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.


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