Advertising, brands, and children

Not all products are evil, but the unique psychology of young people is being exploited in the name of profit through the endless flow of advertisements and marketing

Picture this scene: it is 100,000 years ago. A child is following its mother around the area near their nomadic tribe’s current base. The mother is teaching her son what is safe to eat and what is dangerous. The mother points at a strangely shaped red berry. “Bad, never eat.” Their simple dialect happens to be very similar to modern English. The boy looks at the berry and at the expression on his mothers face and takes in what she says immediately; he has learnt something very important for future survival. They carry on walking and the mother continues to pass on vital knowledge.

What is this rather pretentious 2001: A Space Odyssey-esque introduction supposed to illustrate? That one of the main things that sets humans apart from the rest of the world’s fauna is that we are extremely intelligent. But this intelligence is not just something that we are born with, however. What is often completely overlooked that much of a child’s personality and indeed intelligence is nurtured and finalised during their development. Children are incredibly impressionable, adventurous, open to new ideas and above all they are almost infinitely malleable.

So, I think that because of these traits, advertising to young people is wrong and should be banned. It’s not that all products are evil, it’s that the unique psychology of young people is being exploited in the name of profit.

Unfortunately the practicalities of banning children’s adverts are rather difficult; namely, what constitutes as an advert specifically aimed at children? Barbie doll commercials aside, many ads don’t really have a target age range – just look at any Coca-Cola billboard. The point of those is to help cement the ubiquitous brand image “that’s for everyone!”

So although there have been some specific policy measures introduced in the UK in regards to showing commercials for certain products during children’s TV programmes, it’s unlikely that any young generation in the near future could even be theoretically free from commercials completely. But it’s definitely worthwhile to be aware at least that at the moment consumerism is being heavily promoted during childhood.

It has been said that comparing the marketing of yesteryear to the marketing of today is like comparing a bb gun to a smart bomb. Billions of dollars around the world every year are pumped into making adverts specifically aimed at children. Psychologists are employed to help create ‘perfect adverts’ and brand images that will specifically appeal to children. Their openness to suggestion and eagerness to take in new knowledge is ruthlessly exploited. If it were religious or political parties that were constantly bombarding children with media trying to persuade them to worship God or become a conservative there would be public outrage. But for some reason, we’re completely happy for corporations to do their upmost to sell their products and ingrain their brands into heads of the young. We’re happy that the preached doctrine of the corporations is that your life’s goals can be found in a catalogue.

Childhood should be about discovery, about learning, and about having fun. It would be foolish to suggest that all outside influence should be minimised, but outside influence from multinational firms is completely unnecessary, manipulative, and at its worst can be seen as brainwashing. The loss of sales from fewer ‘nag-bought’ products being bought – occurring from a theoretical ban – would be completely insignificant compared to the affected young adults who would then be able to enter the adult world largely un-manipulated.

Banning branding and advertisements in general is a pipedream, but anything that reduces exposure to marketing influence is positive. It’s more than possible for regulations to be brought in place to protect the impressionable young to a much greater level than today from the greedy reach of multinational corporations. Then they can have a joyous time picking berries all day with their mothers.

4 comments

  1. 23 Sep ’12 at 12:07 pm

    Truth Jenkins

    Reads like your a professional orator at the Lib Dem Party Conference

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  2. 23 Sep ’12 at 12:08 pm

    Truth Jenkins

    Reads like your a professional orator at a Lib Dem Party Conference. “sorry”.

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  3. I’m failing to see the point in your article. You begin with an idyllic tale of childhood innocence from 100,000 years ago and then suggest that because this was once the case that advertising to young people should be banned? And the suggestion that a ban on adverts aimed at the youth would allow them to enter adulthood uncorrupted appears quite ridiculous considering the many other corruptive forces in the world. If a parent is so concerned about the content their child is viewing surely it is then up to them to prevent them watching television which would expose them to such advertisements, perhaps suggesting a play in a berry-less garden instead?

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  4. But the vast majority of corruptive forces in the world exist in advertising, surely? That’s where most of the ‘this is how you should think/behave’ messages are found anyway. Seems like you’ve misunderstood the start surely? He’s making the point that children are incredibly open to suggestion.

    If we know advertising to children is basically manipulation and therefore wrong, why can’t it be banned? Why do we have to leave that to parents?

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