Skip to main content

The Influence of Advertising on Children

I worked with children throughout college. I have an MA in Speech-Language Pathology and am interested in kid-related issues.

Advertising Targets Everyone

The influence of advertising on our lives, for both children and adults, has changed over the years. In the early days, advertising for toys and other products for children targeted their parents and their message was direct. Today, however, things have changed. Marketing messages are more sophisticated, more pervasive, and are aimed directly at "hooking" kids at a very early age.

Learn more about how advertising has changed over the years; its target, the subtle messages, its prevalence, and pervasiveness. Find out about the influence of advertising on children and what you can do to counteract or avoid it. Here are the following areas that will be discussed in this article:

  • How advertising enters our children's lives
  • Social and cultural factors in advertising
  • How influential is advertising anyway?
  • How to counteract advertising's influence on your children
  • How to campaign for a commercial-free childhood
Advertisers have found ways to create targeted ads for children.

Advertisers have found ways to create targeted ads for children.

How Advertising Enters Our Children's Lives

Advertisers who market to children have always existed in society. Clearly, products such as toys and sugary cereals have been around since before our grandparents were small. Just as today, those who made such products developed ad campaigns to promote them to an interested audience. Many years ago, however, it was quite easy to recognize what was classified as an advertisement. In addition, advertisements were limited to displays in a store, a newspaper ad, or a brief spot on TV or radio.

Some merchandising was creeping in during the 1960s with Beatles lunchboxes and similar items. Today, however, celebrities, movies, books, and more spawn a myriad of additional products which are, in reality, ads The influence of advertising is increasingly far-reaching.

Today, ads are much more pervasive and less recognizable as a sales pitch. For instance, while eating at a favorite child-oriented fast food restaurant, a child may receive a toy. That toy may also be tied to a movie, a cartoon, a video game, or to a website that offers additional games, toys, and related products. Books, clothing, accessory items, backpacks, cell phones, scooters, and more are all tied to the same theme. There are a seemingly limitless number of products that are then presented to the child.

These ads for children, just as those targeted toward adults, create a need where none existed previously. They also hook children, and subsequently their parents, into an endless loop of buying more and more products.

Advertising is no longer limited to store displays, radio and TV commercials, and newspaper ads. Some children's literature is developed for the primary purpose of marketing. Movies, cartoons, video games, and more are also developed for the purpose of marketing additional products. Some schools even allow advertising on books, educational posters, on the sides of buses, and more just as stadiums, parks, contests, and so forth bear the names of businesses who sponsor them to increase their exposure to the public.

As we are bombarded with ads from every direction, even as adults these games, movies, children's meals, websites, etc. are seldom recognized as the mere marketing methods that they are. With increased prevalence and subtlety, the influence of advertising has grown enormously.

Social and Cultural Factors in Advertising

Children today watch far more television than children did in the early days of TV. In addition, they are online (via computer or smartphone) where advertising is prevalent as well. The influence of advertising has permeated much of what our children do and see.

Some experts indicate that the average American child views over 40,000 television commercials each year. This doesn't even cover some of the more subtle advertising such as the use of specific products in the shows that kids watch.

More and more children spend time online as well. Marketers are targeting children as young as 4 years old via the internet, often without the parents being aware.

Most social media tactics are used by marketers as another selling and brand loyalty development tool. As kids get a bit older and use social media, they may begin to follow celebrities, YouTubers, and so forth who are often promoting a product. The social media platform itself will often gather data regarding your child's activity and sell it to businesses to help them market their products to your child.

Clearly, many parents have concerns about the amount of marketing and the pervasiveness of advertising messages directed toward children. However, there is another disturbing trend that has emerged in the past decade or two; the promotion of "adult type" products to children. Vehicle manufacturers, for instance, know that children influence what parents buy but even more importantly, they know that if they can "hook" a child on their brand name while young, they may have a customer for life. Whether it's the Porshe ad that shows the grade school boy recognizing the car as the epitome of "cool" and success, or the Chevy that wins the NASCAR championship; these brands are sealed into a child's mind at a young age.

The dolls that little girls play with may promote brand name makeup, board games may make use of a specific credit card, and an HO racetrack often includes a specific brand of car. All of these promotions are paid for by manufacturers and serve a very specific purpose. These messages often have the effect of making kids consumers of such products at an increasingly early age and assure that they develop their brand loyalty earlier.

How Influential is Advertising Anyway?

Several studies support the idea that advertising is particularly effective with children because they don't have the same critical thinking/ judgment skills as adults. This brief from the APA highlights this thought and discusses how such advertising can lead children to unhealthy food and lifestyle choices.

Advertising has also greatly influenced a child's body image and sexual development. This National Institutes of Health article covers many of the related issues. Children today often feel the influence of advertising's subtle messages more strongly than those provided by schools and even parents.

Indeed, many child development specialists have argued that advertising has taken a disastrous turn as far as the welfare of children. This letter from a group of psychologists expresses their concern regarding the use of psychology in the marketing of products to children. It indicates that such knowledge is now often used in designing ad campaigns to the detriment of children. This more recent APA task force (American Psychology Association) has also called for restrictions based on such concerns. It appears that the professionals who deal with child development have grown increasingly concerned about the influence of advertising.

From having a considerable influence on food choices and related lifelong health risks to promoting a life focused on consumerism and the resulting dissatisfaction, advertising can negatively influence our children.

Tell Us What You Think


How to Counteract Advertising's Influence on Your Children

There are a number of things that you as a parent can do to reduce the influence of advertising on your kids.

  • Restrict television viewing time and time spent on the internet.
  • Get your kids involved in other activities.
  • Become informed through the various websites and articles referenced on this page.
  • Educate your kids to be more media savvy and to critically think about the purpose of many media messages. This CNN article provides tips.
  • Get involved. Learn more below about an organization that works to provide an environment free from excessive advertising.
  • If you want to reduce some of the tracking businesses/websites can do when you or your children are online, this FTC article can help you take the necessary steps.

How to Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

Working to Reduce the Effects of Advertising

Concerned parents are obviously the first defense in counteracting the influence of advertising. Educating children and restricting access are great first steps. However, for those who want to do more, there are resources available to allow such individuals to become more involved in efforts to influence advertisers and government regulators.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood describes itself as:

"a national coalition of health care professionals, educators, advocacy groups, parents, and individuals who care about children. Headquartered at the Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston, CCFC is the only national organization devoted to limiting the impact of commercial culture on children. CCFC's staff and Steering Committee are activists, authors, and leading experts on the impact of media and marketing on children. Most of us are also parents.

A visit to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood website gives individuals access to educational materials on topics such as media violence, sexualization, ad creep, body image, materialism, obesity, and more. Visitors to the site can become involved by:

  • sending letters to corporations that target children in their marketing campaigns
  • working to influence proposed legislation
  • signing CCFC petitions regarding additional governmental regulations
  • learning more via upcoming events such as movies and lectures
  • reporting ads to CCFC
  • making tax-free contributions

More About Advergaming

More About How Junk Food is Marketed to Kids

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2008 Ruth Coffee

The Influence of Advertising: Was this page helpful? Let us know!

GIRISH on August 26, 2020:

Please can I have any chance to act in advertisement, This is my first advertisement and please give any good advertisement and age:12

MadameJoy on December 28, 2012:

Just eliminate CableTV from your home to control what your kids watch. DVDs are great options for entertainment and educational visual content. Because what on Earth would a child need to learn through advertisements?

Jeph Maystruck from Regina, SK on November 27, 2012:

The parents have to educate their kids more or more and more or businesses are going to take advantage. Regulations will never completely stop them targeting the younger generation, we need to educate better.

dunn22 on November 21, 2012:

I love advertising and just learning about it. THanks for lens I found it very informing and unique. Good work

uneasywriter lm on November 06, 2012:

Great lens good information! Advertising to kids is disgusting anyway... This up it to scary.

anonymous on August 31, 2012:

Last week my 11 year old grandson was a victim of what I consider to be an economic predator.

He was watching one of the kid channels on cable TV. An ad came advertising a product.For 19.99

you get this "wonderful" product and if you order now you get a second one free if you call in the next

10 minutes. He has a twin brother who he likes to share with. The clincher, if he is not satisfied

he could return the product for a full refund. Since I was not available he got my credit card from my wallet

and called in.on the toll free number on the screen.

Now starts the nasty part: The robot asks a question: Are you 18 or over?

My Grandchild wanting the product and smart says yes. (You cannot enter into a contract to purchase if

you are under 18. By the way all these conversations are recorded by the company so they know that

most of the people ordering are children.) The robot now gets the credit card information even helpfully

explain where the 3 digit security code. After reviewing the order the robot asks if my grandson wishes

to have the order within 48 hours for slight additional charge. My grandson thinking of the pleased

look on his twins face, oks that. And that is how I get charged 68.50. Oh I did not mention that item cost

19.99 plus Shipping and handling plus the 15 dollars paid to UPS ground.

When the package arrived the items were things I could buy at a discount store for $12.00 for my boys.

I found out a couple of things-to get the credit company to deduct the shipping and handling you have to make

a police report. And what about returning the items for credit? I would have to pay $15 for shipping plus

waiting four to six weeks.

I need at least 100 people to join me in a lawsuit against these economic predators. This is the only way

to stop this multibillion dollar scam. It does not matter what company who preyed on your child. The only

requirements to join in are if you have child that you know who used a credit card without specific permission

to order a product advertised on channels that have a child audience.

Please email me a brief story of what happened and your contact information. When I get a hundred people we will take action.

My email is

anonymous on May 22, 2012:

This page was helpful but one thing worthy of note is the fact that children are not as dumb as we think they are they form their opinions from parents and environment,advertisements either build on that or are shaken off

anonymous on May 16, 2012:

Really a good issue taken up here. It's good for parents to know the adverse influences of ads in their kids life.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on April 21, 2012:

Yes, it is an important issue to highlight.

anonymous on April 03, 2012:

its good and awesome everybody must see this

lesliesinclair on March 13, 2012:

Super good job of alerting readers to the hazards of contemporary advertising.

anonymous on January 12, 2012:

yes it was very helpful to me as a student, working on my project was much easier after goin through the entire page... the video interviews were just to the point...... it has really helped a lot, and just makes me realize how are the kids of today getting influenced by the media... thankx a lot..

anonymous on December 05, 2011:

Just like integrating traditional promoting strategies with social media methods, it's necessary to combine private interplay as well. However, as a substitute of an aggressive, focused gross sales approach, the interaction must be subtle and guiding. Social media tools must be used to make points while making the experience nice and interesting. packaging design

aansystone lm on November 24, 2011:

advertersers must not target kids for the promotion of their products they must target the parents and let them realize via their advertisement that Why their products are good for their children!

~Advertising On Taxis

anonymous on November 19, 2011:

the every word in this page is absolutely true and helpful for such unaware and irresponsible parents.All parents should read this and try to be careful when there children go in such a way.Today every parents buy mobile,mp4,mp3 and even laptop for their children,for their children's happiness and satisfaction.But they should know that by this they are spoiling their children's future....

Ronald Tucker from Louisville, Kentucky on October 16, 2011:

Parents must monitor their childs viewing habits. Using the "parental controls" available on TV's and Computers can help parents edit the content their child watch and view online.

Being actively involved with a childs viewing habits and not using the media to be our "babysitters" will have a positive effect on our childrens growth and development.

anonymous on October 06, 2011:

thank you for this website. it helped me a lot to finish my research paper and this is exactly about my topic. thanks again.

anonymous on September 22, 2011:

Thank you very much for this great article! Now that I have to make an essay of advertising, this was really helpful!

anonymous on May 16, 2011:

@anonymous: lexi, wgy aren't your parents regualting your screen time, and i don't your that "thick", remember, its not the size, its how you use it.

RetroMom on May 06, 2011:

Great information. Again, it is very useful.

promotional-coupons-codes on April 27, 2011:

Very helpful lens. Thanks for sharing.

anonymous on April 23, 2011:

Nice article.Thanks for sharing. Work Plan Platform

Indigo Janson from UK on March 28, 2011:

A very insightful look at advertising and how it targets the youngest members of our society. Advertisers are well aware of the ways in which to hook kids, e.g. into having to complete a set of toys.

anonymous on February 20, 2011:

this is so stupid! i am a child and i have tons of common sense. Do you really think your children are that thick? And if they are, then they should have to make a mistake and learn it themselves.

anonymous on February 07, 2011:

yes' it was very useful & it has made aware of ads in our children

Philippians468 on January 11, 2011:

advertising has permeated life from every angle! it's a wonderful avenue to showcase creativity! cheers

scar4 on December 27, 2010:

Lots of advertising have very bad influence on our children and even led them into trap.

anonymous on November 15, 2010:

A lot of great information on the influence of advertising - especially to our children. That YouTube, The Corporation, is just plain scary. Even scarier than the indoctrination of our children to buy specific products is the never-ending push by all media sources to influence the moral values of our children. Well done. Thank you for sharing.

anonymous on November 01, 2010:

I think that educating kids about advertising is a good start to dealing with the problem, but we also need to protect our children from problems like obesity linked to advertising.

squid-pinkchic18 on October 29, 2010:

Very interesting article, and it certainly rings true to our culture. Great job pointing it out and taking a stand.

chuckyklost13 on October 04, 2010:

I believe this is the decade for advertising and marketing . Last decade was for selling but this decade is different.

anonymous on October 01, 2010:

I have quite an interest in advertising collectibles, It has been pretty amazing seeing the changes in advertising over the past 50 years. Great lens, thanks for the insight.

DanSuciu on August 23, 2010:

Yes very helpful in understanding how repetitive advertising brain washes kids, but advertising should not be banned of course as it does provide information about the product and allow parents and kids to distinguish products too. Advertising can allow parents to make educated decisions for their children, after all they are the buyers.

SEO Pricing

MarbleousBehavior on May 14, 2010:

Yes. I was watching something online the other day and that nauseating golden wheat beer commercial came on. My 6 year old looked at me and said, "Mummy, are YOU going to buy beer?!" (we don't drink in our house) - he thought that because it was on TV that we were necessarily going to get it. Advertising has a HUGE influence on children.

MarbleousBehavior on May 10, 2010:

I've lensrolled your lens to further the "Is TV Bad" debate on my lens Using "Marbelous Behavior" to Limit Screen Time.

anonymous on May 07, 2010:

Yes very helpful in understanding how repetitive advertising brain washes kids, but advertising should not be banned of course as it does provide information about the product and allow parents and kids to distinguish products too. Advertising can allow parents to make educated decisions for their children, after all they are the buyers.

anonymous on April 17, 2010:

Hi, I found this information very helpful for a uni assignment. I was wanting to reference it but unsure how to. Is there an author or publication this appeared it. Pls email me at Many thanks.LH0723

anonymous on April 14, 2010:

Very insightful and helpful for my uni assessment.

anonymous on November 24, 2009:

The Childrens and Parenting Group that this lens belonged to has survived all the recent changes on Squidoo and is now a Lensography. This lens is now featured at Children and Parenting HQ.

And of course this visit gives me the chance to Bless this excellent lens.

anonymous on November 19, 2009:

I would like to hear about techniques used against adults, and the influence it has on them. Children without a doubt are heavily influenced by advertising. But what about their parents? The increase in the use of technology definitely has played a large role too

anonymous on October 10, 2009:

advertising is very invasive. it is extemely influential on all age groups. the extent of research, budget, and political weight make it impposible to combat. it is the major tool of industry and government. even being aware of it's huge influence on our lives is not enough for the above average educated not to almost completely be mesmerized by the majority of the countless bombardment. it creates greed, envy and anger. i love radio tv and movies, but it extremely hard to do so.

anonymous on September 13, 2009:

It was an eye-opener regarding advertisements........

anonymous on August 22, 2009:

[in reply to Beas] This was OKAY. I'm doing an essay on media's influence so i need as much info as possible.

Beas on August 21, 2009:

Aren't we all already slaves to consumerism? But yes, the influence is getting bigger and stronger and kids should be made aware of this as soon as possible. I do believe our kids (or maybe grandkids) will eventually break from these chains and evoke a countermovement.

"The things you own end up owning you" Tyler Durden"

Great lens on a subject that really interests me.

julieannbrady on August 18, 2009:

Gosh, I wonder about the effects of advertising on adults? I know there are some commercials which literally drive me NUTS -- for example, that Burger King with the plastic head. I hate those commercials!

ArtSiren LM on July 24, 2009:

I think modern advertising paradoxically is a lot more aggressive and at the same time also more subtle than it used to be; actually in how it targets adults as well as children. Although I think most countries don't allow subliminal messages in ads, the use of psychological techniques and 'hypnotic' language patterns has probably increased. I think it would be useful to ban ads aimed at under-5s; and for schools to routinely teach kids about how ads are made, and why they can be so persuasive, so children are able to 'mentally' defend themselves against the almost constant barrage.

anonymous on July 16, 2009:

Advertisement is a great terror.But it have some gains

anonymous on July 10, 2009:

Advertisments not only influence kids but also make them obese and weak in studies. It is not the kids' fault it's the advertisings' fault that they influence kids to make money.

Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on June 18, 2009:

Very interesting read, for sure. Well done.

anonymous on June 15, 2009:

Advertising as always is pervasive and subtle.Thanks for the informative article. But advertisement can be found in various ways of life. For instance, this may not be intentional. but I have found an advertisement within the text of this page itself:

"Learn more about the methods employed by advertisers to reach your children. Become informed through the various websites and articles referenced on this page."

No harm meant, but this is how advertisement spreads, the core theme carrying the message that "what we serve is helpful". It is true in your case. But is not the same in case of many other companies.

Once again, thanks for this article.

anonymous on June 07, 2009:

very useful indeed!

anonymous on May 29, 2009:

It is true that advertising has ite subtle messages embedded that influence children the most in terms of their world views as they grow into adults.

free online advertising

anonymous on May 20, 2009:

Just revisiting lenses in the Children and Parenting Group to say how proud I am of the quality of lenses in the Group and that I am so glad this is one of them. You have been Blessed by an Angel!

religions7 on May 10, 2009:

Great lens - you've been blessed by a squidoo angel :)

anonymous on May 07, 2009:

I need info about why ads are good not bad

Kiwisoutback from Massachusetts on April 20, 2009:

You're exactly right. While we all might be numb for the most part to advertising, kids are much more vulnerable to it. They aren't quite so numb to it, and the marketing is a lot more aggressive nowadays. It's no coincidence that kids are much concerned about they way they look and dress at a much, much younger age today. Great work, I''m lensrolling this to my free advertising lens (which points out that traditional advertising doesn't really work in the modern age.).

ElizabethJeanAl on April 02, 2009:

Advertisers know what they're doing. They draw us in.

Great lens

Thanks for sharing


anonymous on March 08, 2009:

it isn't the advertisings fault the kids need to know that jst because they see it on tv doesn't mean that they can do it. and the parents need 2 reenforce that

anonymous on December 06, 2008:

It’s worrisome. Adults and kids alike are influenced by advertisements way too much.

Very informative lens


reasonablerobby on November 26, 2008:

Fascinating resource. Good topic.

AlisonMeacham on November 14, 2008:

I do think that it is important to restrict what our children watch on TV. There are excellent programs out there and I use television to educate them as well as entertain. I am teaching them to recognize when they are being 'influenced' too - as much as you can ever do that anyway! We tend to watch DVD's rather than live TV.

Paula Atwell from Cleveland, OH on October 14, 2008:

Excellent lens. As a parent, I think it all comes down to what the parents teach.

ElizabethJeanAl on October 14, 2008:

Welcome to the Totally Awesome Lenses Group.


anonymous on October 09, 2008:

Super lens Mulberry. I hope you will submit it to the Children and Parenting group.

One other parents should also do and that is to learn how to say no to their children! 5*s

Debbie from England on October 08, 2008:

Super thought provoking lens Mulberry! Welcome to the Emotional Wellbeing Group :)


GrowWear on October 07, 2008:

Wonderful lens! Must Tweet it! Thank you! Great resource!

Spook LM on October 07, 2008:

Couldn't agree with you more and it's particularly true with music. I call it propoganda, rather than advertising. Great lens.

rebeccahiatt on October 07, 2008:

Advertising is a fact of life, but parents must take an active role and practice parenting. Education and restricting access is the best option(parenting)

Achim Thiemermann from Austin, Texas on October 07, 2008:

A hearty SquidAngel Blessing for this important page. We're being brainwashed without noticing it. Thanks for pointing out some of these things, mulberry!

CleanerLife on October 07, 2008:

If I had children, I would certainly try to limit their exposure to advertising.

Great way to raise awareness!

piedromolinero on October 07, 2008:

Interesting topic. In fact we are much more influenced by advertising than we might think.

ssuthep on October 06, 2008:

We are influenced by advertising more than we know. Interesting lens.

VBright on October 06, 2008:

Excellent lens. I can remember 20 years ago, my nephew, then 4 heard his mother say "heartbeat" and he said "Heartbeat of America, Chevy" So even then, advertising had an effect!