Report of the APA Task Force on Advertising and Children

Introduction

Advertising is hardly a recent human endeavor; archaeologists have uncovered signs advertising property for rent dating back to ancient Rome and Pompeii. Town criers were another early form of advertising. As an industry, advertising did not take off until the arrival of the various mass media: printing, radio, and television. Nevertheless, concerns over advertising targeting children preceded both radio and television. The British Parliament passed legislation in 1874 intended to protect children from the efforts of merchants to induce them to buy products and assume debt.

Commercial appeals to children, however, did not become commonplace until the advent and widespread adoption of television and grew exponentially with the advent of cable television, which allowed programmers to develop entire channels of child-oriented programming and advertising. Opportunities to advertise to children further expanded with the explosive growth of the Internet, and thousands of child-oriented Web sites with advertising content have appeared in the past few years.
Compounding the growth in channels for advertising targeting children has been another development: the privatization of children's media use. A recent study found that a majority of all U.S. children have televisions in their bedrooms. Many children also have unsupervised access to computers, meaning that much of the media (and advertising) content that children view is in contexts absent parental monitoring and supervision.

These two trends—the growth in advertising channels reaching children and the privatization of children's media use—have resulted in a dramatic increase in advertising directly intended for the eyes and ears of children. It is estimated that advertisers spend more than $12 billion per year to reach the youth market and that children view more than 40,000 commercials each year. These figures represent dramatic increases over those from the 1970s.

The Task Force on Advertising and Children, responding to its charge, began by reviewing research on the impact of advertising on children, 2 with particular attention given both to the implications of children's cognitive development for understanding the potential effects of exposure to advertising and to specific harms that might result from exposure to advertising. There is a substantial body of scientific evidence addressing all of these basic issues. In contrast, concerns about advertising that have emerged as a result of new and changing technological capabilities, such as interactive forms of advertising and commercial Web sites targeting children, have yet to attract almost any empirical study. Consequently, our research review and conclusions are largely confined to more traditional advertising approaches, although we identify the issues in need of further research investigation within our final recommendations.