SCANDINAVIAN MEDIA: The moral crusade against tv ads for children

With strict guidelines - and, in Sweden’s case, an outright ban on advertising directly to children - the Scandinavian countries are campaigning for tighter controls throughout Europe, Meg Carter reports

With strict guidelines - and, in Sweden’s case, an outright ban on

advertising directly to children - the Scandinavian countries are

campaigning for tighter controls throughout Europe, Meg Carter reports

As Europe moves towards a single media and communications market, one

region is attempting to hold back the tide. Scandinavian governments,

led by Sweden, are pushing for stricter regulations concerning

advertising and, in particular, TV advertising to children.

Advertising to under-12s on TV in Sweden is banned under the Radio

Broadcasting Act. In Denmark, guidelines on advertising to children on

radio and TV have been tightened. In Norway, advertising directly to

under-14s is not permitted and ads are banned around children’s

programmes. Finland also imposes stricter rules than other European

Union states, although it remains the most lenient of Scandinavian


The common factor uniting the national media industries in these

countries is the relatively recent introduction of commercial TV. In

Sweden, for example, it was not introduced until March 1992. Scandinavia

represented the final frontier for commercial TV in Europe and today,

many local restrictions go beyond the European Parliament’s Television

Without Frontiers directive, which has just completed its second


The premise of the directive, as with the Green Paper on Commercial

Communications, which is also intended to facilitate a single European

media and communications market, is that member nations should operate

common laws and regulatory standards. Sweden, however, has been lobbying

hard for the power to legislate against channels broadcasting into it

from outside.

It is hardly surprising Sweden is taking such a tough line. Five years

ago, the country introduced a national law banning advertising to

children under 12. ‘This is underpinned by a widespread acceptance in

both government and the general population that there is a moral basis

for the ban,’ the World Federation of Advertisers’ spokesperson, Karen

Garside, explains.

Along with the Danish government, Sweden has been trying to persuade the

EU to adopt stricter laws Europe-wide. However, Swedish attempts to

persuade others to follow its lead were thwarted in September when the

European Court of Justice considered the De Agostini case. The Italian

publisher, De Agostini Forlag AB, had appealed to the court against a

fine imposed on its Swedish office following the appearance of an ad on

TV3 for the children’s magazine, All About Dinosaurs. The courts backed

up the EU’s Television Without Frontiers directive that ‘prevents a

member state from taking action against television advertisements

broadcast from another member state’.

The court ruled that Sweden must accept advertising to children

broadcast from the UK by TV3, providing that the broadcast service and

its advertising conformed to local laws in the country of origin - in

this particular case, codes laid down by the Independent Television


‘Because Swedish commercial broadcasters have never been able to

advertise to under-12s, the fact that TV3 can do so has become a topic

for public debate - not least with the domestic commercial station,

TV4,’ says the ITV Association’s controller for corporate affairs, Sue


Other nations breathed a sigh of relief when TV3’s case was upheld. But

the bandwagon is still rolling. At a European level, the Swedish

government has persuaded the European Commission to commit to studying

the need for tougher rules. And three months ago, the Danish government

called for a price hike for children’s TV ads, trebling the cost to

reduce the volume on air.

Peter Brockdorff, media director of Leo Burnett Denmark, explains that

there is no specific legislation preventing advertising to children on

Danish TV. This autumn, however, Denmark’s cultural minister confirmed

plans to limit the volume of children’s advertising on Danish TV by

calling for a price hike. The commercial channel, TV2 Reklame,

reluctantly agreed in the hope this will help diffuse the row.

Children’s advertising has become a political issue. Brockdorff notes:

‘It is being talked about in Danish media. Some of our political parties

are even proposing a total ban.’

Back in Sweden, the home-based commercial broadcaster, TV4, is

negotiating with Sweden’s government over the terms and conditions for

its licence renewal, including future licence fee payments. The

broadcaster is being asked to pay more, yet claims its hands are tied

with commercial revenue curbed by local legislation.

Tony Pearson, managing director of MediaCom Norge, believes the current

situation has contributed to TV’s stagnant share of advertising. ‘There

has been little growth in total advertising spend for some time,’ he

says. ‘Commercial TV’s share has stood still at 20 per cent of total

revenue. This is way behind normal in developed countries.’

Concern rests not just on restrictions affecting advertising to kids,

but on commercial minutage, he explains. Ten per cent of transmission

time - or six minutes an hour - is allocated to ads. However, unlike

other countries where this can be averaged across 24 hours, Swedish

broadcasters must maintain the same proportion of ads in both peak-time

and off-peak, which decreases the ratings point inventory available for


Whether this is down to a national mistrust of advertising or the entire

medium of television, it’s hard to say. Consumer research proves the

Swedes are among the lightest TV viewers in Europe.

One cultural factor is the Swedes’ preference for the printed word over

the visual image. As important, however, is dissatisfaction with

domestic TV output. Scandinavians take pride in their intellectual

response to the written word and are wary of TV’s use of emotional

response for effect. This situation is only made worse by the Catch 22

position commercial broadcasters find themselves in: unable to maximise

their revenue, they lack funds to reduce capital costs to make TV more

attractive to advertisers and boost programme budgets to make

advertising more effective.

TV advertisers are now being warned by their agencies to ensure their

creative work matches Scandinavian consumer tastes. The narrative style

of Grey International’s award-winning commercial for the Scandinavian

airline, SAS, is a case in point, its agency claims. Content rather than

style for style’s sake remains king.

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