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