Advertising and marketing are ubiquitous factors in the lives of American youth. Estimates suggest that today’s children spend an average of 4 hours per day watching television and are exposed to about 5 hours of commercials per week, which amounts to 40,000 commercials in a single year. About 83% of commercials during the most popular shows for children ages 6 through 11 advertise snacks, fast food or sugary treats. Approximately 88% of children between the ages of 5 and 14 use computers, and 53% have access to the Internet. Studies of media usage indicate that new media, such as the Internet, are not displacing television viewing but are rather supplementing it. According to a 2006 study, “The Media Family,” within the 4 to 6 year-old age group, a third of children own a DVD player, a portable handheld videogame player, and a TV set in their room. An astounding 90% of the children studied use some form of screen media every day for an average of 2 hours.
Recent estimates suggest that children account for about $30 billion in direct spending annually and influence an extra $600 billion in family purchases. In addition, marketers view children as the market of the future and often direct campaigns at them with the intent of forging brand loyalties at an early age. On a typical weekday, a child encounters thousands of marketing messages – from licensed cartoon characters on a favorite website and advertisements on a preferred radio station to corporate sponsor logos on school vending machines and book covers. Certain corporations even market to babies and toddlers with crib mobiles, infant toys, and board books featuring licensed media characters.
In order to understand why certain firms and individuals hold their particular points of view and what the consequences of those attitudes are, it is important to analyze the life-cycle of the issue at hand, as well as pinpoint the issue’s specific phase within the life-cycle. According to Zyglidopoulos’ issue life-cycle theory, “issues evolve from a period of societal or corporate insignificance, through a period of increased attention, conflict, and awareness, to a period where new solutions and routines concerning the issue get institutionalized within the society and/or the organization.” A firm’s position in society in regard to a particular issue depends in large part on the societal expectations of a specific time period. For example, in the 1950s when the harmful effects of smoking were still unknown, cigarette companies were seen in a positive light for supplying what the market demanded. Today, on the other hand, the majority of society views these corporations as harm-inducing entities that aim to make a profit at the expense of human lives. According to the issue life-cycle theory, there are three scenarios which are possible in respect to a company handling a particular issue. First, a firm’s social performance leads societal expectations in respect to the evolution of an issue, consequently augmenting the firm’s reputational capital for social performance. Although, somewhat counter-intuitive, it should be noted that leading too much has a negative effect on