What do you make of the latest pressure group, Leave Our Kids Alone, which wrote to The Daily Telegraph calling to ban ads aimed at children under 11 years old?
Oh dear. When suggestions such as this are so manifestly well-intentioned, you voice your reservations at personal risk. It seems difficult for some people to distinguish between intention and effect. How many domestic tiffs involve one or other partner plaintively pleading "But I was only trying to help!"?
"Yes, I know you were. But not only did you fail to help, but, by calling 999, you escalated a perfectly manageable situation into one that will prove deeply embarrassing for all concerned and almost certainly be expensive."
Suggestions such as those made by Leave Our Kids Alone need to be ruthlessly examined not just for merit and not just for motive, but for practicality. I wrote about this last year in Market Leader.
In 2011, The Public Interest Research Centre and WWF UK published Think Of Me As Evil? Opening The Ethical Debates In Advertising. Towards the end of the paper, the authors write: "There is evidence that advertising may have significant negative cultural impacts: increasing our ecological footprint by boosting consumption; influencing our values and identities in ways that undermine our concern about social and environmental challenges; and eroding wellbeing and freedom of choice… precautionary action should be taken now.
While media literacy training programmes must warn adults and children of the implicit impacts of advertising, this… will clearly not be sufficient alone. One proposal is for the inclusion of a disclaimer on every billboard. This could read: ‘This advertisement may influence you in ways of which you are not consciously aware. Buying consumer goods is unlikely to improve your wellbeing, and borrowing to buy consumer goods may be unwise; debt can enslave.’"
Forget intention and motive. Ignore the patronising tone. Waste no time on the supporting evidence for such a proposal. You don’t even have to know anything about advertising to know that the inclusion of another 35 words on "every billboard" is completely daft. It’s impractical. It wouldn’t work.
The Leave Our Kids Alone proposal is nothing like as silly, but it’s still not very practical. You can’t stop kids from seeing advertising. You can’t stop kids from seeing other kids’ iPads. You’d need to board up the windows of toy shops as if they were turf accountants (oh, magnificent euphemism!).
Of course, you could always buy space in pre-teen media and run the disclaimer as above: "Advertising may influence you in ways of which you are not consciously aware…"
I don’t think PIRC and WWF will be needing it.
Viking River Cruises seems to be sponsoring all the mystery drama on ITV, and I’m considering going on one. Should I be pleased or disappointed if the cruise is neither mysterious nor dramatic?
I used to be very sniffy and purist about sponsorship. Accustomed as I was to working with highly intelligent account planners, I liked refining the singular attributes of any brand down to their most competitive and desirable; and then inventing the most evocative stimuli that could elicit from a precisely identified consumer group the most potent relevant responses. That, I knew, was a client’s money well spent: precise, proprietary, accurate and thrifty. Sponsorship, on the other hand, was clumsy and crude; the lazy commandeering of someone else’s established reputation, often irrespective of appropriateness.
I’m less sniffy now. I’m more convinced of the broad-brush value of simple familiarity. But you should be neither pleased nor disappointed should your Viking River Cruise be neither mysterious nor dramatic. They chose to sponsor mystery drama on ITV because they know that people who watch mystery drama on ITV are just like you: armchair adventurers. And that’s why a river cruise appeals: foreign travel while never having to leave home; like-minded English-speaking fellow travellers; only having to unpack once.
The fact that you’re now considering going on one suggests that it’s a shrewder piece of marketing than I might once have given them credit for.
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This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk