Kids: The Trouble with children

As advertising audiences go, children are the Holy Grail. They watch a lot of television and have lots of pocket money to spend (British children are the richest in Europe, according to Datamonitor, raking in £775 a year). They are good at influencing others, especially their parents, to buy their favourite stuff and are themselves heavily influenced by the latest fashions and fads. They are instinctive technophiles, born with a need to play and explore. And they tend to like advertising and form emotional bonds with brands quicker than adults do. The problem is, advertising to them is increasingly tricky.

Promoting "junk" food to minors has become the most sensitive industry issue since the war against tobacco advertising. Now companies from all sectors - from toys to toothpaste - are more reluctant to target kids directly. Ultimately, they have become worryingly fat and advertising is being asked to carry the can.

Whether or not food ads aimed at children should go the way of tobacco advertising is endlessly debatable. According to research published by Ofcom, television advertising has a "modest direct effect" on what kids eat. Lack of exercise and a family's traditional eating habits play a far greater role in making them fat, the industry regulator concluded.

Yet tighter legislation seems inevitable. Hard-hitting campaigns, from advocacy groups, docu-films such as Super Size Me, the heroics of Jamie Oliver, an hysterical media and a government that wants to be seen to be taking positive action on childhood obesity have hastened a dramatic shift in public opinion on what children should be eating.

Yes, a more Draconian advertising code, if Ofcom's proposals get the green light, will go ahead. Could this mean the end of Gary Lineker's career as the face of Walkers? Or the last we will see of Coco the monkey, Tony the tiger or the Honey Monster? Is this even the right thing to do? ISBA and the consumer watchdog, Which?, lock horns on page 8.

The other big obstacle to advertising to children is that the awkward little things refuse to consume media in the way they used to. As Lucy Aitken discovers (page 12), gone are the days when children whiled away the hours watching Captain Pugwash. No, these days, the under-15s are just as likely to be instant messaging, sending a text message or shooting drug dealers in the latest version of Grand Theft Auto. And it doesn't take a child psychologist to point out that Piers Morgan's soon-to-launch newspaper for children - First News - could seem an anachronism in a children's world dominated by all things digital.

As if that wasn't enough, children - as any parent will wearily tell you - are getting harder to please. Growing up in an era in which they have greater control over what they watch, read or listen to has boosted their sense of personal freedom and power. The stars of Campaign's very first junior Private View (page 20) - Max, aged eight, and Isabel,15 - are proof enough that content for children has to be a dizzying mixture of cool and fun if it is to have any hope of holding their attention for long.