Does Daddy Know He Is Here? Krrn...

Thu, 5 Aug 2010 Source: Appiah-Adjei, Daniel




“Does Daddy Know He Is Here? Krrn...”

It has always been my fervent desire to interpret and check meanings of some of the advertisements on our televisions, especially those which have something to do with children. I have therefore taken the initiative to meet some professional psychologists to enquire more effectively, the dangers of advertisements on children. Just consider the one which controls the title of this article... “Does Daddy Know He is here?”

This is an advert which demonstrates how a young girl brings her boyfriend to the father’s room for an afternoon enjoyment. They bring pure milk along as a starter. The younger sister of the girl seeing the pure milk quickly prepares some meal in a bowl and requests for pure milk. She cleverly uses her request as bait to stop them from having their supposed ‘fun’. They refuse to give her the pure milk and she picks the telephone and asks her sister ‘Does Daddy Know He is here?’They quickly give her one of the two sachets of pure milk but that was not satisfactory enough for the young girl to endorse their ‘fun’. She then retorts…’I want more’ and they reluctantly offer the remaining pure sachet to her to enjoy. By so doing, they succeed in bribing the small girl.

Look at the age of that child to encourage her sister to entertain her boyfriend in her father’s room if she is given pure milk to add up to the heaped meal. Do our children also indulge themselves in immoral activities? If yes, who is teaching them? It's known as advertising, but we may as well call it psychological warfare.

Our entire society is a free-fire zone for nonstop commercial assaults. Everyone is in the cross hairs -- no matter how young. And quite a few professionals with formal training in psychology have enlisted in this never-ending war.

Protecting the children

The advertising industry in Ghana spends a lot of Ghana Cedis and perhaps dollars per year on adverts targeted to children, bombarding young audiences with persuasive messages through media such as television, radio and the Internet. The average child is exposed to more than 10,000 TV commercials a year, according to studies. And adverts are reaching children through new media technologies and even in schools--with corporate-sponsored educational materials and product placements in students' textbooks/exercise books…. And then…and then…. And then….

In early July this year, I joined hands with a colleague social commentator to help counter the potential harmful effects of advertising on children, particularly children ages 8 and younger who lack the cognitive ability to recognize advertising's persuasive intent.

With this latest move, we were surprised to meet certain individuals, groups and several other organizations that have recently thought about the same action.

Indeed, we have been making strides in getting some people to join us in the research thinking that our recommendations will be put into action. Among some of the recommendations, we wish to call for advocacy efforts for legislation to restrict advertising targeted to children 8 years old and younger and for conducting more research showing the influence advertising has on young children.

It is again our desire to meet Parliamentary Select committee on Public Policy and Trade Union and other stakeholders like Media Commission on the issue.

The research group will endeavour to conduct empirically based recommendations, in helping to guide such advocacy efforts and to do the same for advertising research.

Ultimately, such efforts aim to spotlight the question of fairness in child-directed advertising, "Is it fair to allow advertising to an audience that is too young to recognize commercial messages are biased and have a persuasive intent?" An angry old lady asked me when I was conversing with her on the street of a village near Bibiani called Abofrem.

Advertising effects

Certainly the messages' power of persuasion is compelling. Studies cited by a lecturer at the University of Ghana, Legon have shown that after just one exposure to a commercial, children can recall the advert's content and have a desire for the product.

Some messages may influence children's behavior too, says the lecturer who has done, an extensive literature review of advertising's effects on children. For example, research has shown that child-directed adverts for healthy foods can lose their effectiveness when children view ads for snack foods in the same sitting.

Indeed, some researchers speculate that advertising geared to children--who largely consist of ads for sugary cereals, candy and fast-food restaurants--may be contributing to the increase in childhood obesity and ill-health by promoting unhealthy foods. Plus, studies suggest that eating habits formed during childhood can persist throughout life, according to the lecturer. Also of concern is the "privatization" in children's media consumption, with a growing number of young children using the Internet and watching televisions in their bedrooms, where no one is present to explain what they are viewing or reading.

That lack of adult interpretation is a concern because young children tend to accept ads as fair, accurate, balanced and truthful. They don't see the exaggeration or the bias that underlies the claims. To young children, advertising is just as credible as Aku-Shika Aquaye reading the evening news is to an adult.

For children to critically process advertisements, they must be able to discriminate between commercial and noncommercial content and identify advertising's persuasive intent.

Particularly alarming to the society are those commercials also often use psychological research to make their messages more powerful. For example, they draw from developmental psychology principles to build campaigns that persuade children they need a product and to nag their parents to buy it. In addition, advertisers often use characters and celebrities—(Footballers, Musicians, Actors/Actresses, and even ministers).

Increasing efforts

Psychologists can help parents and their children get wise to such advertiser strategies--particularly in the schools. In fact, even as schools themselves have become a venue for advertisers, little research has explored whether school-based adverts distract students from learning or intensify pressure on them to buy, I wonder.

I think Psychologists are also needed to help educate educators about this problem. They can create media literacy interventions to help children understand the persuasive intent of adverts.

National Problem

Seeing this as a national problem, don’t you think that psychologists should mount a public-information campaign so that the various stakeholders understand these issues--especially parents, teachers and legislators?

Advertising has changed tremendously in the past few decades as it has increasingly turned to younger audiences, such as using the Internet to reach children in subtle ways like through the games they play. The user is sometimes not even aware of the marketing effort and advertising undertaking. Advertisers and marketers are very sophisticated in using advertising to reach children. However, virtually no research exists on the use of Internet interactivity to reach children.

When we talk to parents they are quite concerned about advertising's effects on their children. They have to live with children making unreasonable purchasing requests from the advertisements they see--toys they want, food that is not good for them. This can be difficult for parents to manage.

The materialistic shift happening in our society is having an enormous impact and major influence on children's lives that is highly psychological in nature. It needs to be a focus of our profession right now.

Finally, in addition to the issues surrounding advertising directed to young children, there are concerns regarding certain commercial campaigns primarily targeting adults that pose risks for child-viewers. “For example, beer adverts are commonly shown during sports events and seen by millions of children, creating both brand familiarity and more positive attitudes toward drinking in children as young as 9-10 years of age. Another area of sensitive advertising content involves commercials for violent media products such as motion pictures and video games. Such adverts contribute to a violent media culture which increases the likelihood of youngsters' aggressive behavior and desensitizes children to real-world violence. The children are our future, Let us protect them.

By His Grace, I shall be back.

Columnist: Appiah-Adjei, Daniel