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Social Issues and Policy Review, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2016, pp.


Growing Up under Corporate Capitalism:

The Problem of Marketing to Children,
with Suggestions for Policy Solutions
Tim Kasser
Knox College

Susan Linn
Boston Childrens Hospital & Harvard Medical School

Bronfenbrenners ecological model of development suggests that children are affected by the economic system under which they live. Corporate capitalism is one
such economic system, and evidence suggests that the focus on profit and power
characteristic of deregulated, competitive forms of capitalism can suppress how
much citizens prioritize the values that support the nurturing of children. One
manifestation of this capitalist ideology is the practice of marketing to children, a
practice known to be associated with a variety of negative outcomes for children.
We present empirical evidence supporting these claims and conclude by proposing numerous policies aimed at reducing childrens exposure to marketing. The
policies, many of which have widespread public support, can be implemented in a
number of types of institutions that directly or indirectly affect children, including
professional organizations, schools, businesses, and all levels of government.
This article explores one relatively ignored fact about childrens development:
They grow up under economic systems. This fact, as we hope to show, has a variety
of implications for childrens development and well-being. In particular, we will
argue that children who grow up under certain forms of the economic system
known as corporate capitalism are subject to a variety of deleterious environmental
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Tim Kasser, Department
of Psychology, Box K-83, Knox College, Galesburg, IL 61401. Tel: (309) 341-7283; [e-mail:].
Thanks to Josh Golin at Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood for comments and ongoing
dialogue, and to the Center for a New American Dream and Policy Interactive for their assistance with
the polling results.
C 2016 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues

Marketing to Children


influences. We focus in this article on commercial marketing that is directed at

children and/or that uses advertising techniques known to appeal to children.
We conclude by proposing an array of policy solutions to decrease the extent to
which children are targeted by marketing.
The Ecological Model of Childrens Development
One helpful framework for thinking about the influences of an economic system on children derives from Urie Bronfenbrenners widely cited 1977 American
Psychologist article and later, 1979 book, The Ecology of Human Development. In
these writings, Bronfenbrenner presented an ecological model in which he argued that developing humans exist within a nested arrangement of structures, each
contained within the next (1977, p. 514). Bronfenbrenners conceptualization of
this nested structure encouraged psychologists interested in child development to
begin studying not only the proximal aspects of the environment that directly impinge upon the child, but also the more distal features of the broader environment
in which the proximal environmental systems were nested.1
Bronfenbrenner (1977, 1979) labeled the most proximal environments that
influence the child the microsystem. The microsystem encompasses the immediate settings that actually contain the child, i.e., settings that directly impinge
upon the child at particular moments. These are the sorts of environments that
most psychologists tend to study: events that take place in the home, at school,
and in ones neighborhood, where developing individuals have direct interactions
with other people (e.g., parents, teachers, peers) and/or with particular stimuli
(e.g., second-hand smoke, television shows, fun playgrounds).
At a somewhat more distal level is what Bronfenbrenner (1977, 1979) called
the exosystem. This level encompasses the structures of the environment that do
not themselves contain the developing person but impinge upon or encompass
the immediate settings in which that person is found, and thereby influence,
delimit, or even determine what goes on there (Bronfenbrenner, 1977, p. 515).
For example, few children directly interact with government agencies, but if the
local, state, and/or national government cuts spending on schools, children will
probably experience crowded classrooms taught by harried teachers who have
fewer concrete resources to provide the children. That is, childrens microsystem
experiences in school are influenced by occurrences at the exosystem.
In the current review, we ignore two system levels also specified by Bronfenbrenner: the mesosystem, which involves interactions among different levels of the microsystem (such as when a child has
a birthday party in which his/her family and friends interact) and the chronosystem, which involves
temporal changes over time in larger features of the environment (such as when a nation shifts from
a planned communist economy to a free-market capitalist economy). We also give short shrift to
another key feature of Bronfenbrenners ecological model, specifically the idea that children are not
only influenced by the different levels of the environment, but also influence the environment itself
(as when an irritable baby causes its parents to be sleep-deprived).


Kasser and Linn

The third, most distal, layer of environment is the macrosystem, which refers
to the overarching institutional patterns of the culture or subculture, such as the
economic, social, educational, legal, and political systems . . . (Bronfenbrenner,
1977, p. 515, emphasis added). Macrosystems are carriers of information and
ideology that influence occurrences at the exosystem and microsystem levels. So,
for example, if the macrosystem of a particular culture is imbued with religious
fundamentalism, structures at the exosystem level will reflect this ideology, and
policies may be developed that require schools to teach certain religious ideas,
thereby influencing childrens experience in the microsystem.

Corporate Capitalism: A Dominant Feature of 21st Century Macrosystems

As noted above, economic systems are among the aspects of the macrosystem
that Bronfenbrenner (1977, 1979) believed might influence developing humans.
Today across most of 21st century Earth, the dominant economic system is capitalism. As such, a full understanding of the factors that influence childrens optimal
development and well-being requires studying how this particular aspect of the
macrosystem influences the exosystems and microsystems that, in turn, more
directly affect childrens development.
While various forms of capitalism exist, they all share a certain basic ideology
and certain structural features (see Kasser, Cohn, Kanner, & Ryan, 2007, for further
details). First, the system prefers private ownership to commonly shared property;
from capitalisms point of view, it is better for each family in a neighborhood to
own a lawnmower than for a group of families to share one. Second, people living
under capitalism are encouraged to pursue their own self-interests, primarily the
accumulation of wealth and possessions. Third, capitalism holds that, in a free
market relatively unencumbered by governmental regulations, competition will
work like an invisible hand to create the highest quality and lowest-priced
goods and services. These three basic principles have historically worked together
to create remarkable economic growth, which, in turn, has yielded jobs for workers,
useful and desirable things for consumers to buy, profit for businesspeople, and
tax revenue for governments.
This brief overview shows that many humans today are surrounded by a
capitalist macrosystem ideology that encourages competition, consumption, selfinterest, wealth, status, and possessions. Put in terms of Schwartzs (1999) wellknown theory of cultural values, capitalism encourages mastery values, which
concern being successful and ambitious, and hierarchy values, which concern
authority, status, and wealth (Kasser et al., 2007; see also Kilbourne, Dorsch,
McDonagh, Urlen, & Prothero, 2009). As such, the exosystems and microsystems
that more directly influence children are likely to be imbued with these values.
But that is only part of the story.

Marketing to Children


Fig. 1. Culture-level model of values, based on Schwartz (1999).

Beginning in the late-1980s and early-1990s, Schwartz (1992) began demonstrating that values exist in dynamic systems, such that some values are relatively
compatible with each other, being fairly easy to pursue simultaneously, whereas
other values are in relative tension, being in conflict with each other. Figure 1,
based on data collected from thousands of individuals across dozens of nations
around the world (Schwartz, 1999), shows these dynamics at the level of the culture; values that are relatively consistent with each other are placed beside each
other in the circumplex, whereas those that are in relative conflict are placed
on opposite sides of the figure. As can be seen, mastery and hierarchy values are
relatively consistent with each other; this is sensible, as many of the pathways
that cultures and people take to enact the aims of success and ambition are easily
pursued alongside pathways to attaining power and wealth. A focus on mastery
and hierarchy values, however, comes at the cost of a relative deprioritization
of values for harmony (e.g., world at peace, unity with nature), egalitarianism
(e.g., equality, honesty, social justice), and intellectual autonomy (e.g., curiosity,
Kasser et al. (2007) integrated Schwartzs (1992, 1999) value model, Grouzet
et al.s (2005) similar goal circumplex, and findings from Burroughs and
Rindfleisch (2002) to propose the hypothesis that to the extent a culture organizes its economy around deregulated, free-market capitalist practices (as occurs
under American corporate capitalism in particular), its citizens would not only
place a relatively high priority on the aims reflected in mastery and hierarchy values but would also place relatively lower priority on the aims reflected in harmony,
egalitarianism, and intellectual autonomy. This hypothesis has been tested in two


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Table 1. Correlations between Indices of a Nations Type of Capitalism and the Extent to Which Its
Citizens Prioritize Relevant Values from Schwartzs (1999) Culture-Level Model of Values
Intellectual autonomy

Competitive vs. strategic capitalism

Index of economic freedom



Note: Correlations in the first column are from Schwartz (2007, pp. 5354), but are reversed here
so that a high score on the capitalism index reflects a more competitive (vs. strategic) form of capitalism. Correlations in the second column control for GDP per Capita; partial correlations involving
Hierarchy and Intellectual Autonomy were first reported in Kasser (2011b, p. 198), while partial correlations involving Mastery, Egalitarianism, and Harmony are reported for the first time in this article.
+p < .10; *p < .05; **p < .01.

studies using objective indices of the extent to which relatively wealthy capitalist
nations pursue a highly deregulated, neo-liberal, competitive form of capitalism.
In the first, Schwartz (2007) used a measure of how much organizations (e.g., business firms) in a capitalist nation coordinate with other organizations (e.g., unions,
government) through strategic, planned interactions (e.g., Germany and Austria)
or through free market competition (e.g., the U.S. and other Anglo nations; Hall
& Gingerich, 2004). Kasser (2011a) used the Index of Economic Freedom (developed by the Wall Street Journal and The Heritage Foundation), which averages
nine measures of economic freedom (e.g., Business Freedom, Investment Freedom, Property Rights) to obtain an overall score for nations. As seen in Table 1,
results so far support Kasser et al.s hypothesis: The more that a nation has a
competitive or economically free form of capitalism, the more that its citizens
value mastery and hierarchy and the less that they value egalitarianism, harmony,
and intellectual autonomy.
What are the implications of this theory and research for children growing
up under capitalism? As mentioned earlier, Bronfenbrenner (1977, 1979) held
that the macrosystem is composed in part of basic institutional patterns, including
economic patterns, and ideologies, including values. A child developing in a very
competitive, deregulated capitalist nation would be surrounded at the macrosystem level by an ideology based on the relatively high prioritization of mastery
and hierarchy values and the relatively low prioritization of harmony, egalitarian,
and intellectual autonomy values. Such institutional patterns and ideologies would
wend their way from the broad macrosystem level to influence the exosystems
and microsystems that more directly impinge upon the child. Unfortunately, prioritization of the values consistent with capitalism is unlikely to bode well for
childrens well-being, as such values crowd out the values that support nurturing
and caring for young people (see Figure 1).

Marketing to Children


Kasser (2011b) tested this idea in a sample of 20 wealthy nations that varied
in the extent to which their citizens prioritized hierarchy relative to egalitarian
values and mastery relative to harmony values; Japan and the United States were
especially oriented toward hierarchy and mastery values, respectively, whereas
Italy and Finland were especially oriented toward egalitarian and harmony values,
respectively. Several indices meant to represent a nations concern for the wellbeing of present and future generations of children (Kasser, 2011b, p. 208) were
also collected. These indices included the generosity of the mandatory parental
leave laws in the nation (which varied from no guaranteed paid leave in the U.S.
and Australia to 52 weeks at full wages in Austria); the amount of advertising
that television stations directed at children (varying from 13 minutes per hour in
Australia to 1 minute per hour in Sweden and Norway); and the childrens wellbeing (UNICEF, 2007, varying from the lowest well-being in the United Kingdom
to the highest in the Netherlands). As predicted, nations values were significantly
correlated with these indices of caring for children, such that nations more focused
on hierarchy and mastery values had children with lower well-being, provided less
generous parental leave, and directed more advertising at children than did nations
more focused on egalitarian and harmony values.
To make the processes underlying these findings more concrete, consider, for
example, Kassers (2011b) finding regarding parental leave laws. This correlation
between cultural values and specific policies can be understood via several pathways involving Bronfenbrenners (1977, 1979) nested levels. Most obviously, the
capitalist value ideology present in the macrosystem would influence the exosystem, leading governmental organizations to pass laws that encourage parents to
return to work sooner (to maximize income and help employers make a profit)
rather than to pass laws that make it affordable for parents to stay at home and care
for their babies. Further, at the exosystem level, business organizations would be
more likely to support weak parental leave laws, as doing so would increase their
profits. Further, parents themselves would experience many microsystem environmental influences over the course of their lives (from their own parents, coworkers,
friends, and employers) that make it seem perfectly normal to return to work and
wage-earning rather than to spend more time with a child after it has been born.
As a result, developing childrens experience in their family microsystem would
be characterized by spending less direct time with parents, by having parents who
are fairly busy as they try to balance careers with home responsibilities, and by
exposure to implicit and explicit messages that working for money should take
priority over family.
There are numerous other ways in which a capitalistic macrosystem ideology
might affect children by filtering down to the exosystem and microsystem levels.
Here are two more examples:


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(1) At the macrosystem level, hierarchy values suggesting that it is proper for
money, status, and possessions to be unequally distributed in a society would
lead to policies and practices that create high levels of wealth and income
inequality, via wage-earning practices among businesses and taxation policies
among governmental institutions. In turn, wide disparities of income and wealth
would affect the experiences of children in their home, school, and neighborhood
(2) The focus on economic growth, wage-earning, and profit inherent in the capitalist macrosystem ideology would lead to a belief that the purpose of educating
young people is to prepare them to enter the workforce, rather than to prepare
them to be well-rounded, healthy citizens in a democracy. The former purpose
would lead to a focus on imparting marketable skills, whereas the latter would
include teaching topics that are perhaps less likely to yield high-paying jobs, such
as the arts and humanities, philosophy, and physical education. To the extent the
capitalist ideology dominates, students in elementary schools would experience
diminishing opportunities for recess, art, music, etc., and children in preschool
would spend less time learning through hands-on, creative and exploratory play.
Further, policies would be developed in state governments to focus higher education around the priorities of business, and a college education would increasingly
come to be seen as an investment designed to prepare young people for economic success rather than a way to prepare them for successful citizenship in a
democracy (see, e.g., Deresiewicz, 2015; Harris-Perry, 2012; Keldermain, 2015).
We could add more examples, but it is far beyond the scope of this article to
attempt to summarize all of the influences of capitalist macrosystem ideologies
and institutions on the exosystems and microsystems that directly impinge upon
developing youth. We have therefore chosen depth over breadth, and focus the
remainder of this article on one key feature of the developing childs environment
that is particularly relevant to the macrosystem influence of corporate capitalism:
Commercial marketing that is directed at children and/or that uses advertising
techniques known to appeal to children.2
A Brief History of Marketing to Children in the United States
Modern forms of marketing and advertising began in the first half of the
20th century when companies capacity for mass production required higher
levels of consumer demand to make increased production of goods more profitable. Although children were sometimes directly marketed to during this era, the
In this article, we use the term marketing to refer to the broad array of techniques that businesses
use in order to inform potential consumers about the products they offer and to attempt to increase
the likelihood that consumers spend their money on those products. Advertising is probably the most
common form of marketing, but, as will be seen, marketers use other methods as well.

Marketing to Children


popularity of television in the 1950s led to a substantial rise in child-targeted

marketing. By the 1970s, this expansion of consumer culture led child advocates
to become concerned about the influence of marketing on children, and some
laws were passed in the 1970s to protect children from certain forms of television
marketing (e.g., Federal Communications Commission, 1974; see Westen, 2006).
By 1978, research on television marketing to children led the U.S. Federal Trade
Commission (FTC) to propose banning television marketing to children under the
age of 8 and prohibiting junk food marketing to children under the age of 12.
Corporations, perceiving these proposed bans as potentially reducing corporate
profits from child consumers, spent a then-unprecedented $16 million to fight
back. Their lobbying efforts were so successful that that the U.S. Congress not
only rejected the FTCs proposal, but also severely limited the FTCs power to regulate marketing to children in the future, making such a ban impossible (Westen,
Corporations gained further access to children when President Ronald Reagans administration began privatizing and deregulating industries of all kinds
including childrens television. One key change allowed for the creation of television programming for the sole purpose of selling toys; within 1 year, all 10 of the
top-selling toys in the U.S. were tied to media programs (Linn, 2004). In addition
to pulling back from industry regulation during the 1980s, the federal government
also decreased its funding of public institutions (like schools and public television)
and urged corporations to step into that role instead (Molnar, 1996).
Other changes in childrens environments at this time made it easier for
marketers to market directly to children. In the 1970s and 1980s, women entered
the work force in greater numbers, and rising divorce rates led to more single parent
families; these broader changes unfolding at the macrosystem and exosystem levels
translated into more children on their own after school without parental supervision
(i.e., a different microsystem for children). For parents who were worried that their
offspring would be unsafe out on the street, a seemingly benign solution was to
entertain them at home with television. As a result, media producers and marketers
found a ready audience of 8- to 12-year-old children (latchkey children to those
in social services, tweens to those in the marketing industry) and began creating
advertising-supported programming and products especially for them (Chicago
Tribune, 1988).
This combination of lack of regulation and ease of access made children an
increasingly attractive audience for marketing, especially once market researchers
discovered that, in addition to having their own money to spend, children
influenced their familys spending patterns. In 1992, James McNeal, a psychologist often cited as the father of the modern child market, estimated that children
in the U.S. influence $137 billion in family spending; more recently, he put that
estimate at $1.2 trillion (Horovitz, 2011). The fact that children are, by definition,
at the start of their lives was also of interest to marketers, as they could begin


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inculcating brand loyalty at an early age; lifetime brand loyalty is quite lucrative
for companies, estimated as worth $100,000 per customer (Azoulay, 2000). As
Mike Searles, then president of Kids R Us, put it in the late 1980s, . . . if
you own this child at an early age, you can own this child for years to come . . .
Companies are saying, Hey, I want to own the kid younger and younger and
younger (Harris, 1989).
Not surprisingly, companies began spending much more on marketing to children: Estimates are that in 1983 around $100 million was spent (Schor, 1999),
compared to over $17 billion in 2006 (Horovitz, 2006). The sophistication of marketing efforts has also increased. For instance, today marketers employ what they
call a 360 degree strategy aimed at surrounding children with messages about
brands and products on televisions, tablets, cell phones, and computers (Chester
& Montgomery, 2007), as well as on wearable technologies (Gaudiosi, 2015).
Companies also use characters from films, TV programs, apps, video games,
and other media to market the food that children eat, the toys that they play with,
and the clothes that they wear. Toys and stuffed animals are manufactured embedded with technology capable of engaging children in conversations that can be
recorded and beamed up to the cloud to be analyzed and modified, providing new
opportunities for marketers to embed personalized advertising in childrens play
(Halzack, 2015). On the Internet, companies invite children to interact with their
brands digitally for much longer than a traditional 30-second commercial; these
interactions can range from branded social media activities to playing videogames
embedded with advertising to playing digital advergames that are built around a
brand or product (Chester & Montgomery, 2007) to company-sponsored contests
on branded Web sites that encourage children to submit photographs or artwork
as part of a brand promotion (Center for Digital Democracy, 2014). And in 2015,
Google released a YouTube Kids product that allows children to watch a collection
of channels marketed as safe for children. An early review of the available
content on YouTube Kids found many instances of advertising on these channels
that violate the few existing regulations for marketing to children on television, as
well as current FTC guidelines (Georgetown Law Institute for Public Representation, 2015). For instance, when YouTube Kids debuted, McDonalds had its own
channel that featured commercials for Happy Meals, as well as ads disguised as
news programs (e.g., What are Chicken McNuggets made of?).
At the same time that children are exposed to increasingly sophisticated forms
of marketing, fewer ad-free microsystem environments exist. For instance, as public institutions like schools face inadequate funding from government sources,
they have turned to corporations for revenue, often in exchange for allowing
corporations to market to their students. Yet, such quid pro quo contracts are
rarely lucrative: One survey found that 87.5% of school officials reported that
their schools would not be forced to reduce programs if advertising were prohibited (Molnar, Garcia, Boninger, & Merril, 2006). Nonprofit organizations serving

Marketing to Children


children have also received financial support from corporations in return for marketing brands to children, as was the case in 2013 when the Girl Scouts of America
accepted $2 million from the Mattel toy company and began promoting the Barbie
doll brand on their Web site, materials, and scout uniforms (Crary, 2014). Sometimes children are even marketed to by their friends, as when corporations provide
new products to prescreened popular children on the condition that they engage in
peer to peer marketing (Schor, 2004).
Put in terms of Bronfenbrenners (1977, 1979) model, we hope readers can
see that a variety of changes at the level of the macrosystem (e.g., changes in
technology, an increasing focus on the deregulation of industry, etc.) have influenced structures in the exosystem such that, in their microsystems, children are
exposed to well-financed, carefully crafted, psychologically powerful marketing
messages designed to increase childrens participation in consumer capitalism
and to create profits for businesses. Combined with more recent empirical evidence described above showing that those nations that prioritize the values of
hierarchy and mastery have more advertising aimed at children (Kasser, 2011b),
this historical overview illustrates the extent to which the capitalist macrosystem has led childrens microsystem experiences to be imbued with commercial
Some Ways That Children Are Harmed by Marketing
Research shows that children are especially vulnerable to marketing, in part
because it takes many years for them to develop the cognitive abilities necessary
to critically evaluate marketing messages (Carter, Patterson, Donovan, Ewing, &
Roberts, 2011). Most toddlers are unable to distinguish between commercials and
programming (Pearl, Bouthilet, & Lazar, 1982), and while some preschoolers can
recognize this distinction, they tend to believe that commercials exist merely to
provide breaks in programming (John, 1999). Upon entering kindergarten, the
concrete thinking of children leads them to believe in the trustworthiness of the
information they see in 15-second commercials for cookies or toys (Levin & Linn,
2004), given that they usually think that the purpose of advertising is to provide
information about those products. It is not until around the age of 8 years that
most children begin to understand that the purpose of advertising is to sell them
something (Wilcox et al., 2004).
But even while 8-year-olds might be able to describe the intent of a commercial as selling, they rarely obtain a full understanding that a commercial
has a persuasive intent, which involves the recognition that an advertiser uses
techniques to increase the appeal of a product so as to convince the child to engage
in a new behavior, in this case, purchasing (or asking for) the product (Roberts,
1983). This, by the way, was the main reason that the FTC in the 1970s proposed
banning marketing to children under the age of 8 years. Since the FTCs proposed


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(but failed) ban, research has begun to suggest that many 10- and 11-year-old children also do not fully understand persuasive intent (Carter et al., 2011). And once
children become mature enough to understand persuasive intent, that understanding does not seem to influence whether they desire the product being advertised
(Christenson, 1982). That is, while older children and adolescents might be more
cynical about advertising, their skepticism does not consistently affect their desire
to buy the products that they see advertised (Ross et al., 1984).
Not only is marketing to children inherently manipulative of an audience that
typically lacks the cognitive capacity to understand the intent of its messages,
but marketing also appears to be a causative factor in many problems facing
children today. Next, we review the literature relevant to five of these problems: a
materialistic value orientation, unhealthy eating, distorted body image, aggressive
behavior, and substance use.
Materialistic Value Orientation
As noted above, the smooth functioning of corporate capitalism requires
its citizens to believe that wealth and possessions are important aims to strive
for in life (Kasser et al., 2007); unfortunately, research shows that the more
that individuals prioritize such materialistic values, the lower their personal
well-being, the more they engage in risky health behaviors (see Dittmar, Bond,
Hurst, & Kasser, 2014, for meta-analytic results), and the worse their educational
motivation (Ku, Dittmar, & Banerjee, 2012). Two path analytic studies, using U.S.
and U.K. children, show that the more television children watch, the higher their
materialism/consumer orientation and the lower their well-being (Nairn, Ormrod,
& Bottomley, 2007; Schor, 2004). Another study shows that exposure to marketing
in schools (via the Channel One company, which broadcasts news and accompanying advertisements directly into classrooms) is associated with increased
levels of materialism/consumerism (Brand & Greenberg, 1994). Experimental
(Goldberg & Gorn, 1978) and longitudinal studies (Opree, Buijzen, van Reijmersdal, & Valkenburg, 2014) are also consistent with the conclusion that exposure to
advertisements causes increases in materialistic tendencies. Finally, Twenge and
Kasser (2013) demonstrated that the rising materialism of American high school
seniors was predicted by the rising amount of advertising in their social surround
(indexed as the percentage of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product that was due to
marketing and advertising expenditures in a given year). Notably, rising materialism among youth has also been associated with rising levels of psychopathology
on most subscales of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, including
hysteria, hypomania, and psychopathic deviation, among others (Twenge
et al., 2010).

Marketing to Children


Unhealthy Eating
Childrens exposure to food advertising begins early in life and increases as
they age (Harris, Schwartz, & Brownell, 2010). The extent of their exposure has
also been rising: Preschoolers in 2010 were exposed to 21% more fast food ads on
TV than in 2003, and somewhat older children were exposed to 34% more (Harris
et al., 2010). In 2009, fast food restaurants in the United States alone spent more
than $4.2 billion on marketing to children. Research shows that these marketing
efforts work well for companies, as childrens food preferences, brand preferences,
food choices, and food consumption are each influenced by marketing (Horgen,
Choate, & Brownell, 2001). Further, studies suggest a clear link between exposure
to junk food advertising and being overweight (Lobstein & Dibb, 2005).
One 30-second food commercial can affect the brand choices of children as
young as two, and repeated exposure has an even stronger influence (Borzekowski
& Robinson, 2001). Marketing even affects childrens experience of how food
tastes: Given the choice between two offerings of exactly the same food, children
said that food wrapped in a McDonalds wrapper tasted better than food wrapped
in a plain wrapper (Robinson, Borzekowski, Matheson, & Kraemar, 2007). Similar
results occur for foods associated with media characters like Dora the Explorer
(Roberto, Baik, Harris, & Brownell, 2010). In fact, neuroimaging research suggests
that childrens brains are literally branded by advertising, as exposure to brand
logos, such as the McDonalds golden arches, stimulates the appetite and pleasure
centers of childrens brains in a manner similar to when they are shown pictures
of food (Bruce et al., 2014).
Body Image and Eating Disorders
While many marketing messages encourage eating unhealthy foods that contribute to obesity, other marketing messages expose children, especially girls, to
dolls and human models that are unrealistically thin, contributing to a distorted
body image and the development of eating disorders.
One study, for example, found that girls between the ages of 5.5 and
7.5 years who viewed images of a Barbie doll scored lower on body esteem
tests than when they viewed images of a doll more representative of actual adult
body shape (Dittmar, Halliwell, & Ive, 2006). In another study, girls between
6 and 10 years old who were randomly assigned to play with a Barbie doll or
another extremely thin doll consumed less food afterwards compared to girls
who played with Legos or a doll proportioned more like a normal adult woman
(Anschutz & Engles, 2010). Because companies are finding even more sophisticated ways to market fashion dolls to young girls, problems with body image
are likely to increase as childrens use of digital devices increases. For example,
the marketing rollout for a new line of Bratz dolls in 2015 included a Web series,


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downloadable emojis (i.e., digital stickers to insert in mobile games and text
messages), and customizable Bratz avatars for digital games (Nagy, 2015).
There are of course ways other than dolls that girls receive messages suggesting that they should be thin. Childrens concerns about body image are linked
to media use (Hogan & Strasburger, 2008), probably because across various
types of media (including television, video games, magazines, and the Internet), the beauty ideal presented is one significantly thinner than the national norm
for healthy women (Dietz, 1998; Hogan & Strasburger, 2008; Kilbourne, 1999;
Pipher, 1994). More direct evidence for this association comes from a study finding that adolescent girls discontent with their body image is positively correlated
with how often they read fashion magazines (which are filled with ads featuring
thinner-than-normal models; Field et al., 1999). Similarly, researchers in Italy and
Scandinavia have shown that girls with eating disorders are more susceptible to
messages about body image and are more psychologically dependent on television than are girls with normal eating patterns (Toro, Salamero, & Martinez, 1994;
Verri, Verticale, Vallero, Bellone, & Nespoli, 1997). One of the most telling studies
on this topic comes from the island nation of Fiji, where eating disorders were
historically extremely rare until television was introduced in 1995, after which
time the prevalence of eating disorders quickly increased among women (Becker,
Burwell, Gilman, Herzong, & Hamburg, 2002).
Violence and Aggression
Violent media is heavily marketed to children through traditional commercials
and licensed products, including toys (Linn, 2004). Even though violence does
not increase a cartoons appeal to children (Weaver, Jensen, Martins, Hurley, &
Wilson, 2001), more violence is present in childs television shows than in adult
programming (Wilson et al., 2002). Promotional spots for upcoming shows during
childrens programming are even more violent than the shows themselves, with
the former showing an average of 3.46 violent acts per minute and the latter an
average of 1.32 acts per minute (Shanahan, Hermans, & Hyman, 2003).
In the United States, movies that the film industry rates as PG-13, containing
material which may be inappropriate for children under thirteen, and R, where
some material may be inappropriate for children under 17, have been routinely
marketed to very young children through toys, ads during childrens programs,
Web sites aimed at young children, and fast food promotions (Fentonmiller, Rusk,
Quaresima, & Engle, 2007). In fact, market research on violent PG-13 movies has
been conducted with children as young as 7 years old (Fentonmiller et al., 2007).
These occurrences are especially problematic today, given that more violence is
now allowed in films rated PG-13 than was the case in years previous (Thompson
& Yokota, 2004). In 2009, one study found over 5,000 ads on popular childrens
television stations corresponding to just five violent PG-13 movies and their related

Marketing to Children


merchandise (Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, 2009). Whats more,

in 2008, 75% of the highest-grossing R-rated movies were advertised on Web
sites that are popular with children under 17; of those, 35% were sites that are
particularly popular with children aged 2 to 12 years (Fentonmiller et al., 2007).
In 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological
Association, and other major public health organizations collaborated on a review
of 30 years of research regarding the impact of media violence on children; they
concluded that heavy exposure to media violence is a risk factor for aggression,
desensitization to violence, and lack of sympathy for victims (American Academy
of Pediatrics, 2000). A more recent review concluded that children who view
substantial amounts of media violence are also more likely to view violence as
an effective way of settling conflicts (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2009).
In addition, research shows that children exposed to violent programming at a
young age have a higher tendency to engage in violent and aggressive behavior,
including bullying, than do children who are not so exposed (American Academy
of Pediatrics, 2009).
This association between exposure to media violence and real-life aggression
is particularly strong, stronger even than the link between condom nonuse and
sexually transmitted HIV, and nearly as strong as the link between smoking and
lung cancer (Bushman & Huesmann, 2000). The negative effects of violent interactive media, such as computer and video games, appear to be even greater than
the effects of traditional media, such as television and movies (Anderson, Gentile, & Buckley, 2007). A meta-analysis of studies conducted in both Eastern and
Western countries concluded that exposure to violent video games (i.e., a product
marketed to children) is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive behavior,
for aggressive thoughts and feelings, and for decreased empathy and prosocial
behavior (Anderson et al., 2010).
Use of Alcohol and Tobacco
Alcohol and tobacco companies in the United States face a real dilemma. On
the one hand, it is illegal to sell cigarettes to people under 18 years of age and
alcohol to people under 21 years of age. On the other hand, alcohol and tobacco
companies profits depend on convincing young people that smoking cigarettes
and drinking alcohol is a desirable activity. When it comes to marketing to children,
the alcohol industry periodically comes under government scrutiny and, starting in
1998, the tobacco industry became subject to some government regulations (Linn,
2004). Despite this regulation, marketing by both industries continues to target
children and teenagers effectively (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2010).
Early exposure to alcohol advertising predicts alcohol consumption in early
adolescence (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2010); this is worrisome, given
that lifetime alcohol abuse and dependence is greatest for those who begin drinking


Kasser and Linn

between the ages of 11 and 14 (or even younger; DeWit, Adlaf, Offord, & Ogborne,
2000). Children encounter alcohol ads likely to appeal to them on television and
radio, in films they see, and across all kinds of digital media (American Academy
of Pediatrics, 2010), as well as through branded merchandise. Children as young as
7 years old have considerable awareness of beer brands and are as adept as 12 year
olds are at matching logos to particular brands of beer (Austin & Nach-Ferguson,
1995). When Budweiser used animated frogs to market beer, more 9- and 10-yearolds recognized the frogs than recognized other popular cartoon figures, including
The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Smokey the Bear, and Tony the Tiger; only
Bugs Bunny was better recognized (Leiber, 1996). Market research conducted
with children between 6 and 17 even found that the Budweiser Frogs topped the
list of their 10 commercial favorites (Hays, 1998).
With regard to tobacco, a meta-analysis of 51 studies shows that exposure
to tobacco marketing and advertising more than doubles the risk of a teenager
beginning to smoke (Wellman, Sugarman, DiFranza, & Winickoff, 2006); again,
this is particularly worrisome because if a person reaches the age of 20 without
beginning to smoke, s/he has a low likelihood of ever starting (Washington, 2002),
given that 90% of smokers begin before they turn 18 (U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services, 1994). Teenagers are more susceptible to cigarette advertising than are adults (Pollay et al., 1996), and some estimates suggest that tobacco
advertising has a stronger influence on childrens decisions to smoke than does
exposure to family members or friends who are smokers (Evans, Farkas, Berry, &
Pierce, 1995).
While tobacco companies have not been allowed to advertise traditional
cigarettes on television since 1971, marketing does occur through other means.
For example, teens with heavy exposure to films that show tobacco use are more
likely to begin smoking than are their peers (U.S. Surgeon General, 2012). The
presence of smoking in films is high, with 47% of movies rated PG-13 depicting some kind of smoking behavior in 2011, an increase from the previous year
(Glantz, Iaccopucci, Titus, & Polansky, 2012). Children and adolescents can also
be exposed to the modeling of tobacco use through product placement in video
games (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2010) and in digital media through
tobacco company Web sites and social networking sites (U.S. Surgeon General,
Finally, we note that advertisements for e-cigarettes are steadily increasing:
Between 2011 and 2013, there was a 256% increase in the likelihood that children
between the ages of 12 and 17 would be exposed to television advertising for
e-cigarettes (Duke et al., 2014). There is every reason to expect that marketing
of these products will be effective in encouraging childrens use of an unhealthy,
addictive product.

Marketing to Children


Policy Proposals
Some may conclude from this literature review that policies to protect children
from marketing should address only the marketing of certain types of products
(e.g., underweight dolls, violent video games) or the use of certain marketing
strategies (e.g., the use of cartoonish characters). We have three reasons for arguing
that such a conclusion is incorrect.
First, the evidence makes clear that children under 12 years old rarely have
the cognitive capacity to fully understand the basic purpose of marketing, i.e.,
that ads are trying to persuade them to buy something. This developmental fact
makes children highly susceptible to the marketing of companies whose primary,
if not sole, goal is to profit from them. As such, it suggests that children need
to be protected from such aspects of the economic world, just as they need to be
protected from those who would like them to work in factories, to buy cigarettes
or alcohol, or to engage in sexual activities beyond their maturity level.
Second, exposure to marketing is associated with the development of a materialistic value orientation, an approach to life known to be related to a variety
of financial, personal well-being, social, and ecological problems (Kasser, 2015).
Because a materialistic value orientation results, in part, from marketing in general, as opposed to the marketing of particular products or the use of particular
marketing strategies, then policies that only addressed marketing of certain products or certain marketing strategies would fail to address the fact that marketing
affects this deleterious outcome.
Third, substantial evidence shows that many unhealthy outcomes are associated with marketing to children. It seems both ineffective and impractical
to attempt to pass specific pieces of legislation to address the marketing of each
and every potentially harmful product and/or marketing practice. The products
and strategies emerge from many different industries (e.g., toys, food, etc.) and
past history suggests that as soon as the law limits one harmful product or practice, these same industries will develop new (and sometimes worse) products and
For these reasons, we believe that the most effective policy proposal would be
for governments to prohibit all marketing and advertising aimed at children. This
type of policy has been adopted by one Canadian province (Quebec) and a few
nations (e.g., Sweden, Norway, and, most recently, Brazil), as well as advocated
by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights (United Nations,
2014). The likelihood that such a policy would actually be adopted by a particular
government probably depends, however, on the extent to which that nation has a
relatively deregulated, competitive form of capitalism and on the values embedded
in its macrosystem. Contrasting the situations in the United States and Brazil is
particularly informative in this respect.


Kasser and Linn

Recall from the brief history of marketing to children summarized above that
when the U.S. FTC decided to regulate all marketing to children, lobbying efforts
by corporations led Congress not only to reject the FTCs proposal, but also to limit
the FTCs power to make such recommendations about marketing to children in
the future. In contrast, activists in Brazil who wanted to end marketing to children
succeeded in part because the Brazilian constitution includes a provision (Article
227) that makes it a duty of the society and state to give absolute priority to
the rights of children. Activists in Brazil could therefore argue that marketing to
children should be illegal, since the preponderance of evidence suggests that these
types of business activities are likely to undermine childrens healthy development.
As such, in 2014 the government of Brazil issued Conanda resolution no. 163,
banning all advertising that targets children.
This contrast shows how macrosystem ideologies concerning the relative prioritization of business interests versus childrens well-being (i.e., two conflicting
sets of values, Kasser, 2011b) can affect policies at the exosystem level, which
in turn affect childrens exposure to marketing in their microsystem. It also suggests that it may be necessary to pursue different strategies for reducing childrens
exposure to marketing depending on the macrosystem climate of the nation. In
macrosystems with forms of capitalism that are more regulated and strategic and
with ideologies less focused on hierarchy and mastery (like Germany and Austria), it may be fruitful to pursue a direct federal ban on all marketing to children.
However, in macrosystems with forms of capitalism that are more deregulated
and competitive and with ideologies that prioritize hierarchy and mastery (like
the U.S. and Australia), a more productive strategy may be to develop narrower
policies to be implemented in a variety of settings. Bronfenbrenners (1977, 1979)
model suggests that a strategy focused on narrower policies could ultimately result
in increasing levels of support for the ultimate goal of banning all marketing to
children. That is, if one imagines a world in which all of the policies described
below were successfully implemented and enforced, then the populace would begin to be socialized (in their microsystems) into the belief that there is something
wrong with marketing to children. As that belief became more prominent, the
macrosystem ideology of the nation might begin to shift, as might institutions at
the exosystem level (as, e.g., government officials become elected (or not) in part
on the basis of their support for ending marketing to children). For these reasons,
we not only see the following policies as useful in their own right, but as initial steps that might increase the likelihood that mastery- and hierarchy-oriented
nations will eventually end all marketing to children.
In the sections that follow, we suggest a variety of policies that could work
to change structures and institutions at the exosystem level so as to diminish
the amount of marketing directed at children. Many of the following proposals are adopted from Linn (2004), Schor (2004), and Commercial Alerts (n.d.)
Parents Bill of Rights. Before turning to these proposals, however, we would

Marketing to Children


like to acknowledge that policy can work alongside the efforts of individual people in childrens microsystems to reduce the effects of marketing. A review of
such person-level strategies is beyond the scope of this article, but we encourage interested readers to examine materials developed by the Campaign for a
Commercial-free Childhood (n.d.) and the Center for a New American Dream
Professional Organizations
Professional organizations typically have their own policies that encourage
or discourage certain behaviors on the part of their members. For example, the
American Academy of Pediatrics has long recommended that all of its member
pediatricians conduct regular media screens of their patients and encourage
parents to raise their children with limited exposure to screens (e.g., no screen
time for children under age 2, no more than 2 hours of screen time for older
children, and no television in any childs bedroom). A similar policy could be
adopted and encouraged by other professional organizations whose members work
with children, including the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology,
the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the National
Association of School Psychologists.
Another set of professional organizations that might consider policy changes
are those whose members conduct marketing research that targets children. At
present, neither the Association of Consumer Research nor the American Marketing Association (i.e., the major organizations representing consumer and marketing researchers) require adherence to the kinds of ethical research guidelines that
most social scientists working in academic contexts take for granted (Jacoby et al.,
1998).3 Marketing researchers working in nonacademic contexts are therefore not
obligated to obtain informed consent from the parents of children who participate
in marketing research, provide special safeguards for minors, or enumerate potential risks of participation. As such, the policies and practices of these professional
associations have the appearance of placing monetary aims over the well-being
of children, and may be leading to ethically problematic research projects that
do not serve the interests of children. Such policies could be changed in order to
ensure that the research protocols of members of these organizations do no harm
to children and their families.

As of this writing, the current President of the Association for Consumer Research, in response to
a query from the first author, had appointed a task force to examine a change to this policy; the task force
is due to report its recommendations in October of 2015 (Kirmani, 2015, personal communication).


Kasser and Linn

Marketing frequently occurs in schools, not only via banners and soda machines in hallways and sponsored scoreboards on athletic facilities, but also sometimes through its presence on school buses (i.e., their radios and exteriors), on
television shows students are required to view during school (e.g., in the case of
Channel One), on report card envelopes (as occurred with McDonalds in Seminole County, Florida), and in sponsored educational materials (such as Scholastics
The United States of Energy, sponsored by coal companies). The decision as
to whether to allow marketing in educational settings and materials resides in
large part with local elected officials, i.e., school boards. Many school boards and
principals have made policy decisions to remove such sources of marketing and
advertising, by, for example, no longer allowing Channel Ones presence in their
classrooms. Others could follow suit.
Businesses have internal policies that govern the decisions that they make
concerning marketing toward children. The owners of privately owned businesses
can fairly easily choose not to market to children; for example, the popular childrens musician Raffi neither advertises to children nor engages in brand licensing.
Owners can also choose not to sell products that use media characters, as did the
retail chain MOMs organic market in Baltimore, Maryland. Publicly traded corporations that are beholden to shareholders demands for increases in short-term
profits may, however, be less likely to implement such policies. An alternative,
then, is to make marketing to children less lucrative and convince corporations
that marketing to children is not in their financial interest. For one, individuals
or organizations who care about children and who are shareholders in such corporations can propose resolutions to end a companys practice of marketing to
children; they can also divest their holdings of companies that market to children.
Similarly, financial companies that offer socially responsible investments could
add marketing to children as a negative screen in their decisions about whether
a corporation should be excluded from a mutual fund; TIAA-CREF did just that
when it dropped Coca-Cola from its Social Choice funds, in part because of the
companys practice of marketing to children. By attempting to affect corporations
bottom line, the implementation of these policies might pressure corporations to
rethink their decision to market to children.
Although this next policy proposal may belong under the governmental
section, we include it here because it follows the same strategy of trying to make
marketing to children less profitable for businesses. Currently in the United States
and elsewhere, expenses that a corporation incurs as a result of marketing are
considered legitimate business expenses; as such, they are not subject to taxation.

Marketing to Children


Federal and state governments could revoke this tax write-off (or what we might
call a major subsidy to many businesses), and instead tax all advertising and marketing expenses, or even just expenses accruing from marketing to children. One
cost-effectiveness analysis found that removing the tax subsidy for advertisements
of unhealthy foods would help reduce childhood obesity rates (Gortmaker et al.,
2015). Although such a policy is likely to be only so effective, given how much
corporations make from marketing to children at present, extending this policy to
cover all commercial marketing would not only help to discourage other types of
marketing, but could also provide a large amount of revenue to fund programs
that would benefit children, including advertising-free media outlets for children,
media literacy education, K12 education in general, playgrounds, etc.
Governments can make powerful policies that affect the lives of many children. At the local level, governments are often in charge of determining the placement of advertisements that occur on streets, in parks, on public transportation,
etc., and can choose to limit the occurrence of advertisements in physical settings
frequented by children. Some existing legislation already requires that billboards
for unhealthy products such as alcohol and cigarettes be a minimum distance from
schools. In addition, Sao Paolo, Brazil and Grenoble, France have substantially
limited the extent of outdoor advertising allowed in their cities; the U.S. state of
Vermont has similar regulations.
State and federal governments could also implement some of the same types
of policies described in earlier sections. For example, the federal government
could require all businesses with whom it contracts to follow the same kinds of
ethical standards for research with children that are required of the educational
institutions to which it awards grants.
Another useful policy would make any regulations that concern marketing to
children on television also apply to all other media platforms. A good example
of such a regulation is product placement, i.e., when products are incorporated
into the plot, characters, scenery, props, or costumes of a television program. The
Childrens Television Act of 1990 theoretically makes such a marketing strategy
illegal on childrens television shows (as it is an instance of host selling), but as
childrens use of new media expands, it would be worth extending such protection
to movies, video games, apps, social networking sites, and all other venues where
the practice frequently occurs.
Results of a Poll Assessing Support for Four Relevant Policy Proposals
Lest readers dismiss the policy suggestions presented above as unrealistic
given the current capitalist macrosytem (and the political influence of those who


Kasser and Linn

Fig. 2. Percentages of U.S. respondents supporting policy proposals in the 2014 Center for a New
American Dream polling sample (n = 1,774).
Note: Actual items, starting from the top, were A 1% tax on all broadcast advertising, with revenue
dedicated to K-12 education, Prohibition on advertising in schools, textbooks, and school buses,
Prohibition of advertising on childrens television programs and Web sites, and Prohibition of
advertising in or on public property like parks and public transportation. The percentages do not add
to 100% because the percentage of respondents answering Dont know is not included in this figure.

profit from marketing to children), we next present some relevant results from
a recent national poll conducted by the Center for a New American Dream and
Policy Interactive. In 2014, over 1,800 adult U.S. citizens were contacted via
random dialing to telephone landlines and cell phones, a Mechanical Turk Internet
Panel, and a panel of adults recruited via a company that maintains a list of 3 million
U.S. citizens. Age, gender, and education level of the sample were weighted in the
results presented here in order to make the collected sample better approximate
U.S. census data [see New American Dream Poll (2014) for full results and further
details regarding recruitment and pilot testing].
As part of a longer survey, respondents were presented with four policy
proposals concerning advertising and asked to rate how much they supported or
were against each policy; respondents could also answer, dont know. Figure 2
presents the results for the entire sample (n = 1,774 for these questions) and Table 2
presents results for Republicans, Independents, and Democrats; below we also
present additional details about the levels of support for each policy by gender,
age, whether children were in the home, ethnicity, and household income.4
Readers interested in further details of results by demographic category are encouraged to contact
the first author. Gender results are based on 850 males and 925 females. Political party results are

Marketing to Children


Table 2. Percentages of Republicans, Independents, and Democrats Supporting Policy Proposals in

the 2014 Center for a New American Dream Polling Sample

1% tax on advertising
Prohibit advertising in schools
Prohibit advertising on kids shows
Prohibit advertising on public property





















Note: Political party results are based on 413 Republicans, 669 Independents, and 624 Democrats.
Actual items, starting from the top, were A 1% tax on all broadcast advertising, with revenue dedicated
to K-12 education, Prohibition on advertising in schools, textbooks, and school buses, Prohibition
of advertising on childrens television programs and Web sites, and Prohibition of advertising in or
on public property like parks and public transportation. The percentages do not add to 100% because
the percentage of respondents answering Dont know is not included in this table.

The highest level of overall support was for A 1% tax on all broadcast
advertising, with revenue dedicated to K-12 education, with 68.1% of respondents
reporting some level of support (see Figure 2). Members of all three political
groups supported the proposal above 54%, and there was greater than 50% support
in every demographic group. This policy was particularly strongly supported by
Hispanics/Latinos (79.7%), people age 1824 years (77.8%) and 2534 years
(77.4%), Democrats (77.8%), and African-Americans (76.9%).
The proposal with the next highest level of support was for Prohibition on advertising in schools, textbooks, and school buses, with 66% of
based on 413 Republicans, 669 Independents, and 624 Democrats. Age bracket results are based on
222 people between 18 and 24 years, 311 people between 25 and 34 years, 635 people between 35
and 54 years, 286 people between 55 and 64 years, and 321 people age 65 years or over. Results for
whether a child was in the home are based on 1,240 people with no children in the home at present and
532 people with one or more children in the home at present. Ethnicity results are based on 94 Asians,
140 African Americans, 103 Hispanic/Latinos, and 1,343 Whites. Household income results are based
on 395 people with incomes under $25K, 270 people with incomes between $25K and $34.9K, 263
people with incomes between $35K and $49.9K, 353 people with incomes between $50K and $74.9K,
188 people with incomes between $75K and $99.9K, 144 people with incomes between $100K and
$150K, and 82 people with incomes over $150K.


Kasser and Linn

respondents reporting some level of support. Members of all three political groups
supported the proposal above 62%, and at least 60% support was reported by all
demographic groups except African-Americans (59.1% support) and people with
family incomes over $150,000 per year (59.3% support). The highest levels of
support for this proposal were found among people age 1824 years (72.1%) and
Democrats (70.2%).
The majority of respondents (56.7%) also supported Prohibition of advertising on childrens television programs and Web sites. Members of all three political groups supported this proposal above 54%, and most demographic groups
supported this proposal above 50%, although that was not the case for AfricanAmericans (45.3%). The only demographic group with more than 60% support
was people with household incomes between $100K and $150K (60.4%).
Only moderate support (52.5%) was found for Prohibition of advertising in
or on public property like parks or public transportation. However, at least 50%
of members of all three political groups supported the proposal, and majorities of
people in each demographic group still supported this policy, except for those age
2534 years (43.4%), African-Americans (47%), Hispanic/Latinos (48.7%), and
the very wealthy (46.1% for those with household incomes between $100K and
$150K, and 40.7% for those over $150K). No demographic group showed 60%
or higher support for this proposal.
To summarize these results, it appears that there may be strong public sentiment in support of a 1% tax on broadcast advertising (assuming that revenue is used
for K12 education) and of prohibiting advertising in schools. Although a majority
of respondents supported prohibiting ads in public places and on childrens TV
shows and Web sites, levels of support for these proposals were somewhat weaker
and more variable among demographic groups than for the first two policies.
Importantly, the results presented in Table 2 show that all four policies were
supported by majorities of Republicans, Independents, and Democrats. Such findings suggest that the problem of marketing to children is not just a left-wing
issue, but is of concern to people across the political spectrum. The fact that the
most consistent support across political parties occurred for Prohibition on advertising in schools, textbooks, and school buses is consistent with the fact that
in the late 1990s, members of the left (Ralph Nader) and right (Phyllis Schlafly)
came together to denounce aspects of this marketing practice (Hays, 1999).
To our knowledge, this is the most recent sample to assess national public
attitudes toward policies relevant to marketing to children. Future data collections
are necessary to gauge whether the levels of support reported in this poll are similar
to those reported in other samples (particularly for demographic subgroups that had
relatively small sample sizes); it would also be worth studying the levels of support
that exist for other policies enumerated earlier in this article. Further polling could
expand on these promising results, as doing so could help policy makers working
in school boards or in local, state, or federal governments recognize that they might

Marketing to Children


receive substantial bipartisan and diverse support from their constituents if they
pursued policies designed to reduce the amount of marketing aimed at children.
In closing, we hope that the literature reviewed and the ideas presented in
this article provide an impetus for three sets of future activities on the part of
those interested in the welfare of children. First, while we have focused here on
marketing to children, there are certainly many other ways in which the corporate
capitalist macrosystem affects the exosystem structures and microsystem experiences that, in turn, influence childrens development. We pointed to a few of these
in our review (e.g., parental leave, educational philosophies), but more theoretical
and empirical work is needed to articulate these fully. Second, while the policies
we have proposed derive from an established theoretical model and from empirical findings about marketing to children, relatively few studies have directly
investigated how different sorts of policies might benefit children. Future studies
could expand on quasi-experimental methods like Brand and Greenbergs (1994)
investigation of Channel One schools or the statistical modeling of Gortmaker
et al.s (2015) investigation of the cost-effectiveness of removing tax subsidies for
advertising expenses. Third, we hope that readers of this article, in their roles as
scientists, practitioners, policy makers, and/or citizens, will work to implement
the policies proposed here in the various exosystem structures where they may
have influence.
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TIM KASSER, PhD, is Professor and Chair of Psychology at Knox College in

Galesburg, Illinois. He has written numerous scientific articles and book chapters
on materialism, values, ecological sustainability, and quality of life, among other
topics. He is also the author of The High Price of Materialism (MIT Press,
2002) and Lucy in the Mind of Lennon (Oxford University Press, 2013). He
works extensively with a variety of activist and civil society organizations that
protect children from commercialization, promote ecological sustainability, and
encourage a more inwardly rich lifestyle than what is offered by consumerism.
SUSAN LINN, EdD, is Lecturer on Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School and
Research Associate, Boston Childrens Hospital. She writes extensively on creative
play and the impact of commercial marketing on children. Her book, Consuming
Kids, was praised in publications as diverse as The Wall Street Journal and Mother
Jones, and helped launch the international movement to reclaim childhood from
corporate marketers. The Boston Globe called her second book, The Case for Make
Believe, a wonderful look at how play can heal children. From 2000 to 2015
Susan was Founding Director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.