is important.

Posted by: kate | February 6, 2006 3:15 PM

I am all for parents being tough and teaching their children that just because they see it on television or an ad says it's cool or everybody else has one does not mean it is an appropriate purchase for our family. But I see nothing wrong in recognizing -- as we do in many other areas of the law -- the special vulnerability of children and imposing some special protections. The movie "The Corporation" has a chilling interview with a woman who runs a firm that uses the latest psychological research to make sure their commercials improve a child's ability to nag. The increasing use of product placement in movies and television is a subliminal form of advertising that should be evaluated. The old rules did not include online ads, which children are more likely to absorb without adult monitoring. And how about the same truth in advertising laws that apply to everyone -- shouldn't some of these "snacks" be characterized as "candy?"

Posted by: Nell | February 6, 2006 11:08 PM

I think that elimating advertiments that appeal to childern is one of the dumest things i have ever heard! Parents should be able to control their child and decide what is and isnt good for their child. It will also be good pratice for the parent to say no to their child which they will so many times throughout their life.

Posted by: S. | May 9, 2006 11:04 PM

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