Letter for The Sunday Age - 30 March 2008

Chris Berg's argument that advertising is ‘just the simple delivery of information' (Opinion 23/3) defies common sense.

If the purpose of advertising is merely to inform us ‘that new products are available in the marketplace', one might ask why ads often contain little information about the products they promote, and why advertisers employ behavioural psychologists to assist in their design.

The answer, as (most) adults understand, is that the purpose of advertising is primarily to persuade.  The dilemma is that not all children understand this.

Research shows young children don't yet have the cognitive skills needed to critically interpret advertising, or resist its influence.  It isn't surprising, then, that comprehensive reviews of empirical evidence also show food advertising to children influences the types of foods kids prefer, pester their parents to purchase, and ultimately eat.  And the ubiquity of this advertising means kids' desire for unhealthy food is constantly stimulated.

Ads promoting products to children rarely deliver ‘information' – they sell fun, adventure and excitement. They influence children to make the decision, say, that a fast food meal-deal – along with the toy from the movie – is what they will pester their parents for at dinnertime. If influencing children's preferences is not the aim, why do food companies invest millions in marketing campaigns?

Sure, ad bans won't make kids abandon lollies and chocolate, but they will help reduce kids' constant demands and desire for these foods, and prevent parents' and educators' efforts to encourage healthy eating from being undermined.  

Jane Martin
Senior Policy Advisor, The Obesity Policy Coalition