A Hard Lesson

First, the bad news: 36% of parents want advertising to children banned. The good news: 28% say advertising is a necessary evil (yes, evil)

Ah youth, replete with memories including—to the chagrin of many parents—at least one or two oft-recited ad jingles. After all, who can forget Oscar Mayer’s ode to the wiener. Or McDonald’s short-lived but unforgettable tongue twister: “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese...” well, you remember.

Not much has changed over the decades. But today, parents’ fear of the effect of advertising on puerile minds is backed by some pretty damning evidence, especially when it comes to food.

Canada has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the world, and this spring, a network of concerned organizations (including the Canadian Cancer Society and the Heart and Stroke Foundation) calling itself The Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance of Canada (CDPAC), hosted a conference of scientific and legal experts on the impact of marketing on young waistlines.

It supported the pundits’ findings that media is at least partly to blame for the obesity epidemic. And, at the end of April, in a united front, the CDPAC called on Health Canada to define what constitutes “unhealthy food and beverages” and to create regulations that ban all marketing of those products to children within two years.

Within this climate, Marketing and Today’s Parent conducted an online survey of almost 3,000 Canadian parents to find out how they really feel about the advertising their kids are exposed to. Not surprisingly, two-thirds are “very concerned” about the level of marketing targeted at children, 40% think most advertising is misleading and aimed at getting people to buy things they don’t need, and 31% feel that ads influence a child’s self-esteem. Half would prefer no advertising aimed at kids under 10.

Some of these findings do not bode well for marketers and suggest parents are either not aware of, or are not buying into, the food industry’s much-ballyhooed shift toward healthier products and lifestyle messaging. Fifty per cent of parents said advertising promotes unhealthy products or habits versus only 11% who think it promotes a healthy lifestyle.

The survey also found that more than one-third (36%) of parents would like to see advertising to kids banned outright, and if not banned, then limitations placed on what products are advertised.

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