Advertising ethics: children

A great illustration of our struggle with what is right, wrong, and gray in advertising to children.  Keep the discussion going!  Tom Betts.

Many complex arguments surround the issue of marketing to children. They are linked in with the world in which we live and the world in which we wished we live where advertising is just one way in which we discover new ways in which to be productive or pass the time. In the world in which we live, these ways often come about in ways in which advertisers wish they had control. Instead we are often left chasing the moment, trying to bend it to our will. And in this world, more complex than we can ever imagine or control how are we supposed to find the right line to take when parents are terrified to send their children out without a mobile phone? Should the manufacturers not produce phones that are attractive to children? Would that make us better people? Would it save our children from the clutches of the Pied Piper? If only the world were that simple. If only it could be reduced to such things and then solved by a quick chat with Trevor McDonald or David Dimbleby. Of course it can’t. And so it will continue, rightly so, to be an area that undergoes regular and detailed scrutiny. Maybe it is inevitable that advertising often finds itself at the sharp end of the commentator’s disapproval. Calls for bans on advertising, on video games, on Marilyn Manson’s music surround every anti-social act to be caught by the global news media. It becomes so automatic, so knee-jerk that it is easy to dismiss it in a similarly knee-jerk and automatic manner. Many of us, however, think about the arguments each time a new piece of business comes our way. And often the answers come in the way in which much of the advertising industry conducts itself – by talking and listening to the public. After all, what kind of advertisers would we be if we ignored the public mood? Where’s the strategy in that?. No, talking to the consumer is something we do on a daily basis – something report writers might also look into doing. Without it we would soon find ourselves existing within the sort of bubble some people might wish our children to live in. It’s this conversation which reminds us that we are no longer in the world of the 1960’s where the Don Drapers could dazzle us with the promise of great new things simply because they were new things. This conversation with the public reminds us that each new piece of work we produce is put into context by a million different minds, each of which consume information (and advertising falls under that category) in a different way. We can create excitement, anticipation even, but to assume the power to steer society towards a dumbed-down mockery of itself – well, isn’t that what we have television for?

Reposted from: Head Blog, December 18th, 2009.


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