Comments – Effects of advertising on children

John Ford
Old Dominion University, Virginia, USA

As I have often stated in my introductions to this section of the journal, discussion on a variety of potentially controversial topics is healthy for the advertising discipline. Two areas that have shown vitality in terms of debate in the last few years are the issue of advertising to children and the ways in which women are being depicted in contemporary advertisements. New thinking relating to these issues is valuable as it sheds helpful light on these complex subjects. Both will be addressed by the learned commentaries included in this issue.

The first of the essays is written by Sonia Livingstone at London School of Economics; she tackles the thorny ethical issue of the effects of advertising on children. She responds with her thoughts about the debate that has been engendered by papers that were published recently in this journal by Nairn and Fine on one side and Tim Ambler on the other. While she suggests that both papers have done the discipline a service by raising the issue of ethics and advertising to children, she argues that the debate is particularly relevant given that advertising regulations involving today's pervasive platforms (e.g. online, mobile and gaming) will be of prime interest for policy makers in 2009. Her point is that while there are three important aspects to this argument – (1) literacy (can children understand the persuasive intent of advertising?), (2) influence (do children have sufficient advertising literacy to arm them with cognitive defences?), and (3) fairness (is advertising to children by nature unfair?) – the fairness issue is not possible to understand unless the influence and literacy issues are separated out and not seen as necessarily causally connected since it is possible for an individual to be influenced whether or not they are forearmed with literacy.