Television advertising aimed at children is actually beneficial to the early development of healthy skepticism and evaluative skills in those children, a prominent advertising industry spokesman claimed in an interview today.
Responding to calls for bans on such advertising from child psycholgists and consumer advocates testifying at Federal Trade Commission hearings on the matter here this week, Seymour Banks, vice president of Leo Burnett U.S.A. Advertising, said "children, like everyone else, must learn the marketplace. You learn by making judgments. Even if a child is decived by an ad at age 4, what harm is done? He will grow out of it. He is in the process of learning to make his own decisions."
Banks contended that there is no proof to substantiate testimony offered Tuesday by a leading child psychologist that any advertising aimed at young children causes mistrust and skepticism between those children who believe a TV ad and their parents who try to persuade them otherwise.
"If you believed everything you heard at these hearings," Banks said, "you'd think every supermarket in the country has kids kicking and scre ming in the aisles... and that just is not true."
Banks agreed that young children do ask their parents to buy certain products they see advertised on TV, but said the parents usually dismiss their child's requests. "What harm is there in that?" he asks. "Even if, as many psychologists claim, a child perceives children in TV advertisements as friends, and not actors selling them something, where's the harm? All a parent has to say is, 'Shut up or I'll belt you."'
In two weeks of hearings now in progress here, and five more weeks in Washington beginning in March, the FTC is studying the controversial question of TV advertising aimed at young children, in the so-called "Kidvid" inquiry that began formally last April.
Many consumer groups and child psychologists say television ads aimed at young children are inherently unfair and deceptive because those children cannot yet differentiate between advertising and regular programming, and don't realize that the ads are not reality.
The FTC is studying several proposals for limits or bans on certain forms of such advertising, including a proposal by its staff to ban all TV advertising aimed at children 8 years old and younger, a ban on all ads for sugar-coated products known to cause tooth decay which are aimed at youth under 12, and a requirement calling for nutritional statements to accompany all ads for less-decay-causing sugary products also aimed at under-12-year-olds.
Several consumer groups have proposed less stringent solutions, including the Massachusetts-based Action For Children's Television, which has called on the FTC to order considerable corrective advertising and public service announcements aimed at children to offset the impact of commercials.
Banks called the entire FTC "Kidvid" investigation "a sad waste of resources, unnecessary and improper." He said the FTC should not even get involved in the probe, which he called "something that should be studied by Congress, or the Food and Drug Administration.
"The issue is really one of an attempt by the FTC to expand its powers," Banks said citing a bitterly contested yet unsuccessful attempt by Congress last year to prohibit the FTC from spending any of its budgeted monies on this controversial investigation.
A formidable alliance of toy and ceeral manufacturers and the advertising and television industries has launched the many-faceted attack on the FTC and the "Kidvid" proceedings, calling them the most blatant example of overregulation by the federal government.
The industry has charged that any attempt by the agency to curb the estimated $600 million spent each year on TV ads aimed at children is a violation of the free speech rights of advertisers.
A ban on such advertising, the industry claims, could virtually end children's TV programming which is supported by that advertising, and dramatically increase toy prices because of a likely decrease in demand and a resulting drop in production economies of scale.