Sixty per cent of parents of Kiwi preschoolers are concerned at the amount of TV advertising targeting their children, a study has found.
This is despite strict rules which bar advertising during peak viewing times for preschoolers on free-to-air channels.
The Otago University survey of 160 Dunedin parents found 96 per cent restrict their preschoolers' TV viewing, and 60 per cent were concerned about their children watching advertising.
Worries included fears that advertising encouraged materialism, pressured parents to buy products, promoted values at odds with family values and was unethical because young children could not distinguish fact from fiction.
Study author Dr Leah Watkins said the research was the first in New Zealand to investigate TV marketing aimed at preschool-aged children.
Overseas studies have shown that children as young as 3 can identify popular brands.
One involved 38 Australian children aged 3 and 4 at Brisbane preschools. It found 93 per cent could recognise the most popular brand of fast food (McDonald's), 89 per cent recognised the most popular snack food brand, 80 per cent recognised the most popular cars and 79 per cent the most popular movies and supermarkets.
The children were all too young to be able to read or write, but they could name or describe the products when shown their logos.
Hilary Souter, chief executive of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), said TV commercials for children in New Zealand were regulated by strict guidelines, including a ban during pre-school television times and limited advertising in school-age children's viewing times on free-to-air channels.
"It's not a huge area of complaint for us," she said. "The codes cover a wide range of issues ensuring a high level of social responsibility when advertising things either to children or products that appeal to children."
The codes say ads should not promote violence or anti-social behaviour, and should not advocate excess consumption of "treat food".
Association of New Zealand Advertisers chief executive Lindsay Mouat said ads had to be approved by the Commercials Approval Bureau. Any that breached ASA principles would not be screened.
Mr Mouat said that if children did not see any advertising, "the real danger ... is that they don't learn and are not educated on advertising".
"It is really important that through parents, they understand the significance of advertising in their world.
"At the same time, it is critical that advertising to children is responsible, and that's why there are specific codes."
Advertising veteran Angela Watson - a group business director at DDB Group in Auckland who has more than 25 years in the industry and four children of her own - said that not only were regulations taken seriously but many brands had their own guidelines.
"I don't know of anyone who is out there targeting children," she said.
"Any big client, whether it be McDonald's or Cadbury, has its own guidelines and they are ethical guidelines.
"There has been a realisation that 'pester power' as a means to drive sales is not an acceptable practice ... It's from a bygone era".
Coca-Cola Oceania spokesman Josh Gold said the company had a global policy that children aged under 12 were not a target audience.
The Otago study also found 76 per cent of parents restrict the programmes their preschoolers watch, 65 per cent restrict the times they watch, 64 per cent restrict the time spent watching, 62 per cent restrict which channels they watch, 27 per cent allow them to watch only videos and DVDs, and 11 per cent use Sky or Tivo parental-control functions.
Fifty per cent of the preschoolers watched TV for one to two hours a day during the week, and 44 per cent watched two or more hours a day at the weekend.
But 25 per cent of the parents said their preschoolers watched no television at all.
Warkworth author Maggie Hamilton will tell an Auckland seminar tomorrow that growing commercial pressures on children from infancy onwards are making them more anxious and less imaginative than previous generations.
"The seeds of self-loathing and anxiety for this generation are beginning at preschool," she said.
"Like it or not, we have developed a predatory culture for our children that is based on making as much profit as we can out of them."
LIVE CHAT: We will have a live chat today between 12pm and 1pm today with Maggie Hamilton discussing advertising aimed at children.