The Mills household likes the Beano. It arrives every Wednesday,
regular as clockwork, and never fails to deliver its timeless
combination of fun, daft jokes, japes and a special kind of innocence -
not to mention fart cushions, covermounts and the like. It’s childish,
of course, but also childlike in a way that Sony PlayStation, South Park
and The Simpsons (all of which are also popular in the Mills family)
So it was with some surprise that I opened last week’s issue to find a
full-page ad for Calvin Klein kids’ jeans facing Dennis the Menace and
Gnasher - a curious juxtaposition. This was the same ad you might see in
She magazine or the colour supplements - targeting the parents of the
kinds of seven- to 11-year-old boys who comprise the Beano’s
At this point, readers (and particularly parents) can probably guess
where I’m going with this column. No, I don’t mind the ad (no anorexic
five-year-olds in their underwear) but, yes, I am horrified at the
presence of such an ad in the Beano.
Naturally, this is a complicated issue. On the whole, I believe in the
right of advertisers to target children. I think the Swedes and others
who wish to ban children’s advertising on TV are living in an unreal
world. By and large, children today are pretty sophisticated when it
comes to decoding advertising.
Most enjoy it, too. And to over-protect them from advertising is to do
them no favours at all in the wider world.
But the freedom to advertise to children also carries responsibilities
which is why, for example, I believe that schools should remain ad-free
zones, even though children only have to leave the school gates to be
exposed to advertising.
So where does a CK ad in the Beano leave us? Well, this is not a blanket
objection to ads in the Beano (pounds 3,105 for a page, according to the
Ads for A Bug’s Life, sweets and games are fine. They are the kinds of
things children buy for themselves with their pocket money. Most
importantly, they don’t involve pester power.
This brings us to the nub of the problem. As most parents can tell you,
even seven-year-olds are label-aware. CK certainly knows this, which is
why it is placing ads in media such as this. But that doesn’t mean it’s
a clever piece of targeting. Far from it: the prospect of my
eight-year-old son pestering me to buy expensive brand-name clothes he
will quickly grow out of is not a pleasant one. It is even more
intolerable for parents with little disposable income - whose children
are just as likely to read the Beano as those with richer parents. The
placement of this ad does not discriminate between those who can afford
to buy their children CK clothing and those who can’t. It is, in short,
an immoral piece of media buying.
Responsible advertisers are those who know how to exercise
Calvin Klein has every right to advertise its children’s products - not
to children, but to the parents who will pay for the products.
I won’t be cancelling the Beano but I certainly won’t be buying any
Calvin Klein products - children’s or adult - either.