Executive Summary

Executive summary

“As mum to a 16 year old boy and 19 year old girl I have had to deal constantly with the effect that marketing and advertising has had on our family lives. When they were young a simple ‘no’ and using distraction to other products while shopping was my main strategy. As teenagers, saying ‘no’ simply aggravated the situation.” – Mothers’ Union member, UK

We believe that children should be valued as children and not targeted as adult consumers. Childhood has become a marketing opportunity worth £99 billion in the UK[1] and £350 million is spent in the UK each year on persuading children to consume[2]. Manipulative techniques exploit children’s natural credulity and use them as a conduit to the household purse. The materialism this encourages (the basing of happiness and a sense of success in the material) has negative effects on children’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, on their values, educational development and relationships with families and peers. The use of sexualised content to sell to children and the imposition of sexuality on children to market goods is particularly abhorrent.

Our research has found that the majority of parents agree that media content and advertising seen by children can be harmful to them. In particular, parents feel that media content and advertising makes children more sexually aware at a younger age than they would have been otherwise, and that it makes them feel that they have to act older than they really want to. Parents are also concerned that films and video games with sexualised and violent themes are too accessible to children and that the 9pm watershed is not adhered to. Parents believe that responsibility for media content and advertising that children are exposed to should lie with regulatory bodies, along with media companies, government and parents themselves, but that for films and video games in particular regulatory bodies do not do enough to protect children. There is more divided opinion over whether advertising in general aimed at children is age appropriate or well regulated.

Whilst the debate is moving further towards action, particularly with the coalition Government promising to ‘crack down on the irresponsible advertising and marketing, especially to children’ and ‘take steps to tackle the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood’[3], this cannot be achieved through any one single measure. Rather, it requires families to reflect on their consumer habits and to take positive action; civil society, academics and NGOs to continue raising awareness and press for change; industry to manufacture, market and sell responsibly; regulators to be effective and government to intercede where it can, especially in protecting children from the ‘sex sells’ approach.


[1] Ed Mayo and Agnes Nairn, Consumer Kids: How Big Business Is Grooming Our Children for Profit. Constable, 2009.

[2] David Piachaud, Freedom to be a Child: Commercial Pressures on Children. Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, July 2007. (ref taken from Advertising statistics Yearbook, Advertising Association)

[3] The Coalition: our programme for government. Cabinet Office, May 2010.