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TV commercials targetting children
By Tang Min (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-05-13 22:34

It does not take a couch potato to realize that in modern China, children are becoming the most favoured demographic for television producers and advertisers.

Turn on the TV and no matter what channel it is, the audience can easily find an innocent face selling a number of products ranging from toothpaste and milk to computers and digital cameras.

Although the presence of a child in an ad can cash in on people's perpetual yearning for family harmony and, in turn, make the commercials more touching, National Bureau of Statistics Chief Economist Yao Jingyuan believes there is actually a more practical reason involved.

One fact not to be neglected is that Chinese children are exerting greater influence on their parents' choices of commodities, he said.

"If you have seen how many moms have brought their kids to the supermarkets, you should have a better understanding of the child-centred commercials," Yao explained. "The way to a kid's heart is the way to the pockets of their parents."

Amid China's most-encouraged one-child family policy, the parents tend to show their baby more care as one can think of and agree to the kid's demands on as many things as possible.

Recent studies have shown that the average Chinese child begins to display a desire to control their own life around age 3. This is manifested by refusing to accept everyday items from their parents. Children also want a say not only in their own everyday affairs but of the household as well after age 10, according to Yao.

Therefore, children are becoming an important market target without even taking into consideration the huge amounts of money that are supposed to spend on their behalf.

The bureau recently carried out a survey which found that most Chinese families have ranked "raising a child" as their No 1 reason for steadily saving money. By the end of 2003, the country's total balance in individual bank accounts had reached over 11 trillion yuan (US$1.328 trillion).

Zhao Shunyi, former director of the Chinese Centre of Children, agreed with the findings, but said it was not because Chinese children of today are assuming a greater sense of independence at an earlier age than older generations. Zhao surmised it was in fact because they are allowed more freedom, or given more encouragement to display it.

Most young parents in China are walking on a balance beam between traditional Chinese culture, which has them willing to provide their children with comfortable lives, and the impact of a more opening-up social atmosphere, which allows them to value their children's tendencies for self-reliance.

However, the enhanced market attention attached to today's children will not necessarily bring about positive results. In fact, concerns have been expressed over the intensifying battle for advertising demographics, saying they might mislead the children and obscure their real needs.

"Peer influences can affect children as much, if not more, than their parents, no matter whether the influence is from the media or from everyday life," Zhao said.

"When a commercial is telling kids that it is better to drink this or eat that, and they do so by showing other children seemingly enjoying it, the kids most likely fall easy prey to it. But is that really good for the children, or do they really need that?"

Zhao has recently been made head of the country's first-ever enterprise group specializing in child-related education, culture, healthcare and technical development -- the Children's Enterprise Development Group. The group was re-established on the basis of the former Chinese Centre of Children, China's decades-old government-backed institution in the field, with a purpose to guide market movements for the good of children.

Although Zhao is not sure how far the positive impact of the new group can go on the market, he said at least there is a group looking out for the well-being of children.

Dong Guanpeng, a communications researcher with the Tsinghua University, urged for more caution in "promoting goods" to children, because "some influences experienced in childhood can affect the kids throughout their whole lives."

According to Dong, rarely has a survey carried out in the country on children' reactions towards television programmes, commercials in particular, but it is time to check out the current situation.

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