Teens and Deceptive Advertisements

If someone asked you what you thought ‘advertising’ meant, what would your response be? Think about it, our daily lives are flooded with some form of advertising through either electronic or print media. Advertising has become an outlet through which companies can sell their products in a way that manipulates the customer into forming a desired opinion of any given product. Visual and verbal cues are embedded throughout all type of advertisements to give the impression that these products possess particular benefits or features, when in reality they typically do not.

The advertisers are attempting to maximize the profit of a given product by using subjective means. When you stop and think of all the various types of advertisements you are subjected to; each of them has some type of ‘marketing strategy.’ Do these strategies work on the consumer? Advertisements are deceptive in nature, playing to the consumers need to evaluate products through some type of sensory stimuli. Said more simply, the consumer wants to know the product does what it claims.

Consider this, adolescents can struggle with getting out of bed most mornings. How can they possibly be expected to decipher reality from non-reality? They are constantly being misled into believing unattainable behaviors. Perception is defined as “The complex process by which people select, organize, and interpret sensory stimulation into meaningful and coherent picture of the world.” (Cohen, 1972, p. 10). When it comes to an adolescent’s perception of anything, it is most definitely in what they consider their ‘view of the world.’

Advertising has been attacked by critics as being unfair, and in many instances, more deceptive than informative. ‘Fairness in advertising’; Really? How can we consider advertising to be fair or unfair? The deception surrounding the global view of advertising is huge. Take this for example; children can be vulnerable to media manipulation due to their lack of cognitive skills and ability to critically analyze marketing strategies. Thomas Barry (1980) provides an example of Spider Man being used to sell vitamins and supposes that advertisers are able to exploit the trust relationships of children. Barry (1980) acknowledges that common norms must be developed with regards to children and deceptive advertising in order to avoid exploitation. “If adequate norms are to be developed in the area of children and deceptive advertising, there must be some common and systematic approach used by these two groups in their common objective of benefiting society” (Barry, 1980, p.17).

Reality of Social Norms

In The Inescapable Images: Gender and Advertising, Mayne (2000) argues that advertising has become a hyper-ritualization of the social institutions in society and that this form of advertising is able to elicit dependency on the products from consumers. Advertisers exploit consumer needs for group membership, such as gender association. Such big words to simply say that advertising are certainly created to draw your attention to certain products guiding you to purchase. Slim and beautiful people are used in advertisements that are not representative of the average American man or woman, creating an unrealistic and unattainable expectation. Well, can you say ‘AMEN.’ Of course the ‘slim and beautiful’ people are typically in advertisements. That is what supposedly sells the products and contributes to the socialization and expectation the public has for themselves. Last time I checked those size 0’s on the covers were not contributing to the size 14’s buying habits. This type of advertising is so one sided and quite frankly ‘unfair.’

These expectations are modeled and reinforced through featured celebrities and attractive models in targeted advertisements. Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory explains how observed behaviors are later seen as models for imitation. This theory has been expanded to explain how learning behaviors are formed through exposure to high-status, popular figures that provoke audience attention and quite frankly fuel these behaviors. Young females especially will idealize or even worship these figures to the point of obsession. Advertisers know this and play to this weakness. “Female teens use the idealized images portrayed in advertising as input during the self-construction process, contributing to the way they perceive what is acceptable, normative or perfect” (Hsu, 2013). As a result, these powerful icons are causing adolescents to make identification attachments that incorporate impractical bodily comparisons and unattainable beauty ideals.

When you look at any given magazine, you will see more and more the advertisers using ‘scantly’ dressed models to push products. “Advertising has increasingly used scantily clad or suggestively portrayed women to sell every type of product since the 1980s” (Hsu, 2013). Advertisements have continued to influence female image insecurities. The sales of weight-loss products and dietary supplements has doubled between 1994 and 2002. No joke, I wish I owned stock in Alli or Garcinia Combogia. This demonstrates that adolescent attitudes about dieting have affected their overall perception of body image and social acceptability (Levin-Zamir, 2011). Listen, teenagers definitely have a skewed and unrealistic perception of what society expects of them. They do not possess sufficient cognitive skills to rationalize through these perceptions.

Teenage media consumers possess inadequate media literacy skills making them vulnerable to misleading insights of societal norms. “Media literacy in the United States is defined most often as the ability to analyze, access, evaluate and produce media” (McCannon, 2005, p.472). This skill is important for consumers to have because it allows them to understand the effects of mediated messages and gives them the ability to take part in society with a more balanced understanding of cultural value and meaning. Advertisers know the vulnerability of adolescents and their need for acceptance. This is absolutely why they target them as one of their largest audiences. “Adolescents are particularly vulnerable because they are new and inexperienced consumers and are the prime targets of many advertisements. They are in the process of learning their values and roles and developing their self-concepts” (Kilbourne, 2011).

Richard Adler (1977) demonstrates how the influence of televised advertisements on children begins at a young age in his article Research on the Effects of Television Advertising on Children. Television and social media are huge venues for targeting these young people. Why you ask? Could it be the ‘Easy-peasy’access. Adolescents are glued to these forms of entertainment on a regular basis. Television is believed to be a major vehicle for acculturation of societal values in children, which sets forth an unstable foundation and possible social implications for teens. Exposure to televised advertising impacts consumer socialization and could have long-term consequences. This is mainly because the content is misleading to children who do not possess media literacy. If you do not believe that children are susceptible to influence from television or social media, you are crazy. Children have a tendency to become susceptible to possessing false perceptions of reality. “Most teenagers are sensitive to peer pressure and find it difficult to resist or even question the dominant cultural messages perpetuated and reinforced by the media” (Kilbourne, 2011).

Adolescents have developed impractical perceptions of social norms by engaging in the idea that the advertisements are real. Advertisements cannot serve to foster a clear understanding of what is real or even the economic ramifications and reactions to such advertisements. “Advertising fosters undesirable social values in children” (Adler, 1977, p.11).


Adler, R. (1977). Research on the effects of television advertising on children. National Science Foundation, 3–151.

Barry, T.E. (1980).a framework for ascertaining deception in children’s advertising. Journal Of Advertising, (9(1), 11–18. Barthel-Bouchier, D. L. (1988). Putting on appearances: Gender and advertising. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Cohen, D. (1972). Surrogate Indicators and Deception in Advertising. Journal Of Marketing, 36(3), 10–15.

Hsu, C. (2013). Selling American Beauty to Teen Girls: A Content Analysis of Female Celebrity Advertisements in Seventeen. Advertising & Society Review, 14(2).

Kilbourne, J.(2011). Beauty…and the Beast of Advertising. Center of Media Literacy.

Levin-Zamir, D., Lemish, D., & Gofin, R. (2011). Media Health Literacy (MHL):

Development and measurement of the concept among adolescents. Health Education Research, 26(2), 323–335.

Mayne, I. (2000). The inescapable images: Gender and advertising. Equal Opportunities International, 19(2/3/4), 56–61.

McCannon, R. (2005). Adolescents and media literacy. Adolescent Medicine Clinics, 16(2), 463–80.