The ABCs of Advertising

Two weeks ago, the Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU) of the Council of the Better Business Bureaus issued a set of rules regarding advertising on websites designed for children. In short, these rules say that website sponsors and website ads must be explicitly identified, and that information from children shouldn't be collected without parents' consent.

Here is CARU's VP-director, Elizabeth Lascoutx, explaining the intent of the organization's guidelines, as reported in the April 21 edition of Advertising Age: "Under our guidelines, [Kellogg Co.'s] Tony the Tiger can tell you the history of Tony or help you play in a maze. But as soon as he says, 'Frosted Flakes are great' or 'Buy this,' that needs to be identified somehow."


While it seems that the phrase "Buy this" is a fairly explicit declaration of commercial intent, maybe kids these days are truly as dumb as everyone says they are. Still, it's hard not to ignore the hypocritical paternalism of CARU's rules: if advertising is so potentially problematic, then why only protect children from it?

There's no reason for advertising advocates to argue this point too much, however; in the end, CARU probably helps advertisers more than it hurts them. Indeed, advertising is like any language, in that the earlier you are exposed to it, the easier it is to achieve fluency in it. Consumers who are shielded from advertising as children will be that much more susceptible to it as adults.

-- G. Beato

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