Opinion: The Marketing Society Forum - Are brands going too far in their efforts to appease pressure groups?

LONDON - Asda has decided to consult influential online community Mumsnet on whether it should sell an item of children's clothing following a row over Primark's padded bikini top for seven-year-olds.


In the case of the recent Asda/Mumsnet 'premature sexualisation of children' story, Asda should be applauded for consulting on the suitability of its products with such a relevant and sizeable consumer group.

However, I really hope this was not simply a quick PR win for Asda in the wake of Primark's incredibly unsavoury 'padded bikini tops for children' product launch and is, rather, the start of a meaningful ongoing consultation.

We need to see more brands genuinely communicating with and involving their customers in their business. Let's celebrate the brand and business benefits of authentic co-creation. This is especially important in terms of business ethics and brands acting responsibly.

At a time when transparency, confidence and trust feel more crucial than ever, I welcome a more inclusive approach. Mumsnet might be a commercial organisation, but essentially it's a community of 1m 'real' parents and people whose weight of opinion has started an important conversation.


Asda's decision to give Mumsnet users a say in its new clothing range may be seen by some as appeasing pressure groups. However, it is indicative of a changing public sensibility; one no doubt triggered by the global financial meltdown, but that will continue to have profound effects for brands and consumers.

As people are giving more help to, or receiving it from, family members, it seems there's a resurgent appreciation of the family unit. Of course, savvy brands such as Asda are already starting to realise this.

We live in a world in which the consumer has more power than ever. One need only look at the damage done to Nestle by its failure to listen to and interact with its detractors to see the dangers of not taking pressure groups seriously.

The reality is that those brands and companies that will prosper in the future will be those that stay on top of changing consumer attitudes and sensibilities and keep their customers close to their hearts.


Asda's creation of the Mumsnet stamp of approval is a fabulous example of being quick to act and in touch with your audience. Instead of clearing the shelves of anything potentially inappropriate overnight, it has given Mumsnet users active involvement (and endorsement) in selecting what they will willingly buy for their kids.

It seems like a very savvy idea to me.

There is also a big difference between what Asda has done proactively to gain competitive advantage and the way other well-known brands have reacted to swathes of attack over their practices. Many stick their heads in the sand and hide behind the press team, waiting for the storm to pass.

Take Nestle, for example; according to The Guardian, it is the UK's most-boycotted brand, but will the company feel any long-term pain from it? I'll be very interested to see whether the recent exposure for Kit Kat has a lasting effect or just becomes a minor blip on an econometric model.


No brand can ever ignore its public on any issue, particularly in an era when social responsibility is so important.

This is not to say a brand can't be challenging, but the essence of good marketing is understanding your customers' beliefs, giving them what they want and knowing the latitudes that define their tolerance.

Perhaps some seven-year-olds want to wear an adult-looking bikini, and perhaps there is a weird minority among Primark's customers who, as parents, wish their children to dress in this way. Yet, I suspect the majority of its customers recoil at this and think less of Primark for stocking the item.

It is surprising that the buyer who selected this product was seemingly unaware of the public debate about the sexualisation of young children or Argos' recent similar experience.

That Asda has invited Mumsnet members as advisers is shrewd market research and PR, not appeasement.

The Marketing Society is the most influential network of senior marketers dedicated to inspiring bolder marketing leadership. www.marketing-society.org.uk.


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now


Oasis #springasmile digital campaign gets people doing good deeds
Coca-Cola: 'Don't approach bloggers with a fait accompli'
Tesco CMO Matt Atkinson: 'It is so important not to stereotype mothers'
McDonald's gives Ronald a new look ahead of global 'Fun times' social media push
In pictures: BrewDog opens first craft beer shop BottleDog for 'beer aficionados'
Facebook ad revenue leaps $1bn as it invests in targeting
Malteser or Maltesers? Mars takes Hershey trademark dispute to court
Apple Q2 profits top $10bn as iPhone sales soar
Lynx tells men not to leave love to fate
HBO captures awkwardness of watching sex scenes with parents
Primark to open first US stores with Boston chosen as flagship location
Marketing spend on the up but a reality check is needed before celebrating
Top 10 ads of the week: Jackpotjoy and BT Broadband fend off Kevin Bacon
Lidl beats Tesco to 10m Facebook fans
Center Parcs ad banned for encouraging parents to take kids out of school
Coca-Cola, Cadbury and Amazon named top brands for targeting youth market
Leaked document shows Nokia to be rebranded as Microsoft Mobile
Nike lays-off hardware staff in move that casts doubt on future of FuelBand
Greenpeace says save the bees or humans will die
What brands need to know about changes to VAT and online downloads in 2015
Jimmy Savile victims urged to claim compensation in new ad campaign
UKIP launches biggest  ad campaign and stirs up 'racist' accusations
Apple boss Tim Cook provides voiceover on ad touting firm's renewed green commitments
John Lewis walks consumers through its history to celebrate 150 years of business
Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers