Ethical Issues Surrounding Marketing to Children
The ancient Code of Hammurabi banned sales to or purchases from a minor without a contract and witnesses, making such an act punishable by death (Duhaime, 2003). Today's society rarely questions the ethics of advertising and selling to minors, and marketers are no longer considered thieves for their actions.
The federal government, the federal courts, and individual citizens have taken a growing interest in the ethics of marketing to minors in recent years. Marketers have a vested interest in the powerful under-18 market. According to Teenage Research Unlimited, U.S. teenagers spent over $172 billion in 2001, up from $100 billion in 1995 (Choi, 2003). According to TRU, the typical teenager spent over $100 a week, and directly or indirectly accounted for nearly one-third of all retail sales. With runaway growth in spending, minors have grown into not only into an important, leading consumer group but also the world's most targeted individuals for marketing purposes (Choi, 2003).
Marketing to minors raises significant ethical issues, since many researchers (and marketers) believe that minors are more impressionable than adults. Many marketers view children as an important economic group to be used to fuel sales growth. Marketers increasingly target children because of the amount of money they spend themselves, the influence they have on their parents spending (the nag factor) and because of the money they will spend when they grow up (Aidman, 1995). Increasingly, the public sees pervasive advertising as a form of exploitation. This ongoing debate sparks virulent appeals from both sides, and leaves marketers and parents with ethical dilemmas.
Influence from a Young Age
Even at the age of one or two, children find themselves in a "culturally defined observation post high atop a shopping cart" seeing for the first time "the wonderland of marketing"...