Paper: Ethical Issues in Marketing to Children



Marketing refers to an action or business which is carried out and used to promote and sell products and services and it covers market research and advertisement. There are thousands of brands around the world who manufacture products solely for children and their main target audience includes children of different ages. Such brands can include the ice-creams, junk food and other related brands. Focusing on the thing that the target audience of many different brands includes the children, thus they also use different promotional strategies and advertisement techniques to attract children in order to make them buy the products of that specific advertised brand (Puiu, 2008). Thus as a result, marketing towards the children raises many ethical concerns and issues because of the nature and theme of advertisement being used.

Focusing on this concept, this paper will address the different ethical issues in marketing towards children and that what are the possible consequences to those issues. Different resources have been used and consulted in order to get relevant literature data and information about the topic. These sources include multiple scholarly articles, academic journals, websites, companies’ marketing reports and secondary available data.

Major Ethical Issues in Marketing to Children

Different companies make different achievements being corporate citizens but the issue of their real impact on society is an important concern. (Minsker, 2014) The issue of marketing to children brings that into attention mainly touching the food market in a timely lens. Some major ethical issues that might arise in marketing to children include:

  • Healthcare Crisis
  • Children Education
  • Seeing Children Only as Consumers
  • Negative Marketing
  • Not Accepting the Responsibility

Healthcare Crisis

There are number of fast and junk food brands who target children for selling their products and they market themselves by using different approaches in order to attract them. Here arises the very primary ethical concern in marketing to children and that is about healthcare crisis. For example, McDonald’s Happy Meals for children with toys has been under attack for advertising themselves in such a way where selling toys with fast food was considered as a healthcare issue to children. Similarly, other junk food brands advertise in such a way that children get attracted to them without even caring about the health side effects of eating that food (O’Brien, 2011).

Obesity and overweight are the main healthcare crises which are emerging due to the negative marketing of the food items to children. The unhygienic food products are not letting these brands to develop a healthy relationship of food to the children. It is believed that in US, each child watches an estimated sixteen thousands television commercials every year and there, children are the most avid consumers of the commercially marketed food (HOLMES, 2005). Critics of advertising to children also claim that it contributes to childhood obesity and overweight, a number of ills and poor impulse control (Watson, 2014).

Children Education

This can be said as second ethical and moral concern which is arising because of marketing to children. The approach for ameliorating the impact of child advertising usually lies in the thing that how children understand the media message and the notion which is being portrayed to them. Children are usually not able to better understand that what advertising is and what are the hidden motives behind an advertisement campaign (Watson, 2014).

In this way, marketing to children needs to work on the ethical concern in terms of children education that it should be clear for them to understand that how the advertisement works, what are the intentions behind it and how to see it critically. However, the actual messages which are presented to children in a marketing campaign are usually attractive and they don’t portray the real intention and aim of that marketing campaign which is solely about increasing the sales and to generate the revenue (EBM, 2014). Thus as a result, marketing to children is raising issues in terms of children education and understanding.

Seeing Children Only as Consumers

There are certain brands which see the target audience children only as the consumers of their “children only” products and thus as a result, they advertise in such a way which increase sales of their products without caring about the ethical issues associated with it. Marketing to kids has been facing strong criticism in recent years and one of the main reasons behind that was the issue of seeing children only as consumers (Minsker, 2014).

Big brands see children only as customers and portray their food and other products in such a way which will attract children and as a result, they will buy those products without caring about the negative outcomes. Companies are increasing their children advertising budget every year because of the above mentioned reasons. For example, in 2012, Subway used 7 million dollars for children marketing while this amount was only 2.3 million dollars in 2011. On the other hand, the amount used by McDonalds for marketing to children in the same year was around 42 million dollars (Media, 2016).

Negative Marketing

Generally, the negative marketing is a broad term that holds different meanings in different contexts. Companies usually present themselves positively to children by showing positive and advantageous side of using their products. However, the usage of these products actually goes a negative mile for children where it raises number of issues in terms of health concerns, educational problems and seeing children only as consumers (Ethical Dilemmas in Marketing to Children, 2012).

Talking in a broader context, the negative marketing itself is an issue in marketing to children where companies should focus on who they target and what they are targeting about.

Not Accepting the Responsibility

The brands and corporations which present and market themselves to children are not accepting the responsibly which they hold in terms of above mentioned concerns. This can be said as another important issue in terms of marketing towards children where companies are focusing only on grabbing market shares, increasing their sales and generating more revenue (LEVINSON, 2013). Instead, companies should also focus on corporate social responsibility where it is their moral obligation to accept the responsibility towards children in order to get rid of the issues mentioned.


This paper addresses the different ethical issues in marketing towards children and that what are the possible consequences to those issues. Some major ethical issues that are arising in marketing to children include healthcare crisis, children education, and seeing children only as consumers, negative marketing and not accepting the responsibility.


EBM. (2014). Marketing to Kids: The “Born to Buy”: Generation. Retrieved from Ethics Based Marketing.

Ethical Dilemmas in Marketing to Children. (2012). Retrieved from Classy and Cultural:

HOLMES, P. (2005). As Marketers Target Younger Consumers, Ethical Issues Arise. Retrieved from Holmes Report :

LEVINSON, B. (2013). Does Technology Change The Ethics Of Marketing To Children? . Retrieved from Fast Company :

Media, M. (2016). ETHICAL ISSUES WHEN MARKETING TO CHILDREN . Retrieved from Miles on Media:

Minsker, M. (2014). Is Kid-Targeted Marketing Unethical? . Retrieved from Destination CRM:

O’Brien, G. (2011). Marketing to Children: Accepting Responsibility. Business Ethics.


Watson, B. (2014). The tricky business of advertising to children. Retrieved from The Guardian: