Claire Beale: Adland shows care in marketing to children

By Claire Beale, claire.beale@haymarket.com, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 10 June 2011 12:00AM

Every parent who works in the communications industry will have a personal and probably hedged view of this week's Letting Children Be Children report.

Claire Beale: Adland shows care in marketing to children

Of course, it's every parent's responsibility to set boundaries for their children, but the marketing, advertising and media industries sometimes make enforcing those boundaries more challenging. So, though I'm a firm believer in letting market forces determine outcomes, we do need a better universal understanding of what's acceptable when it comes to marketing to children.

The problem, though, is very rarely one of advertising: the ad industry has worked too hard for too long to ensure its own system of self-regulation on matters of taste and decency. It's not always perfect, but when ads breach the regulatory codes, the system for lodging complaints and adjudicating on them is pretty clear and efficient.

The Bailey report appears to acknowledge this; though advertising is generally an easy target for vocal pressure groups looking for something to blame for social discord, in this report advertising features relatively little. There is a recommendation that posters containing sexual imagery should not be placed on billboards where high numbers of children are likely to see them. It seems a rather tokenistic gesture: why restrict images on a poster site near a school and not one on a residential street? But, really, the report struggles to find a case for the ad industry to answer.

At a retail level, though, where inappropriate products are sometimes aimed directly at children, there are more serious concerns. Here, Bailey calls for retailers to sign up to a code of practice that checks and challenges the design, buying, display and marketing of clothes, products and services for children. I applaud. My daughter recently fell in love with a pair of girls' pink satin shoes in Monsoon with the sort of heel that would prove a vertical challenge even for some grown women; post-Bailey, retailers will have a greater awareness of their own responsibility to ensure children's products are age-appropriate.

As for the media, the recommendation to cover up sexualised images on the front pages of mags and papers, so they are not in easy sight of children, will have a dramatic impact on some titles and could prove a fatal blow for some of the lads' mags that are already on their knees. It is, though, one of the least controversial recommendations in the report.

All in all, and despite the fears of the communications industry, Bailey has taken a measured and pretty sensible line. For that, though, we must all thank the efforts of the Advertising Association and its constituents. They've worked hard behind the scenes to foster a clearer understanding of the industry's own codes on marketing to children. Without that effort, this week's report could have made for more disturbing reading.


Claire Beale is the editor of Campaign

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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