, by SYED KAZIM
Voicing the concern of large segments of masses who want the society to go on ethically healthy footings, SYED KAZIM elaborates how multinational companies like Vodafone and McDonalds exploit children in their advertisements at the cost of the latter’s health and well-being, and suggests to such companies to behave responsibly.
Media offers entertainment, culture, news, sports, and education. They play a vital role in our lives. While a number of factors influence the cultural values and lifestyles of a society, the overwhelming amount of advertising and its prevalence in mass media lead us to argue that advertising leaves an indelible imprint on our social and cultural values. Ronald Berman in his book Advertising and Social Change says: The institutions of family, religion and education have grown noticeably weaker over each of the past three generations. The world itself seems to have grown more complex. In the absence of traditional authority, advertising has become a kind of social guide. It depicts us in all the myriad situations possible to a life of free choice. It provides ideas about style, morality and behaviour.
The same is true regarding the impact of advertising on children. Advertisements through various media have much to teach but some of what these advertisements teach may not be what we want our children to learn. The fundamental reason is that they cater to all sections of society and address to varied themes. Therefore, one of the most controversial topics advertisers must deal with is the issue of advertising to children. According to an in-depth research done on the influence of advertising on children, it was found that children between the age of 2 and 11 watch an average of 21.5 hours of TV a week and may see between 22,000 and 25,000 commercials a year.And its impact on children cannot be overlooked.
The recent series of ads by Vodafone and an ad by McDonalds exhibiting a romantic angle have created waves in the advertisement industry. They feature something which people had never witnessed before in the advertisement industry with respect to India.
The Vodafone ‘Instant connections’ ad has the pug (symbolising the brand – Vodafone) deliberately snatching the girl’s scarf and leading her to the boy, so that the shy twosome gets to initiate conversation. The second ad shows ‘Uninterrupted conversations’, where the pug is stopping a worker from climbing upstairs of a building as the two children enjoy private conversations on the staircase. The third ad, ‘Hear every second’, has the pug alerting the boy about the girl riding on a cycle, on the basis of the bell which he hears from afar, so that the boy can get to watch her as she passes by his home.
After seeing the ad, Shabana Azmi twitted saying, “Vodafone AD with young girl and boy disturbs me. It encourages romantic connectedness instead of gender neutral friendship. Am I old-fashioned?”
Rajiv Rao – National Creative Director – Ogilvy India dismisses any talk of inappropriate advertising, though. He said, “Our attempt was never to create a controversy and it is about real friendships at that age.” I would like to ask him one question after reading his statement – Then why didn’t he use two boys or two girls to show the so-called “real friendship”? What one might say, but in reality this series of ads is just a wrong role model for children.
McDonalds is advertising the McAloo Tikki burger and Fries in what has become a popular and controversial advertising campaign in India and the Philippines. The Boyfriend/Girlfriend television commercial at the centre of the campaign features two young children sitting on a bench. The girl asks the boy if he would consider them boyfriend and girlfriend. He is not keen, saying that girlfriends demand too much. He changes his mind when she says that she’d be satisfied with a McAloo Tikki Burger (India) or McDonalds Fries (Philippines). The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has slammed the advertisement, saying that it trivialises relationships. And what the Indians had to say about the Indian version? Surprisingly Nothing!
Some people feel that the Vodafone ad might not go well with the orthodox families, but the question is not about orthodox families but about what kind of culture it is promoting among the children. From the company’s perspective, I ponder over the idea of companies to use children in ads. Is it to tap the emotions of the Indian public or it is to play with the emotions of the audience? Or is it to save money by employing children? Or is it really to exhibit the best way of advertising?
Children are like a clean slate; you can write thereon whatever you want. They are an innocent audience; they get heavily influenced by advertising of all kinds. They are exposed to numerous advertisements from the very early age and are most likely to accept the ideas advertising promotes. Younger children feel delighted while watching television advertisements and try to remember and recite their jingles and dialogues. These examples may include naming a popular brand let’s say from toothpaste to beer or from play fighting to striking a “sexy” pose. A child may, on seeing such an ad, feel that something is wrong with him if he doesn’t look at a girl that way yet. To see something like this may rob them of their childhood early on.
After seeing this ad children may think that they ought to behave like this with their friends of the opposite gender. These Vodafone ads also lead boys thinking that every girl wants their attention. Research has also shown that children do not perceive the selling intent of commercials, and cannot distinguish between reality and fantasy. Some parents might even rethink giving their children mobile phones for fear that it will be used for ‘romance’ talk at young ages. Children are especially vulnerable to advertising because they lack the experience and knowledge to understand and evaluate critically the purpose of persuasive advertising appeals. And we should remember that we are showing the children all this at a pre-puberty age. All affairs begin with a glance and end up with something shocking.
The revolution that advertisements have brought about in India is certainly that of reengineering the mindset. In a postmodern era, which also is a sort of ‘post-god’ era as well, advertisement agencies are redefining the laws of living for Indians. They are quick to assess that a society that has long lost its sense of direction owing much to the loss of leadership at the top, are promptly replacing the heroes of the past – the ones who now appear boring to the modern generation – with their own versions of heroism.
Advertisements are not only suggestive of an alternative life in action, they are attempting also to convert the very ethos and concept of a society which now ostensibly manifests the tendencies and attitudes that are capitalistic in tone and tenor. The advertisements today therefore are not just confining themselves to promoting the sale of a product; they are forcing a paradigm shift in the thinking patterns of the people.
Good at reading the pulse of the masses, they are replacing the good old passions with new found obsessions. Advertisements target the soft minds – those who either are ignorant of the games played on them – or the ones whose sensibilities are plain enough to be moulded to any formative construction. Marketers are using children in their commercial advertisements to push their sales. Because Indian children are allowed to watch each and every advertisement in the television, so marketers are taking advantages of it. As marketers are using children in their commercial advertisements, it influences the Indian culture as well as the Indian children to push their parents for particular products. Most of the time the impact is not so immediate or not so obvious, it occurs slowly as children see and hear advertisements over and over.
These ads are an outcome of the LPG Model which India initiated in the year 1991, the impact of which is also reflecting on Indian ads. Advertisers should show some restraint while showing such things. While the ad looks very cute and genteel when we look at it, we must try and view it from the eyes of an 8-14 year old, as to how they perceive these ads.
Advertisers need to have a special responsibility to protect children from their own susceptibilities. They should not stimulate unreasonable expectations of product or performance directly or indirectly by advertising. They must communicate accurately and truthfully knowing that children may learn practices from advertising that can affect their health or well-being.
Moreover, they should bank on the positive aspects of life such as friendship, honesty, kindness, respect, etc. True ethics is not only being ethical while selling but also being socially and morally responsible while advertising.