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MARKETING ETHICS

Study finds that children are being exposed to a brand every minute

By our News Team | 2022

Research emphasises how our children live in a highly commercialised world; one that bombards them constantly with consumption messages.

Attaching cameras to children has revealed that they are exposed to 554 brands a day through marketing, a new study from the University of Otago in New Zealand has found.

Research co-lead, Associate Professor Leah Watkins from the Department of Marketing at the university, says the results highlight an urgent need to reduce marketing for both personal and planetary health reasons.

To obtain the data, wearable automatic cameras were given to 90 children, aged 11 to 13, to provide an unprecedented view of their daily exposure to marketing over two full days. The study found the kids were exposed to 554 brands in a 10-hour day, which equates to nearly a brand a minute.

Marketing Ethics

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya from Pexels

Most of these exposures occurred in school (43 percent), at home (30 percent), and in-store (12 percent). The exposures were most commonly on brand labels (46 percent), product packaging (22 percent) and commercial signage (13 percent).

Professor Watkins says children live in a highly commercialised world; one that bombards them with consumption messages. 

While she expected to see advertising for unhealthy products, she found the relatively high number of those ‘unhealthy’ messages – in comparison to positive social and ‘healthy’ food messages – concerning. Also concerning, is the finding that there are links between socio-economic status and exposure to harmful advertising. 

“This is alarming given the high rates of obesity, alcohol, and gambling harm in socio-economically deprived neighbourhoods,” Watkins says.

Inequalities among children may be accentuated

“It suggests marketing messages may accentuate inequities and place further pressure on those who are already disadvantaged.”

Watkins says not only do the results raise concerns about marketing’s role in promoting products directly harmful to public health, but also its role in encouraging overconsumption.

“One of the major threats to planetary health is overconsumption, and the current and continued increases in consumption are unsustainable,” she explains.

The United Nations has called on member states to reduce the level of commercial marketing; to identify spaces which should be free of marketing, such as schools; and to ensure a wider diversity of pro-social messaging.

Watkins hopes the research will stimulate important discussions about the policies needed to achieve this for the next generation.

The study is co-authored by Research Fellow Ryan Gage, Professor Louise Signal and Senior Research Fellow Moira Smith – all from the university’s Department of Public Health in Wellington, as well as Lecturer Christina McKerchar from the Department of Population Health in Christchurch, and Professor Robert Aitken from the Department of Marketing.

The team plans to further investigate children’s exposure to marketing in schools through an audit of marketing activities, as schools were the site for a significant number of marketing exposures. A pilot study using software to track children’s online exposure to marketing is also underway.

Read the full research here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2542519621002904#!

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