CAMPAIGN INTERNATIONAL: ISSUE MARKETING TO CHILDREN - Children’s ads under threat of EU ban/Sweden’s plans to extend its ban on children’s TV ads has sparked opposition, Harriet Green reports

As any parent will tell you, children too young to master the alphabet can easily recite advertising slogans for an impressive range of products.

As any parent will tell you, children too young to master the

alphabet can easily recite advertising slogans for an impressive range

of products.

Whether mummy and daddy like it or not, advertising is a major part of

children’s lives.

But this might not be the case for much longer, if Sweden gets its


Advertising to the under-12s on TV is forbidden in that country, but

satellite channels beam ads at children irrespective of local laws. As a

result, Sweden, which is due to take up presidency of the European Union

in 2001, plans to press for an extension of its ban to the EU’s 15

member states.

This is only the latest move to protect European children. Sweden and

its neighbour, Norway, already outlaw all TV advertising aimed at

children under 12 and other countries - including Denmark, Poland and

Ireland - are considering increased controls. In Belgium, advertising to

children is banned in the Flemish region from five minutes before to

five minutes after the children’s programming slot. Greece has also

banned toy advertising on TV, although this is largely to protect Greek

toy makers.

Axel Edling, Sweden’s consumer ombudsman and head of the government’s

consumer agency, explains the reasons for imposing a ban: ’In 1990, we

undertook research to look at how children perceive TV,’ he says. ’There

were indications that children up to the age of seven were not fully

aware of the distinction between TV ads and ordinary programmes. Even

older children were not able to understand the commercial process. It is

considered that it is not a fair way of dealing with very small

consumers because they are being exploited.’

Buy why just TV - what about press, poster and radio ads? Edling

explains: ’TV, with its moving pictures, has a special power far beyond

the other media.’

The trend is welcomed by UK lobby groups such as Friends of the Earth,

which opposes consumerism generally, and the National Food Alliance,

which argues for stricter controls on children’s food ads. Children are

certainly subjected to astonishing quantities of advertising. According

to Friends of the Earth, the average British child sees 18,000 ads a

year. And manufacturers of toys and games have increased considerably

their spending on ads, from pounds 26 million in 1992 to more than

pounds 150 million in 1997, according to Mintel.

’Parents are fed up,’ Anna Thomas, a Friends of the Earth campaigner,

argues. ’It’s time we cracked down on the cynical advertisers and

manufacturers who rely on pester power to sell their products.’

Not surprisingly, such sentiments are vigorously opposed by the ad


’There is no evidence to justify restrictions on advertising,’ Simon

Bullimore, the former president of the Incorporated Society of British

Advertisers, exclaimed at ISBA’s conference in March. Rupert Howell, the

new president of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, chose

his inaugural speech to urge the industry to take the Swedish threat


The issue is a major concern at the Advertising Association, which this

month establishes a dedicated campaign, called Children’s Programme, to

tackle the matter. ’We are taking the threat seriously,’ Lionel

Stanbrook, the AA’s deputy director general, explains. ’But,’ he adds,

’the issue is a simple one. Advertising is a part of our society. Like

it or not, it’s a part of growing up in a commercialised world. We are

not necessarily calling on the Swedes to back down, we just want to make

sure nobody else agrees with them.’

Last year, the AA published research from Exeter University, which

suggested children need no special protection.

’Taking the lead from their parents and teachers, they are much more

knowledgeable, and much better able to assess commercial communication

than hitherto recognised,’ the research found.

Many Swedish advertisers - particularly those in the toy industry -

bitterly oppose the ban. However, Sweden has only had commercial TV

since 1992, so children’s ads didn’t exist before that. ’It doesn’t do

anything but codify existing procedures and therefore it has had very

little effect,’ Bjorn Larsson, president of Swedish ad agency Lowe

Brindfors, says.

Last year, Edling canvassed Sweden’s advertising agencies on the


’More than three quarters of members wanted to retain the


The reasons they gave were that they understood how advertising affected

children and didn’t want to take part on ethical grounds.’

Ingrid Linstrom, the managing director of Ammirati Puris Lintas

Stockholm, which produces ads for brands such as Pepsodent’s children’s

toothbrushes and toothpastes, confirms this view: ’The ban is a good

thing. Children are easily influenced. TV advertising could create

demands from the kids, which could end up causing a conflict with the

parents. We should let children be children. We shouldn’t make them into

consumers too quickly.’

However, the ban does raise all sorts of conundrums. Consider the

guidelines issued to Swedish agencies: ’If this is a jigsaw puzzle for

children from three years and upwards containing, for example, 48

pieces, marketing must be done with great caution. Cartoon lead-ins are

to be discouraged, nor is it advisable for the advertisement to be

broadcast during, or immediately before or after, sports or family

programming. If the puzzle contains 1,000 pieces and shows a view of a

town or city, marketing may be subject to fewer restrictions.’

That should cause a few furrowed brows in Swedish creative


But in the UK, the strongest argument for advertisers is this -

children’s TV relies on advertising. According to the AA, pounds 45

million is spent on advertising during children’s programming on ITV

compared with a programming budget of pounds 40 million. Get rid of the

ads, argues the AA, and there won’t be much money to buy or create


Many in the industry believe that a ban would have wider


As Bullimore warned the ISBA conference: ’We have already lost several

battles in our fight to preserve our right to (make ads) but (this) is

the crucial battle. If we lose this we will lose our freedom to


Bans on advertising to children in Europe

Sweden TV advertising to children under 12

Norway TV advertising to children under 12

Greece Toy advertising to children

Belgium (Flemish region) TV advertising during children’s programmes

Ireland All TV advertising in children’s programmes

Poland Considering a ban

Denmark Considering a ban