Skip to main content

Super Bowl ad blitz: Are kids vulnerable?

By James Steyer
January 31, 2014 -- Updated 1454 GMT (2254 HKT)
We collected some numbers about one of the biggest sports events of the year, and a few of them actually relate to the game, instead of some of the other fun reasons a lot of us will be watching Sunday night. Click through to learn more. We collected some numbers about one of the biggest sports events of the year, and a few of them actually relate to the game, instead of some of the other fun reasons a lot of us will be watching Sunday night. Click through to learn more.
HIDE CAPTION
Super Bowl by the numbers
Super Bowl by the numbers
Super Bowl by the numbers
Super Bowl by the numbers
Super Bowl by the numbers
Super Bowl by the numbers
Super Bowl by the numbers
Super Bowl by the numbers
Super Bowl by the numbers
Super Bowl by the numbers
Super Bowl by the numbers
Super Bowl by the numbers
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kids will see Super Bowl ads for junk food and booze, with violence, sex and sexism
  • Steyer: Digital media ads are insidious: "advergaming," viral and social media marketing
  • He says kids are a part of the product-selling cycle, without being paid or even knowing
  • Media and ad savvy is essential, he says. We must teach kids to view media critically

Editor's note: James Steyer is CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit advocacy group for children's online privacy. He also teaches courses on civil rights, civil liberties and children's issues at Stanford University and is the author of "The Other Parent: The Inside Story of the Media's Effect on Our Children" and "Talking Back to Facebook: The Common Sense Guide to Raising Kids in the Digital Age."

(CNN) -- This Sunday, my family will be among the 110 million people gathered in front of their TVs to watch the Super Bowl, and with ad revenue projected at $300 million, we can expect advertisers to be as outrageous as ever, with spots promoting junk food, alcohol and erectile dysfunction drugs and depicting violence, sex and gender stereotypes.

This said, TV ads -- even during the Super Bowl -- might be the least of parents' concerns. Digital media has dramatically changed the advertising landscape, and includes immersive websites, "advergaming," viral marketing, mobile ads, social media marketing and precise behavioral and location targeting. More than ever before, advertising and entertainment are inextricably linked. In many cases, the content is the ad, and this can be particularly confusing for children, who are less able to understand persuasive intent.

Jim Steyer
Jim Steyer

Common Sense Media just released a research brief -- "Advertising to Children and Teens: Current Practices" -- to provide an inventory of advertising practices aimed at kids and teens and calling for research to quantify exposure and examine the effects.

See 'Full House' Super Bowl teaser ad
The best and worst Super Bowl ads

The report finds that the integration of advertising and content across so many platforms -- from product placement to online games and Facebook apps -- has made it much more difficult for researchers to measure the exposure and impact of advertising on kids. While traditional advertising and its effects on kids have been well researched, no one knows the impact of these new media platforms.

The concern isn't just what products are sold to kids or what messages are sent to them, it's that new modes of advertising are insidious and particularly troubling for kids and teens, who are less able to differentiate advertising from entertainment and whose sense of self is still developing. What does it mean for a tween or teen girl to receive weight-loss ads, targeted to her based on her age, gender, location, the foods she likes and the topics she searches? We need to understand the impact of this type of advertising on young people, what it means for their consumption habits, self-esteem, and right to privacy.

Kids are also becoming a critical part of the product-selling cycle, without being paid (or even knowing, in many cases). Even Super Bowl advertisers are relying on our kids in large part to spread the word for them.

No longer can you simply hit the mute button or fast-forward through the Viagra ads.
James Steyer

For example, Doritos' "Crash the Super Bowl" ad contest has been seeking votes all over the Web -- including the kids' game site Addicting Games -- where information can be collected, and where likes, shares and views are the new measure of success. And a young person's "liking" or "sharing" of a product may appear in their friends' newsfeeds as endorsements or testimonials.

No longer can you simply hit the mute button or fast-forward through the Viagra ads. Millions of kids will be on phones and tablets while watching the big game and the ads they interact with on these little screens -- that might not even register as ads -- have far greater implications for kids' healthy development.

Media and ad savvy is now an essential skill and it's imperative we teach our kids to view media critically -- to understand what's being sold and what methods are used to sell products. And we must call upon the research community to develop new methods to quantify and analyze the effects of advertising on young people, not just to limit what's negative but to have a better understanding of how to reach kids with positive messages.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of James Steyer.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1424 GMT (2224 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1354 GMT (2154 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 16, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
August 17, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 2146 GMT (0546 HKT)
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2226 GMT (0626 HKT)
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2024 GMT (0424 HKT)
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2035 GMT (0435 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2308 GMT (0708 HKT)
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT