To me, a free market is all about conveying a message to those who have buying power. As long as you have the 'means' to buy then you will be targeted by advertising and there is no way to escape this targeting.
Knowing this, I completely disagree with 'helicoptering' over the advertisements that are presented to children. In my own experience, I have never seen an advertisement on T.V. and expected to get what was advertised, not to say I didn't ask my parents or wish for things sometimes. I guess what I am trying to say is that there is a disconnect between these advertisements and kids.
Young kids have a huge influence on money spent per year, but for the most part, they have very little monetary power. The real buying power for these kids comes from their parents, in which kids have the ultimate power to influence. Parents fill the void between advertisements and young children, because who is the child going to ask for the newest gizmo, or the newest treat from McDonald's?
In a blog post on "The Ethics of Writing to Children," Mattew McPartland discussed one of the largest ethical issues facing children in advertising, "age compression." Age compression, in children, stemming completely from advertising is an arbitrary connection. Age compression is a part of life. When you are old you want to be young and when you are young you want to be old. I don't understand how advertising is supposed to not appeal to this very natural phenomenon.
How is a child being lead to believe a product will make he/she more mature any different from an older consumer being lead to believe a product will make he/she look younger? The only difference is that kids do not have a lifetime of experience behind them that tells them an advertisement is B.S., but these same kids usually do not have the means to purchase, whereas old people do.
The single-most influential person in a child's life are their parents. Not to say that kids can't be lead astray by advertising, but in the end 'good' parenting will have an exponentially bigger impact on how a child consumes while not monitored and even later in life.
Advertising is simply one part of the discussion within our larger discussion of our societal and cultural values. Advertisers only reciprocate the 'values' put forth by our culture, they aren't creating these values out of thin air. Advertising is not completely to blame for such things as young girls being sexualized too young. Advertising uses the values disseminated within our culture that are found in things such as movies, T.V. shows and magazines. In a way, advertisers have to do this in order to appeal to consumers.
Overall, I don't see why advertisers are being criticized for appealing to the 'grass is always greener' theory a.k.a age compression. In the end, advertising agencies won't get a check if they can't coerce consumers to want.