OPINION: Marketing Society - Merchandising means more to kids than TV ads

This weekend, I'll be taking Celeste, aged four and

three-quarters, to see Santa. When he asks her what she wants, her

answer will reflect the many influences in her life.

One of these influences, TV advertising to children (and for toys in

particular), is under threat. The likes of Hillary Clinton and Gordon

Brown have called for its abolition and the Swedish government proposes

an EU-wide ban. However, this ban is misguided, as it is more likely to

damage children and the parental pockets it is trying to protect.

To ban TV toy advertising would overrate its persuasive power, since

current commercials tend to be classic examples of lowest common

denominator global advertising. They offer little inspiration or

persuasion and their only role seems to be to inform children of the

simple existence of a toy. A recent survey from Logistix Kids supports

this, reporting that seven- to 14-year-olds' favourite ads are for

Budweiser and Halifax rather than Action Man and Barbie. So if we really

are serious about protecting children, we should consider banning ads

featuring Budweiser lizards before Buckaroo.

Television and film merchandise tie-ins are the items most demanded by

children. This year, Celeste will be asking Santa for Art Attack stuff

to replace last year's requests for Tweenies. Yet no politician or

right-minded parent would dream of calling for a ban on Harry Potter or

Sesame Street. The problem for parents at Christmas is not having to buy

TV-advertised toys, but being first in the queue for Hogwarts


TV-advertised toys will always struggle against their merchandised

cousins: 30 seconds of advertising will more often or not lose out to 30

minutes of 'advertising' provided by a merchandised programme. Banning

TV advertising will merely condemn traditional toys such as Kerplunk to

an early grave.

Alternatively, a ban on TV advertising for toys will drive marketing for

them 'underground'. At least television is within a parent's sphere of

influence; marketing alternatives are far more dangerous than anything

covered in the proposed ban. After all, more than 50% of viewing by

children aged four to nine is experienced in the company of an adult. As

a parent, I would rather have marketing take place in the living room

than the playground.

If we do not want our children to watch ads, we can stop them, but we

have little control or idea what actually goes on in the playground.

Furthermore, TV advertising is not forced on our children; neither the

BBC nor the subscription Disney service have advertising.

A reduction in the provision of children's TV, or an increased charge to

receive it if ad monies are withdrawn as the consequence of a ban, would

cause more harm than good. The recent downturn in the fortunes of

Carlton and Granada has already put CITV in a precarious position. If

the ITC were to allow CITV to own the merchandising from the programmes

it broadcasts, it could be saved. Once again this shows that it is

merchandising not advertising that is persuasive in marketing to


To conclude, my children need protecting - but not from advertising.

It's those other things that politicians and governments should be

worrying about.


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