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Creativity with a conscience: Advertising to young children

In this session recap from Mumbrella Asia 360, a panel discuss the thorny issue of advertising to young children

Encouraging brands to self-regulate in the way they market to children is unlikely to work in a era of rampant capitalism, a session at the Mumbrella 360 Asia conference in Singapore heard.

The only way to force change would be through “revolution”, or a backlash from fed-up consumers who have “had enough”.

In a session at Mumbrella Asia 360 last November, a panel discussed the need for responsible advertising and how brands, broadcasters and publishers can play a role in a child’s development.

But according to Landor creative director Ryan Shaw, brands too often “shy away” from the fact their actions influence the character of a child.

“Being oblivious to that is completely irresponsible,” he said. “Everything that we push to our children is going to effect their character, their world understanding. We have to stand up and take responsibility for that.”

Steve Lawler, co-founder and head of creative at children’s art publication Eyeyah!, suggested brands could be “disposable with their responsibility” when marketing to consumers where a lasting relationship is not paramount.

“They’re like ‘well, in a couple of years these kids are not going to be buying my stuff so we don’t really care about them that much,” he said.

Lawler cited English Premier League football club, Newcastle United, as one brand acting irresponsibly by having a gambling firm as their shirt sponsor and exposing the practice to young fans.

“That is one of my pet peeves,” he told delegates.

Session moderator, BBH Asia chairman Charles Wigley, admitted he perhaps felt guilty for his part driving a desire to be “cool” through materialism.

“When you think about it, it is driving a set of behaviours which may not necessarily be hugely healthy,” he said.

Shaw responded: “I share that guilt. It’s a daily struggle to make sure we are doing things the right way. But there is no dancing around the fact that people will always define status through stuff and brands are never going to change their product to deliver against that.”

Nevertheless, he said there needs to be less of a direct focus on product and more on the “emotional value” of brands, such as events and magazines where they can engage with customers rather than present a hard sell.

Asked by Wigley whether capitalism can self-regulate, Lawler said it was unlikely

“It’s got to start from a population people. It’s a backlash or a trend where people suddenly get fed-up with one kind of thinking,” he said.

Wigley himself said companies are so driven by quarterly results that in many markets they would find a way around regulation.

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