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Victoria Wagoner

Professor Uecker
Communication Law Paper
Advertising to Children

Advertising is a constant part of todays society, which is nearly unavoidable. People are
bombarded with advertisements through different media outlets on a daily basis. Whether you
are driving to work and pass a billboard, or turn on the radio and the first thing you hear is a
commercial. Whether you are walking to your favorite store in the mall and see banners with the
latest deals and coupons. Whether you are simply watching television with your children, and
have to sit through the long and loud commercial breaks. So this begs the question, how do
companies advertise to children? There are now strict rules put in place to regulate
advertisements to children; however, that has not always been the case. Advertising to children is
now its own section within the advertising world, which now has strict standards put in place by
the Childrens Television Act of 1990.
Technology is constantly changing; therefore, the laws have to change as well to keep up
with the newest services and gadgets. Commercial television was new in the 1940s, so there
were no regulations yet in regards to childrens advertising. According to Dr. William O Barr,
Duke University professor of cultural anthropology and sociology; television commercials often
had the same actors in them as the television show they were aired within. He states this was
unfair advertising because the children were unable to differentiate between the content of the
show, and the advertising since the actors were frequently the same. Barr says many of these
unregulated commercials displayed negative aspects such as gender roles, and actions being
performed with toys that were not typical. For example, a Frisbee commercial showed the
children happily playing with the toy and catching it every time, but children in real life would
become frustrated when this was not the case with their Frisbee. The advertisements were also
targeted at the children specifically, and rarely focused on the parents point of view. The
Advertising Educational Foundation says these advertisements are simply making kids want

what they dont need. The obvious goal of an advertiser is to sell a product; therefore, they do
not pay much attention to how the product is sold, as long as they are gaining the profit. These
children would see an advertisement, and assume they needed it since their favorite TV actors
were the ones endorsing it. This is sneaky on behalf of the advertisers since they are simply
playing into the fact that young children do not have the cognitive skills to tell themselves these
new toys or snacks are not necessities. The children became fixed on the idea that they needed
these toys, and then would attempt to talk their parents into buying the product. Yes, this still
happens in modern society; however, advertising no longer directly targets the children. This has
had a major impact on how children view products advertised to them through TV.
These commercials sparked concern from the Federal Trade Commission, so their
response was to launch the Childrens Advertising Review Unit in 1974, also known as the
CARU. According to Mr. Walter J. OBrien, a member of the National Advertising Review Council ,
this unit is funded by the childrens advertising industry, and is set in place to promote
responsible childrens advertising and respond to public concerns. This unit also provides
guidelines and principles to ensure advertisers use the best practices to reach out to children
(Barr 5). OBrien, states when childrens advertising is found to be inaccurate, misleading or
otherwise inconsistent with CARU Guidelines, the CARU seeks changes through the voluntary
cooperation of advertisers. An article written by O Brien titled Children, Content, and
Commerce on the Internet says the CARU has an advisory board with experts on child
development and communication. He states these leaders have established guidelines to address
issues ranging rom clear product presentation, to the more subjective issues of undue sales
pressure and appropriate pro-social role models. He describes that at the most basic level, the
CARU ensures truthful, accurate, and appropriate advertising to children.

Before the Childrens Advertising Review Unit, there were multiple activist groups
formed in order to push for limitations on levels of media consumption of children, and also the
advertising portrayed through the media. Barr describes the most popular activist group to be
Action for Childrens Television (ACT), founded in 1968 by Peggy Charren. He also states this
group was a major factor in the fight for the Childrens Television Act of 1990, but the group fell
apart once the Act was put into place. According to the Communication Law Writers Group, the
Childrens Television Act of 1990 was mainly put in place to regulate the types of programs
stations aired, and regulate the time and length of commercials. Later, the FCC commissioners
agreed some broadcast stations were not abiding by these rules, so the rules were amended in
1996 to make their roles clearer to broadcasters (Hopkins 202). These rules are still in place
today, and must be followed by all stations broadcasting to children.
Television was still a fairly new technology in the 1950s, so there were very few
regulations on television as a whole, and even fewer regulations on advertising to children. A
woman named Miss Frances was a major hit with her show Miss Francess Ding Dong School
during this time period (Barr 5). The show taught simple tasks and games, and Miss Frances
would also be the star of the commercial breaks. She was normally the only character in the
commercials, and she would start them off by telling the children to grab their parents or
guardians (Barr 5). This behavior was not seen as a problem in 1950, but with modern
broadcasting rules, it is against the Childrens Television Act. The Communication Law Writers
Group describes that as part of the Childrens Television Act, the characters in childrens
programs may not appear in the commercials before, during, or after the programs (Hopkins
202). This rule was set in place because young children often struggled to differentiate between

the show and the commercial when the regulation was not in effect. A similar issue occurred with
the show Rootie Kazootie. This show actually merged the advertisements within the show,
versus Miss Francess Ding Dong School which played an actual commercial break. Dr. Barr
said the main puppet of Rootie Kazootie gave a candy bar to the co-host of the show, and the
two discussed the brand and the candy bar itself on air. This is a prime example of the
Advertising Educational Foundations statement that these advertisements often make children
want what they dont need. Rootie Kazootie made two mistakes with this advertisement. First,
there wasnt a commercial break, so there was a very slight chance that the viewers would easily
know the difference between the advertisement and show content. Secondly, the characters were
promoting unhealthy food to the children. The show characters could have chosen to partner with
a healthier choice; however, they make money regardless of the product, and so do the
advertising agencies. Advertising unhealthy food to children could nearly be a topic of its very
own. The Advertising Educational Foundation asserts that these unhealthy advertisements are
accused of being a major factor in childhood obesity. An article in the Los Angeles Times states
Walt Disney has now pulled all junk food ads from their television and radio stations in response
to this issue.
According to Dr. Darr, an on air personality being in the commercial was not the only
issue during the early stages of television advertisement. He states these commercials also gave
way to the idea of children thinking they should look like these characters or toys. For example,
young girls idolized Barbie, and young boys idolized GI Joe. Barbie portrayed young girls to be
thin, socially active, heterosexual, and she was working a different glamorous job each week.
The advertisers targeted young girls, and of course they went crazy for these new dolls because
they portrayed the perfect lifestyle. The GI Joe toys were the kick-start to the term action

figure. Advertisers were well aware boys would not want to play with anything close to the title
of a doll, so they had to get creative. The action figures portrayed to young boys they should be
tough and display little emotion, but violence was a major controversial issue. An article written
by Craig Simpson, President of the Boston Association for the Education of Young Children
asserts playing with war toys legitimizes and makes violent behavior acceptable. It desensitizes
children to the dangers and harm of violent behavior(Simpson 13). While Dr. Thomas Radecki,
M.D., and chairman of NCTV states "The cartoon and violent toy studies show that these
materials cause children to hit, kick, choke, push and hold down other children. These toys had
the power to hurt children, and cause them to hurt others but they were allowed to be on air. The
advertisers were legally allowed to target the innocent and unknowing children since the
regulations were not made or enforced at this time. These advertisements gave children
unrealistic expectations that were sometimes well out of reach. This is similar to the
advertisements showing perfect toys, like the Frisbee that always comes back to you.
Regulations are necessary when it comes to broadcasting, especially when children are at risk.
The law now punishes broadcasters who do not follow these regulations.
According to The Communication Law Writers Group, the Childrens Television Act
generally places restrictions on the content of the show, time the show is on air, length of the
show, amount of advertisement, who is in the advertisement, and whether or not a web address is
shown. This relates more to the side of the actual show content being broadcasted, and general
guidelines for the advertisements. So what can people do when it comes to regulating the
advertisements specifically? An article posted for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation asserts
the Federal Trade Commission has the authority to restrict food advertising to children if it is
found to be deceptive (Mello 5). A well-known legal case against food advertisement to children

is the Sacramento mom who filed a lawsuit against McDonalds for using toys to lure children to
their Happy Meals. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the angry mother
claimed the advertisement directly targeted her children as well as others. She described that her
six year old asked to go to McDonalds for the toy, not the food. The advertisers prey on the fact
that children love toys. The Sacramento mom states her main complaint was that the food was
not a healthy option for the kids, but they still wanted it because of the toy. According to the LA
Times, the judge threw out the lawsuit. This case may not have made it through the court system;
however, The Center for Science in the Public Interest notified McDonalds that it might be the
target of many future lawsuits. The company states McDonalds has refused their attempts to
reach out in order to help prepare them for future legal action.
The law case Shane v. WCAU-TV, CBS Television Stations, is an example of how
targeting children directly can get advertisers into trouble. The plaintiff Michael Shane operated
a telephone recorded-message service called Dial Santa. Shanes commercial targeted the
children watching, and encouraged them to call 967 to listen to Santa tell a Christmas story. The
service intrigued the children by telling them they would be able to talk to Santa directly once he
finished the story. Patti Power, the manager of commercial clearance for the station reviewed the
final tape for the commercial and decided the content could not be broadcasted during children's
programming because it encouraged children to spend money on calls to Santa Claus at a time
when children were likely to be watching television without adult supervision (Justia US Law).
The case states Shane then became angry at the station because he claimed that refusing to air his
commercial was a breach of contract. The Childrens Act of 1990 was not in place for this law
case that took place in 1989; however, the Action for Childrens Television Group, founded in
1968 was in place, as well as the Childrens Advertising Review Board. The Chairman of the

FTC asserted: "Television is a very, very powerful marketing tool. When it is directed toward
children who can not even read, it raises the question: Is it fair for advertisers to treat children as
consumers?" (U.S. News & World Report, October 17, 1977). As mentioned earlier, commercial
television began in the 1940s but was not immediately regulated. People did not start taking a
major stance on the issue until organizations such as the Action for Childrens Television Group
made these issues known to the public. Advertisers took advantage of their situation in order to
make a larger profit by targeting the children directly. Broadcasters abide by what they believe is
best for the public interest, and the Dial Santa commercial was said to have little or no merit
according to station officials. The case of Shane v. WCAU-TV CBS Television Stations did not
favor the station in the final decision. The court decided that CBS had a genuine response to a
major social problem, but they were unable to grant a summary judgment in favor of CBS. The
court also ordered Shane to amend his complaint to the station in order to reflect the relief he
requested from them.
Advertisements that have the power for parents to lose money are a major issue, but what
about advertisements that impact a childs health and perception of healthy food? The Kraft
Incorporated Petitioner, v. Federal Trade Commission is a prime example of this issue. The
Federal Trade Commission states advertising in general must be truthful, and non deceptive.
Deception and omission ended up being major factors in the case against Kraft. The case states
Kraft claims their single American processed cheese slices contain as much calcium as a five
ounce glass of milk. The Federal Trade Commission questioned the legitimacy of this claim and
issued a cease and desist order due to the possible misinterpretation of the claims. The content of
the case describes that Kraft used false advertising by stating the slices contain as much calcium
as five ounces of milk because 30% of that calcium is lost in processing the cheese. Yes, they

begin with the stated amount of calcium, but they do not disclaim over half of the calcium is lost.
Children viewing this could see this as a healthy food choice, and most likely would convince
their parents of this by repeating the as much calcium as a five ounce glass of milk slogan.
This case is similar to the Committee on Children's Television, Inc. v. General Foods Inc. case
because they attempted to make their sugary breakfast cereals appeal to children with bright
colors and deceptive names. A main complaint in the case is that the names give children the
wrong idea. For example, the case asks, is there really honey in Honey Comb cereal, and where
is the fruit in Fruity Pebbles? The commercials went as far as claiming that children who
regularly eat candy breakfasts are bigger, stronger, more energetic, happier, more invulnerable,
and braver. General Foods did not provide any scientific evidence to back up these claims.
Parents were unhappy because their children continued to ask for these cereals because the
advertisements taught them they might be stronger and braver if they consumed them. Yes, they
might be bigger in terms of weight, more energetic in terms of a sugar high, and happier because
their breakfast was basically dessert, so how is it fair to trick children with these advertisements?
An announcer in the Kraft commercial said Cause kids love Kraft Singles, right down to their
bones. This statement makes it seem as if by eating the cheese slices, kids will be able to build
bone density. This claim was also ruled as misleading. This is no different than a diet supplement
commercial saying the fat will melt right off of you, and then having no scientific evidence to
back up the claim. The Administrative Law Judge on the case concluded the ad falsely conveyed
the health information, and a reasonable consumer would not understand that calcium is lost in
processing. The judge stated since the ad had the power to impact the health of consumers that he
must order a cease and desist order regarding Kraft cheese slices. The Small Business
Administration describes that the representation, omission, or practice must be likely to mislead

the consumer, which rang true in this case since the definite amount of calcium in the final
product was not shown. This case was also held after the passing of the Childrens Television Act
of 1990, so there were more laws in place regarding what could be advertised to children. Many
of these cases regarding food and toys that deceived children did not have an outcome in favor of
the children. For example, the Dial Santa case was in 1989. The laws were not in place yet, so
judges did not have a major reason to side with either of the opposing companies, but these laws
created protection for children.
These law cases have shown that childrens advertising is making progress since the
commercial debuts in the 1940s, but television clearly shows advertising content is still targeting
children, still misleading, and still portrays gender roles. Dr. Monica Brasted, Chairperson &
Associate Professor in the Department of Communication of the The College at Brockport,
asserts her opinion on child gender roles in advertising through her article Care Bears vs.
Transformers: Gender Stereotypes in Advertisements. She begins by describing her experience
at a local McDonalds. Her young daughter was given the Care Bear toy with her Happy Meal,
but who is to say that she wouldnt rather have the Transformers toy? In fact, she did want the
Transformers toy, and this is what sparked her mothers anger with child gender roles in
television advertising. Brasted states all a person has to do to see this offending advertising is
look no further than Saturday morning cartoon commercials. This article brings up a great deal of
questions regarding how advertisers market to children and even parents. For example, why are
young girls seen playing house, cooking, taking care of baby dolls, or putting on make up? The
article also describes young girls are normally contently playing in their house or right outside in
the yard. Young boys in these advertisements are seen having more freedom to roam outside the
house, and appear more mobile and active. Boys are popularly seen playing with toys that

involve more action, battle each other, or involve sports. Advertisers target boys or they target
girls. The idea that they target both genders for a toy is extremely rare. They are selling a product
regardless of who chooses to purchase it, so why should they care if they portray gender roles to
kids? These advertisements are not going unnoticed by children and they also have the power to
cause issues with a childs personality. Deborah Tannen, Georgetown University professor,
states, aggressive behavior is stereotypically associated with males. Therefore, by depicting
aggressive boys but not girls, these advertisements are reinforcing gender stereotypes.
Advertisers have been taken to court over issues with food and toys, so why not over how they
advertise these products? Advertising to children has been changed drastically over the past 60 to
70 years, so where does the concept stand in modern society? Bradsted describes advertising
needs to adjust its messages concerning gender roles to reflect a non-stereotypical portrayal. Just
as advertising can teach children stereotypical roles and behavior, it can teach them nonstereotypical roles and behavior. Advertising and the media can be useful in teaching change and
discouraging stereotypes. Society and laws have been able to change many aspects of childrens
advertising, and even childrens programming, so why has this been left alone?
Online advertising was not originally regulated because it was not an issue when the
Childrens Advertising Review Unit was launched. Now, there are rules online advertisers must
go by. Advertising online essentially takes parental consent out of the equation. Television ads
require children to ask their parents before going to see something at the store, or before they
sign up for clubs or games. Online ads allow them to do the same tasks with the click of a mouse.
OBrien states in his article Children, Content, and Commerce on the Internet, that by December
of 1996, the advisory board of the CARU declared privacy as the number one issue with
childrens advertising online since it had little regulation. The article states the main struggle

with creating guidelines for online advertising was to come up with rules that provided the right
amount of protection, but also allowed the Internet advertisers to express their full creativity. The
advisory board also had to determine what they were going to define as advertising online. For
example, O Briens describes how a section of the Kellogg site giving the history of Tony the
Tiger or containing a coloring page of Toucan Sam would not be considered advertising. But
Tony saying "Frosted Flakes taste great!" would be considered advertising as would an offer of a
Tony the Tiger Tshirt (O Brien 5). O Brien asserts the advisory board wants to empower the
parents, and be sure that they know what information their children are sharing or giving out to
advertisers. The advisory board has issued a list of regulations that all online advertisers must
follow. These regulations state parents must give consent for the following: any information that
would allow advertisers to contact children offline, identifiable information such as screen
names/first names, and any information gathered through passive means. The company is also
required to disclose the nature and intended use of the information. These guidelines have
affected companies such as Kidscom, Kelloggs, Disney, Microsoft Kids, Avery, Mattel, and
Colgate Kids (O Brien 8). Companies are not showing great support for these new guidelines;
however, they are enforced to follow them. The Communication Law Writers Group describes
that Television programs that target children 12 and younger may not display web addresses
that lead children to commercial sites that include e-commerce or advertising (Hopkins 202).
New technology commonly has little to no regulation when it is launched. The same
occurred for commercial television with its on air debut in the 1940s. Television started out
openly targeting children. Advertisers regularly used starring actors in commercials to further
draw in young children. These children were often too young to differentiate the difference
between the show content and the advertisements. Shows made for children now alert them when

they will be going to a commercial break, and also when they are returning to the content of the
show. The Childrens Act of 1990 made it illegal to use the same characters in the shows and
advertisements, so this is also another way to help children distinguish between the show content
and advertisements. Before the Childrens Act of 1990, was the activist group Action for
Childrens Television led by Peggy Charren, and the Childrens Advertising Review Unit in
1974. This unit was described to be a major factor in the push for the Childrens Television Act
of 1990. The Childrens Television Act places regulations on the content of the show, times the
show is on air, length of the show, amount of advertisement, who is in the advertisement, and
whether or not a web address is shown. The main gap in this Act resides in what can be in
commercials. Yes, the Act states there can be no identical characters in the show and
advertisement. The grey area revolves around the fact that there have been multiple lawsuits on
how food and toys are advertised. Unhealthy food advertisements are partially being blamed for
obesity in children, so where is the regulation on food specifically? Activists for Childrens
television are also fighting to establish regulations on gender roles in commercials. The
Childrens act of 1990 pushed regulations for children a great way, but new technology is
constantly forcing those regulations to be updated.

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