EDITOR’S COMMENT: Advertising can’t be moral if it loses the right to reflect

By STEFANO HATFIELD, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 29 May 1998 12:00AM

In this week’s feature, the director, Richard Phillips, addresses the thorny subject of advertising to children (page 28). Some of you may not believe that it is a thorny subject but there are draconian restrictions in place in some European countries. Now tobacco advertising is close to death, the EU may turn its attention to the matter as part of horse-trading over another issue. If you can enforce a single currency and scrap duty-free shopping, then restricting advertising to children is a doddle.

In this week’s feature, the director, Richard Phillips, addresses

the thorny subject of advertising to children (page 28). Some of you may

not believe that it is a thorny subject but there are draconian

restrictions in place in some European countries. Now tobacco

advertising is close to death, the EU may turn its attention to the

matter as part of horse-trading over another issue. If you can enforce a

single currency and scrap duty-free shopping, then restricting

advertising to children is a doddle.



Phillips argues that we need to show greater moral responsibility in the

way we target kids. Some of you may not believe that advertising and

moral responsibility go hand in hand but legislators certainly do. It is

difficult to argue against greater moral responsibility.



The problem lies with what exactly that means and how to implement it in

an ad.



Phillips’ ’you can say no’ campaign seems ridiculous at first: who is

going to want to cough up the money? Aren’t children too cynical? But

it’s no more difficult than making tobacco advertisers put warnings that

their products can kill on the packaging. Children may be cynical but

make the advertising cool enough and they can be won round.



Phillips’ idea is interesting but I’m siding with the Bozell Europe

chairman, Winston Fletcher. Laudable as the motives of those who want to

protect our children from the great demon advertising may be, it is

surely naive to believe we can cocoon them from its many forms. Naive to

believe that advertising alone creates desire. Desire for toys and

sweets has always existed. Children don’t need to be told they have a

choice. They know.



More worrying is any suggestion of still more restrictions on

advertising.



In the case of television commercials in particular, we have come to

accept an ever widening gap between what can be seen and said in ads and

what can be seen and said in the programmes that surround them.



The issue has come to the fore yet again via complaints to the

Independent Television Commission over Claudia Schiffer’s ’strip’ in the

Citroen Xsara ad. The tameness of the ad compared with the explicit

content of a drama like Prime Suspect is striking. Even whimsy like the

BBC’s My Summer With Des at the weekend contained the obligatory

gratuitous nipple shot. Schiffer versus, say, Amanda Donahoe in Castaway

(Channel 5, Monday) is laughable.



Do people drive fast, drink and have sex, take all their clothes off and

criticise other people? Are children shown wanting things? Having

things? Yes, of course. All these and more happen in real life. Who

really benefits from their exclusion from ads? Advertising comes under a

lot of pressure to lead society and be a force for good. How can it lead

when it’s not free even to reflect?



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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