Tag Archives: media

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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