Stand up for their rights
A new book, Consumer Kids, raises issues about the commercialisation of children that need to be addressed
Pour yourself a strong drink. Wait for that magnanimous glow – then you'll be ready to take on Consumer Kids. This isn't a book written for us, but it is a book that's important for us – and it's sure to make your hackles rise.
It's a campaigning book written by Ed Mayo, the fair-trade pioneer and social commentator, and Agnes Nairn, a highly respected academic who is currently advising the Department for Children, Schools and Families on the impact of the commercial world on children. It's been acclaimed by academics such as Lord Layard, who recently published The Good Childhood Inquiry, and is gunning for a complete ban of advertising to children under 12.
So yes, Consumer Kids certainly raises issues that we should be addressing. In a world where the focus is on trust and ethics, it is all the more important that the marketing community responds to the debate about the 'over-commercialisation' of children in a way that genuinely puts children's interests at the heart of its thinking.
The authors have chosen a number of case studies as examples of 'how big business is grooming our children for profit'. Fast forward through ramblings that are written to sensationalise standard marketing practice, and beware of the tone that assumes that anyone who markets to children is an evil 'child catcher' who should be locked up behind bar codes. But don't give up before registering the substance that warrants genuine attention.
The most pertinent examples refer to the internet – territory where the ground rules are in a state of flux. For instance, it does seem right to sound warning bells about viral marketing, but how is it different from Pokemon cards whizzing around a playground? How should we protect children's privacy online, and where should we draw limits when it comes to the personalised targeting of advertising?
These are very real issues that need to be addressed, and all credit to the authors for raising them. It is just a shame that they didn't point to some of the positive examples that have emerged over the last few years: for instance, the many CSR initiatives recently documented by the AA that demonstrate how brands can genuinely be harnessed as a force for good.
Like all good campaigns the book ends with visions for the future. One theme describes how children should be freed from the tyranny of big companies by becoming entrepreneurs themselves. I'm afraid this left me baffled. How will these young business people win business?
Nonetheless, the final chapter strikes a loud chord. It outlines a 'Children's Marketing Manifesto'. With plenty of good principles – even if you don't agree with them all. And that's where our challenge begins – as guardians of children's brands who will have to translate the new principles of today into the best practice of tomorrow.
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, May 2009
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2009