Marketing to Kids

Some people hate advertising. Others love it. But one thing that tends to make even zealous defenders of advertising cranky is advertising to kids.

But it’s good to see contrarian views. So, here’s Giles Gibbons (a consultant at Good Business), writing in Ethical Corporation magazine: BrandWatch focus: marketing to children – Why brands should sell to kids

Marketing to children is an issue that’s not going anywhere. Whenever we conduct research with consumers into whether they think companies should be able to target promotional messages directly at children the overwhelming reaction is that this is something that no responsible company would do.

And commentators are no different. They also tend to react in a knee-jerk way….

Gibbons basically argues that the concerns tend to be overstated, and responsible advertisers already know how to avoid key problems. He may have a point there. Of course, part of the reason advertisers know what behaviours to avoid is that consumer activists have hammered them for their excesses.

Gibbons ends with a less-convincing point:

Not only do many products and brands have a positive impact on children, they are also often best placed to get through to them. The very influence brands have over children and their appeal can be turned to deeply positive ends.

The example he chooses is an unfortunate one:

McDonald’s happy meals have been subject to barrages of criticism in the past on the grounds that they encourage children to eat unhealthy food. Rather than remove them altogether, the company has moved to ensure they include healthier options – water and carrot sticks as opposed to soft drinks and fries. No doubt many still feel that the very existence of McDonald’s is an outrage but this would be to ignore the possibility that they might be an excellent way to introduce some healthier options to the very children that are hardest to reach.

I don’t see how marketing an unhealthy meal to kids, and then caving in to critics by marketing a less-unhealthy (but still not great) meal to kids teaches them anything positive about nutrition. That might just be one weak example. Gibbons ends with a more general point:

The potential to effect positive change holds true across all child-friendly brands. Messages on bullying, or the environment, or online safety that come from a cool brand – like Hello Kitty – can have far more impact than the strictures of parents and schools.

That’s a more promising, but still unsubstantiated, claim. Besides, it might well be that cool brands can have a positive impact. But what we should be concerned with is the net effect, not just finding an upside to an otherwise worrisome trend.

2 comments so far

  1. plasticsyntax on

    “The potential to effect positive change holds true across all child-friendly brands. Messages on bullying, or the environment, or online safety that come from a cool brand – like Hello Kitty – can have far more impact than the strictures of parents and schools.”I see that as part of the problem. In particular, marketing to young children typically includes the message that parents, teachers, and other such adult authority figures aren’t hip, don’t get it, and are just there to stop you from being cool by consuming a certain product. They undermine parental authority and now they tell us that since children respect that authority less they should take on more responsibility in shaping our children’s opinions and value systems.

  2. Chris MacDonald on

    plasticsyntax:Great point. Never thought of that. Thanks!Chris.


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