Is it irresponsible to play up pester power in the current economic climate? The Marketing Society Forum

Littlewoods' Christmas TV ad has caused much disquiet in some quarters, with its implication that mums should over-stretch themselves in a time of austerity to satisfy the demands of their children.

YES - Alison Brolls, Global head of marketing planning, Nokia

Regardless of the economic climate, it is irresponsible for marketers to follow a strategy that targets children, based on pester power, encouraging them to persuade their parents to buy products. Having said that, I have not seen any recent TV advertising targeting children that falls into this category.

In this country, the marketing industry is largely self-regulated, with ASA-enforced codes and standards. As far as advertising to children is concerned, the UK is strictly regulated, and this has been a very effective way of ensuring high standards of ethics and integrity in advertising. However, for it to work, there is a duty to follow the codes and standards that we have set out and agreed to abide by - for some very good business and social reasons.

No one wants to see the rise of the nanny state, but it could be the alternative, with government legislation that would not best serve the interests of advertisers, or the right of parents to be responsible for guiding their children.

Advertisers must stick to standards and codes, but, ultimately, parents must be allowed to parent.

NO - Nir Wegrzyn Managing partner, BrandOpus

In the midst of the economic crisis, it is irresponsible for the politically correct army to suggest that there is anything wrong with retailers who stock children's toys, not to mention criticising those outlets that dare to market to their end user.

Don't they want to keep the economy alive by encouraging trade, which is so important to the retail industry, even during more optimistic financial times?

Littlewoods' 'Christmas gift ideas' is set to become the most-complained-about campaign of 2011. Beyond being a particularly bad ad, it is not really selling any of the products featured. It is an ad for credit, and children are not the target audience for finance.

A quick look at the complaints posted about the campaign told another, different story. Most viewers were concerned that Littlewoods has effectively 'killed' Santa by suggesting that mum buys the Christmas presents, unnecessarily shattering a magical illusion for many children.

Of course, the irony is that Santa was the inventor of pester power.

YES - Mark Fawcett, Chief executive, National Schools Partnership

The economic downturn is forecast to carry on for several years. It is business growth that will be one of the most important factors in leading us out of it, and that growth needs advertising to help drive it.

So proposing less advertising would be an odd approach to take. Companies need to market their products, and consumers need to make decisions about how they spend their money.

However, there is a difference between advertising and pester power.

Marketers are simply not allowed to appeal to children to pester their parents, and other regulations prevent them from implying that kids will have better or worse lives as a result of having or not having a product.

A company that pushes pester power inappropriately will soon find itself in the media spotlight in a negative way, and that poor press can be particularly damaging, especially at a time when every pound is that much harder to earn. Playing up pester power is not the right approach to take, whatever the economic climate.

MAYBE - Chris Willingham, Partner and chief marketing officer, Fallon London

Although the Littlewoods ad itself may have something to answer for, I think TV is being unfairly targeted here.

This financial crisis coincides with major advances in technology, enabling pester power to be triggered in various ways - isn't the iPad every kid's favourite toy these days?

Today's youngsters have a greater sense of entitlement than previous generations. Is it possible to avoid pester power if consumerism is pervading a child's world via more touchpoints than ever before?

It's also interesting to note that the majority of complaints directed at the Littlewoods ad were more concerned with the idea that the spot ruins the myth of Father Christmas.

Why? Maybe because this tradition acts as a buffer to pestering by directing the behaviour into a more responsible 'wish' framework that encourages appreciation of reward. How long can tradition withstand the march of technology?

For more discussion, visit

The Marketing Society is the most influential network of senior marketers dedicated to inspiring bolder marketing leadership.


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