Advertisers of cleaning products and scented candles have been sent back to the drawing board after Britains’ Advertising Standards Authority recently announced a ban on ads that reinforce gender stereotypes.
The days of portraying women as though they’re experiencing orgasms at the sight of a bottle of bleach will come to an end in January 2018. Advertisers will also no longer be able to mock dads for being incompetent cavemen or have a crack at women for engaging in “unfeminine” activities such as sport and sweating.
The change in advertising standards in Britain was prompted by a series of complaints about gender stereotyping in ads, like an ad for baby milk formula Aptamil that showed girls growing up to be ballerinas and boys becoming engineers.
“Portrayals which reinforce outdated and stereotypical views on gender roles in society can play their part in driving unfair outcomes for people,” Advertising Standards Authority chief executive Guy Parker told the BBC.
Indeed, if gender stereotyping can be harmful to the wellbeing of adults, it can be a disaster for children.
According to a statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics: “Research has shown that young children – younger than eight years – are cognitively and psychologically defenceless against advertising. They do not understand the notion of intent to sell and frequently accept advertising claims at face value.”
But it’s not just gender stereotypes in ads that should concern us.
Our children are defenceless against a range of negative messages from advertising, which can be detrimental to their body image, lifestyle choices and self-esteem.
Don’t just take my word for it. Fast Company, which describes itself as the “world’s leading progressive business media brand”, let the cat out of its own bag when it shared a secret about effective advertising with its readers: “Induce fear, uncertainty and doubt.”
This advertising best-practice is so well established it’s even got its own acronym: FUD.
In a world where childhood anxiety is at a record high, eating disorders are on the rise for both boys and girls, and eight-year-old girls are being admitted to hospital suffering anorexia nervosa, I reckon our children don’t need any more FUD in their lives.
The fewer ads children see the better.
Of course there are some people such as Adrian Furnham, professor of psychology at University College, London, who see no problem at all with advertising to children.
The Guardian reported Furnham playing the universal Corporate Responsibility Dodging Card. It’s called: blaming parents.
“It is not advertising that harms children, but irresponsible parenting,” Furnham said in a pamphlet for the Social Affairs Unit, a free market think tank.
“Children are far more sophisticated consumers than popularly imagined. There is no respectable intellectual argument for the view that advertising alone creates false wants and parental conflicts,” Furnham said.
Sure, there are many factors involved in childhood eating disorders, body image problems and cultivating anxieties, but advertising is a pretty big one.
If advertising really is all about providing information rather than emotional manipulation, Coke wouldn’t spend $4 billion per year on advertising and marketing. It’s not like we are unaware of the soft drink’s existence.
And anyone who thinks children are highly sophisticated consumers of media has obviously never met a child confronted with an LOL doll, Shopkins or a Power Ranger.
That’s why we try to make our house an ad-free zone. Gossip and fashion magazines (which wrote the book on inducing body insecurity) are not allowed in our house. Even flyers that advertise beauty treatments and weight loss products get dumped in the recycling bin between the letterbox and the front door.
And, unlike when we were growing up, it’s now really easy to keep children away from TV advertising. (Thank you ABC!)
The ABC’s two ad-free children’s channels – ABC Kids and ABC Me – are an absolute godsend for parents. When people complain about our taxpayer dollars going to the ABC’s kids channels they are missing the most import point: it’s not so much about what’s on these channels, but what’s NOT on them.
FUD-free TV is an investment in the mental health of our next generation.
If you don’t like the ABC’s children’s programs, there are other ad-free TV options.
In our house, we also let our children watch programs from ad-free streaming services such as iView, Netflix or Stan. Occasionally they can watch programs on YouTube – check out Dan and Ava if your child loves nursery rhymes – but you need to be careful about closing down YouTube when the show finishes, given that literally anything is two clicks away.
Advertisements are such a novelty in our family that when my daughter saw an ad on TV at a hotel when she was 5, she thought the TV was broken.
Don’t get me wrong, I let my children watch as much TV as every other busy parent who thinks they really should be cutting back. But my girls’ exposure to the harmful messages of advertising is limited to whatever product placement producers can pack into the episode.
And that’s one less thing I have to feel guilty about.
Kasey Edwards is the author of Guilt Trip: My Quest To Leave The Baggage Behind. kaseyedwards.com