The Ethics of Children's Advertising – Are "Trix" at Work?
Silly Rabbit, “Trix” Are for Kids
You know you remember it. And you probably pestered your parents for it.
But some “Trix” are reserved for the business world.
It seems that through the years, popular kids characters have had leading roles in television advertisements geared towards young Canadians, spotlighting quite often, unhealthy foods. Have you ever stopped to think “is this ethical?” or “is it just doing business”?
About seven years ago, 20 top food manufacturers joined a voluntary program designed to ease off the promoting of unhealthy eating to our kids, considered to be one key factor in Canada’s increasing obesity problem.
Some advertisers have stepped up and are decreasing the seeming bombardment of mouth watering broadcasting. However, some say there also seems to be more commercials targeted towards children and teenagers on youth TV than ever before (my own son is pestering me to purchase a new flavour or Doritos [Roulette] that could potentially “poof” me into a random animal if I happen to eat the spicy one” – as if). These strange characters are powerful pitchmen to an 11-year old. (And yes, I actually wouldn’t mind trying this new flavour)
Key Word – Pester!
It’s the ability children have to “pester” parents to purchase food or other items they might not otherwise buy. Parents give in out of sheer frustration to the incessant nagging – it’s either buy the cookies, or continue to be the target of pain and anguish until you give in (no judgment here it’s happened to the best of us)
The Canadian Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (Children’s Advertising Initiative – CAI) is a voluntary initiative with leading Canadian food and beverage companies as members. In April 2007, Participants “announced their collaborative commitment to use their creativity and marketing activities to promote and support healthy dietary choices and healthy lifestyles to children under 12 years of age.”
So how’s this initiative really going? Are there really more commercials aimed at kids on the TV today? Some would argue yes, others no. Should food and beverage companies be creating and targeting commercials specifically for children at all? Is this ethical? Is this using our children as a means to secure future customers?
In Business It’s Called Bribery and It’s a Crime
Findings show that the self-regulation of Canada’s food industry has failed and many believe that it’s time for the government to ban youth-focused food commercials altogether. Should this be the case? What about similar commercials geared towards toys and other electronics, video games, etc. The “pester factor” plays here too. Children want the latest toys and gadgets.
Is it unethical to push advertising on children, who have not yet really developed a sense of right or wrong. As adults, we’ve learned how to behave in a social and business environment. We know what is right and what is wrong. Those who do participate in unethical behaviour in business do it for financial gain, promotional gain, or to deliberately hurt others. And we have means to report on that – a’hem, whistleblowing.
So think about it. Advertisers target children and youth in clever (bribing?) ways, using fun characters that kids relate to, for financial gain. Is this corrupt?
And it seems the Canadian government isn’t making it a priority to completely ban advertising targeted towards our kids. Should they put more regulations in place? Call it unethical. Call it corrupt. Call it what you want.
The battle between ethical and unethical can be a “grey area” in business. One thing that’s important for organizations to do is to be consistent in their definition of what is or is not ethical, within their own unique industries. Creating a company code of conduct policy, in writing, that is understood, read, and signed by each employee ensures consistency.
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Employ an anonymous third-party certified ethics reporting system because “they’re great”! (see what I did there?)
A place where all employees and stakeholder can raise any concerns – it takes just one tip for a potentially serious, and costly, reputational damaging activity to be brought to light and dealt with quickly and effectively before it gets out of hand.
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