Why baby product retailers should put parents above profits

Your cousin announces that their baby has safely arrived. Hurrah. In celebration you head to the shops to buy them a gift. Not having children yourself, you decide to visit an established baby product retailer whose name you recognise and trust and begin to browse looking for inspiration. Ooh look at the cots on display with their cute bedding sets: pillow, cot bumper, quilt, pillow, even a coordinating cuddly toy. That would look perfect in your cousin’s nursery.

What you won’t know is that a cot kitted out like that raises several red flags if you’re trying to protect against cot death (sudden infant death syndrome) and accidents. The NHS advises against the use of cot bumpers (which are already illegal for sale in Chicago) and are not intended for use once a baby can crawl (about six months), that quilts and pillows should not be used until the baby is 1 year old, but preferably all such items and cuddly toys should be kept out of the baby’s cot. So why display a cot made up in such an unsuitable fashion? Are the retailers unaware that they are a source of information for consumers? Or worse, are they putting profits before their responsibility towards baby safety? As one SIDS spokeswomen comments, ‘parents think, “If (stores) sell it, it must be safe,”‘ Put “cot bumper sets” into Google Images and see for yourself how often these items are displayed together.

In the UK, the baby product retail market is fiercely competitive. Mothercare, for example, is reported to be struggling in the UK as new entrants to the market compete for their business and are closing 100+ stores by 2015. Given that parents-to-be are bombarded with conflicting information, hearsay and out-of-date advice and baby retailers can have a strong influence on their purchasing decisions one smart company could carve out a niche as being the responsible baby products retailer that helps consumers make safer choices.

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Are social marketing adverts for children ethical?

Shortly after writing my last post about the influence of children’s TV on their behaviour a discussion began on the Georgetown Social Marketing Listserv about the use of advertising in social marketing campaigns aimed at children.

One writer advocated for the teaching of media literacy for children of all ages to help them be better able to interpet persuasive messages. For me, this raises a very interesting question – is it ethical to use promotional tools in social marketing campaigns targeted at people who lack the capacity to critically evaluate information? Children are especially vulnerable to taking what they read, see and hear at face value, but they are not the only people and I believe it is often the people being targeted by social marketing campaigns who are least likely to be media literate.

Health promotion communications has become more and more sophisticated in recent years. A far cry from the cheesy low-budget adverts I saw as a kid encouraging me to Stop, Look, Listen or to “Just Say No”.

Just because the behaviour being promoted is not linked to purchasing, is that an excuse for sophisticated communications to be directed to people who are ill equipped to interpret them? Shouldn’t marketing communications for nonprofit purposes be held to the same – or higher – standard as those intended to increase consumption of fast food, sugary drinks, etc? This comes back to the hotter ethical potato of who decides which behaviours are good? Although well-intentioned, one person’s “good” behaviour e.g. abstinence, is another person’s risky one.

Long Live Kids has a great leaflet for parents to help them understand and teach media literacy. I would argue that the tips it contains could be used to help all of us be more critical consumers of social marketing messages too. In my last post I suggested that children’s TV might be used to influence positive behaviours (if it is also going to be used to promote merchandise). But I suspect I’d only want that to happen if I agreed with what behaviours are deemed “positive”.

And a final question…should we be using TV at all with young children? Isn’t watching too much TV an unhealthy behaviour in the first place. Ironically, when I was young, we had a TV programme called “Why Don’t You?” whose intro song invited us to “just switch off your television set and go out and do something less boring instead”. I can’t remember much else about it beyond the use of irritating kids with strong regional accents so perhaps it encouraged me to do just that. This great clip gives a taste along with a particularly awful public service message as a bonus…

In any case, perhaps the concern should be less about what messages our children see on TV, and more about how much of it they are seeing in the first place? Tune in next time for more on this…

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This little piggy went into marketing…what is TV teaching children?

Browsing BBC3 last month I came across “The World’s Craziest Fools” and discovered that Mr T (60 years old this month!) still looks the same as when I was 10 years old. All that milk he told us to drink must have paid off. As a new mum. I’ve become more conscious of children’s TV and the influence it might have and contrasting it with the programmes I saw when I was young. It’ll be a couple of years before our little one is likely to be exposed to it, but I’m interested in what behaviours the current crop of children’s television programmes might encourage?

Among my friends we had the obligatory Star Wars toys, the odd He-Man figure or a couple of Care Bears whose TV shows and movies carried strong messages about right and wrong, (and using love to save the world by straining until a beam of light came out of your tummy!) but merchandise associated with popular children’s programmes seems to have reached huge proportions and I’m not that impressed with the messages behind some of it.

Advertising is creating strong brand awareness among children but at least it is easier than ever to avoid exposing children to adverts on TV. An interesting Guardian article discusses how this has created greater dependency on licensing for commercial channels and even for the BBC, in order to fund children’s programmes. This is probably the most worrying aspect of merchandise Should TV license-payers be effectively charged to have their children watch programmes that are creating brand awareness and demand for the inevitable range of resulting merchandise?

And what behaviours are being encouraged beyond the well-documented “pester power” of tiny consumers? In the 80s we had Mr T (“If a stranger offers you a toy, candy, a puppy…take off” and other gems) and Popeye demonstrating the power of eating spinach. By the 90s we had Turtles eating pizza and hanging out in sewers… It’s easy to look back at one’s childhood with rose-tinted spectacles but if merchandising and children’s programmes are now permanently linked, perhaps more should be done to ensure they are also used to encouraging behaviours that support wellbeing in children?

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I have a strong longing to understand more about desire…

Desire. It’s the ‘D’ in AIDA (awareness, interest, desire, action). It’s the fundamental cause of all human actions according to Hobbes. What does it mean for social marketers? Desire seems to be a lot about what we want other people to do – the “desired behaviour”. 

Having identified a desired behaviour – let’s say, pregnant women taking folic acid for the first 12 weeks of their pregnancy – which segment of this population should we target? We might pick women who already believe that taking folic acid is a good idea and have some level of desire to do so. But let’s make life hard for ourselves, and choose those women who have no desire to take folic acid. Yes, yes, I know I’m supposed to but….

If Desire is the precursor to Action, then how do we encourage desire where there is none? Can you make somebody crave/long for/salivate over/lust after (pick your favourite “desire” synonym) something where there’s no appetite? 

Two thoughts: Pavlov’s dogs and acting.

Pavlov’s experiments resulted in dogs salivating when they heard a bell ring. By associating the sound of a bell with an object of desire (food), Pavlov was able to prompt a physical response of desire for something (we assume!) that previously didn’t exist. Does the prospect of taking a folic acid supplement get your juices flowing? Me neither. But it could…

If actors were limited by their personal experiences, then this advert might have been a reality “Young male orphaned wizard required for multi-movie project; ability to speak to snakes essential.” Instead, they are often advised to draw on an experience that is similar on some level and use that to help them prepare. I’ve not been trapped in a room with a zombie (as far as I know) but I don’t need to in order to know what heart-racing, adrenalin pumping, numbed-finger fear is like.

So back to folic acid. The question to ask in this example could be: what do pregnant women desire (to have, or to avoid) in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy? And how can the experience of taking folic acid supplements be changed to feel more like those things and to trigger the same reaction?

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What’s the collective noun for social marketers?

Maybe it’s an impact of social marketers? A smart? A mix? Or how about an inspiration of social marketers? Anyway, 600 of them are congregating at the 2nd World NonProfit and Social Marketing Conference in Saggart (nr Dublin), and I’m pleased as punch to be one of them.

The sun is out and with rain predicted for Monday and Tuesday I have one day to get good use out of my repertoire of vintage summer dresses before accepting the inevitable and converting to layers.

I love, love hanging out with social marketers. They’re so interesting and interested. It’s a completely different vibe to the academic conference experience. I’ve already met four great women over breakfast, from PSI and T-MARC and looking forward to checking out their stand at the reception this evening.

I’m channeling my inner magpie for the next three days, looking out for shiny online resources to feature on the Social Marketing Lady site, so keep an eye on the site later this month to check out my picks. I’ll also be chattering away on Twitter.

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Social Marketing Librarian seeks shelf-stocking suggestions

There’s nothing like laryngitis to make a girl turn to a good book. With conversation off the menu, a social marketing lady has to get her mental stimulation elsewhere so she goes to her collection of social marketing books but – horror – there’s nothing new to read! To Amazon for a basket full of goodies – but to add insult to injury, all the social marketing lists on Listmania are about social media.

A plea for suggestions is issued. What books should make it into my Social Marketing basket? I’m not looking for the “how to” type of text, but the books that inspire you, are provocative, make you reach for the highlighter, and prompt the line “You’ve got to read this”. All social marketing, behaviour influencing, social change making suggestions are warmly welcomed – especially if they’re your own. The ones that make the list can join my favourites here.

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