Evidence suggests that marketers and advertising agencies target children both in their own right and to reach adults.
In 2001, advertisers spent 161m on selling chocolate and sweets in the UK, and 34m was spent on ads for crisps and snacks, much of it directed at children, while just 10.2m was spent promoting frozen and fresh vegetables and 5m on fruit.
Parents face enormous pressure to make purchases because of what their children have seen, and although parents do their best to resist, they face extra tears and aggravation when they do. Product tie-ins cause particular irritation; the release of any new film or children's TV programme is accompanied by endless branded products. Parents tell us that marketing is targeting children at a younger and younger age, and they are aware that their younger children are more susceptible to advertising than their older children.
Research shows that children from as young as 18 months are able to recognise corporate labels and a third of children under three have a TV set in their room.
The National Family and Parenting Institute believes it is time to limit the amount of marketing children are exposed to. We are calling for advertising to under-fives to be banned on pre-school TV and for the advertising of junk food to be banned during children's TV. We want research into the cumulative effect of blocks of advertising recurring on television to see whether codes of practice should be amended. We think that parents should be informed by their children's schools or nurseries of any company marketing initiatives. But above all, we'd like to see companies showing some restraint and respecting the vulnerability of children instead of regarding them as legitimate target customers.
Parents want to do the right thing for their children, but they don't raise kids in a vacuum. Parents are influenced by pressures they feel are outside their control.