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
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
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?