Monthly Archives: May 2012

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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