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Advertising Grist for the marketing mill South Africa

Advertising regulations and children

The marketing industry in South Africa is probably losing its battle for the right to advertise to children and teenagers. Because, the world over, right now, all sorts of pressure groups are winning regional battles to have advertising aimed at kids banned outright.

It's a safe, politically correct thing

More and more countries are banning advertising to the under 18s. It's a safe, politically correct thing to do because the average consumer really doesn't care much about the advertising industry, which in turn does very little to educate the world on just how important advertising is to the economy of a country.

Those health warnings on cigarette packets, that smokers worldwide seem to ignore completely, are now going up on liquor bottles, packets of sweets and fast food menus. More and more countries, including SA, want to ban junk food ads altogether and in many more countries no sports star, celebrity or cartoon character is allowed to endorse anything advertised to children.

Scores of pressure groups, anti-advertising activists and myriad moral custodians of our society all point with conviction at ads for portable music players, cellphones, designer jeans, fast food emporia and global running-shoe brands and blame them for turning the world's little innocents into money-grubbing, materialistic little monsters.

And, of course, there are the ubiquitous politicians - quick to spot opportunities for vote-catching - who can't wait to pass legislation limiting, restricting or banning advertising because it's has become so politically correct, it is almost expected of parliaments the world over to decry advertising in the same way that they feel on safe ground to attack poverty, corruption and debilitating diseases.

Remarkably patronising

Which is quite remarkably patronising, both from the point of view of the politicians and the pressure groups, because history and bushels of research have shown how incredibly difficult it is to get kids or even grownups to actually take any notice of an ad, let alone react to it.

Now the ad industry is being told by people who have no experience whatsoever of advertising that it is the mother of all powerful persuaders. That advertising is a cancer in our society.

For instance, what worries a lot of marketers right now about putting the blame on ads, generally, and TV advertising, in particular, is that in the 1950s, kids also drove their parents dilly, almost preferring suicide to not being able to be seen wearing the latest stovepipe trousers, blue suede shoes and flaunting the latest Elvis record.

Kids were just as materialistic in those days, the only difference being that, in the 1950s, there was no advertising for stove-pipe pants, blue suede shoes or the latest Elvis record. There was no TV and the one commercial radio station only advertised things such as soap powder and toothpaste to adults.

Pure peer pressure

Research shows time and again that it wasn't advertising that was influencing children in those days, nor is it today. The big persuader nowadays remains pure peer pressure.

And in their frenzy to pillory advertising, all those pressure groups and politicians seem ignore the fact that, today, peer pressure has far more influence on children than parents, priests, Hollywood and advertising all put together.

The cellphone industry is another example of the power of peer pressure among children. Admittedly, it is an industry that advertises heavily, but in SA this advertising has virtually all been aimed at affluent adults, ever since cellular technology took hold in this country.

However, peer pressure and social aspiration have seen cellphone ownership skyrocket in market segments where virtually no advertising takes place. Beggars at traffic lights, domestic workers, gardeners, many of whom are illiterate, all seem to have cellphones these days. And clearly, advertising is hardly to blame.

At best supportive publicity

SA's teenagers spend roughly billions a year and, if it were possible to apportion part of this directly to the influence of advertising, it is doubtful that this would amount to more than 20% of that total.

Which suggests, particularly in the case of children and teenagers, that advertising is at best supportive publicity capable of perhaps perpetuating for a while longer an existing fad or fashion but never can it be credited with creating fads or fashions among children.

But, the great anti-advertising brigade marches on defiantly and with determination to legislate advertising to children completely out of existence. Misguided a battle as it is, they're winning just about every skirmish right now.

I have been accused of defending the advertising industry. I am not. And I don't depend on advertising for a living. What I am concerned about is that so much importance is being placed on advertising as a culprit, other contributing factors are being pushed aside.

And that in 10 years' time, we will still have all the problems but no ad industry.

About Chris Moerdyk: @chrismoerdyk

Apart from being a corporate marketing analyst, advisor and media commentator, Chris Moerdyk is a former chairman of Bizcommunity. He was head of strategic planning and public affairs for BMW South Africa and spent 16 years in the creative and client service departments of ad agencies, ending up as resident director of Lindsay Smithers-FCB in KwaZulu-Natal. Email Chris on moc.liamg@ckydreom and follow him on Twitter at @chrismoerdyk.

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