OPINION: CRACKNELL ON ... ADVERTISING TO CHILDREN

A few weeks ago on Radio 4’s Today programme, advertising to children was defended on the grounds that we shouldn’t worry too much because the two biggest selling toys last Christmas, the Furby and the yo-yo, weren’t even advertised. Let’s hope no clients were listening.

A few weeks ago on Radio 4’s Today programme, advertising to

children was defended on the grounds that we shouldn’t worry too much

because the two biggest selling toys last Christmas, the Furby and the

yo-yo, weren’t even advertised. Let’s hope no clients were

listening.



A further justification was that children ought to be exposed to

advertising so they get used to it early since they’re going to be

exposed to it in later life anyway. That argument portrays advertising

as the sort of activity against which society needs some sort of

training and perhaps even immunisation.



It was also said that children have a healthy scepticism to

advertising.



Put these arguments alongside the well-publicised pro-tobacco

advertising defence that it doesn’t increase consumption, only

encourages brand switching, and we have an industry publicly defending

itself on the grounds that because everybody knows it’s questionable,

that’s OK, and that it doesn’t really work that well anyway.



How can the advertising industry possibly defend itself on the grounds

that its product is not persuasive? What do all those people in agencies

do all day long then? On the contrary, why isn’t it joyfully claimed

that that is precisely what it is supposed to do, doing it as it does in

a highly regulated fashion - openly, honestly and truthfully?



What’s wrong with freedom of information and the mechanisms of

capitalism as a defence; if it’s legal to sell it, it is not only

acceptable, but essential that we advertise it. You may not like the

issue or the product, but don’t blame the advertising industry for

that.



How can you have a free market economy if the public doesn’t know what

is in the market? How can you have a price war, from which customers

benefit hugely, if no-one knows it’s going on? What sort of economy

encourages the production of goods and then denies the producer the

right to tell anyone about those things being produced?



As for pester power, it was argued that it isn’t advertising that

creates it, it’s peer group pressure in the playground - an argument

that still leaves unanswered the belief that it is advertising that

gives the peer group its impetus to create pressure anyway. Surely the

proper defence is that to believe that children never demanded anything

from their parents until the advent of television advertising is

preposterous. Are we supposed to believe that kids never pressed their

noses against toy shop windows before 1955?



Anyway, is this really the justification for denying children the right

to be told that, for example, the latest Disney film is on at the cinema

round the corner? As it happens, the only commercial I can recall that

deliberately encouraged pester power is one that seems to be remembered

fondly by all who saw it - ’Don’t forget the Fruit Gums, Mum’.



What’s wrong with a bit of confident, robust advocacy - not just on the

children’s advertising issue but on all advertising issues?



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