Kids 'excessively commercialised' says report

A new survey of MPs and the public says children are prey to too much marketing.
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The claim is based on a ComRes survey of 150 MPs and 1,000 British adults commissioned by Ketchum, one of the largest global PR agencies.

With the Government having tasked a 10-strong group of experts to assess the impact of the commercial world on children's wellbeing, these results were presented at a recent debate organised by Ketchum – involving an expert panel.

In front of an audience of marketing, communications and public affairs experts from leading high street retailers, food and drink manufacturers, broadcasters, market research and advertising organisations, the panellists were called on to discuss the business, reputational and policy implications surrounding the commercialisation of children and young people.

Expert commentators on the panel included, Shadow Children’s Minister, Tim Loughton MP; BBC Radio 4 Presenter, Liz Barclay; the Chief Executive of 4Children, Anne Longfield; Sue Eustace from the Advertising Association and Kids’ Industries CEO, Gary Pope.

Whilst the panel were concerned by the increasing commercialisation of children and childhood, this was seen as being driven by today’s materialistic society, and so for this reason advertising alone could not be held responsible. Although advertising is designed to create material demand.

Parents were singled out for criticism during the debate - there was agreement that in general they aren’t doing enough to educate or advise their own children in the face of such strong advertising, but it was recommended that parents receive more help to enable them to take control of the situation.

When it came to identifying the possible solutions, the panel felt strongly that everyone - consumers, parents, business and politicians - should take responsibility, and regulation should only be seen as a last resort. In fact, the widespread opinion on future regulation was that it should focus on media literacy and not restricting content.

Rod Cartwright, Managing Director of Public Affairs Ketchum London and moderator for the event said: “Hosting this debate was important because we are increasingly warned of the dangerous effects that commercial pressures have on children and young people – from teenage pregnancy and eating disorders to obesity and happy slapping. Our research and the discussion underlined how complex these issues are and suggested that an all-inclusive solution must be identified in which, business, politicians, regulators parents and children themselves all have an important role to play. The key will be finding the best way of helping everyone to work together to achieve this, as we do on a daily basis with our clients.”

The key points to emerge from the panel session were:

  • Modern consumer society is contributing the commercialisation of children
  • It is an over simplification to say that children are ‘excessively commercialised’
  • Parents should be doing more to advise and educate their children
  • Industry has a key role to play in promoting responsible business behaviour and healthy lifestyles
  • Regulation should be a last resort and should be focused around media literacy and not restricting content
  • Many businesses are already responding to public opinion, for example reducing additives in foods and introducing public health initiatives
  • Legislation, regulation, education and personal responsibility all form part of the answer – everyone is collectively responsible

Key research findings included :

83% of British adults and 94% of MPs feel that children and young people in the UK have too many commercial pressures put on them

84% of British adults and 86% of MPs believe more should be done to limit the way mobile and internet technology exposes children and young people to inappropriate material

77% of British adults and 63% of MPs believe that protecting children and young people from such pressures is primarily the responsibility of parents, rather than companies or the Government

75% of British adults believe that instead of limiting certain types of promotional activity, the focus should be on improving the media, and giving guidance to parents and children

Only 43% of MPs feel that instead of limiting certain types of promotional activity, the focus should be on improving the media, and giving guidance to parents and children – though 61% of Conservative MPs favour this approach

77% of conservative MPs believe self regulation should be given a greater chance before considering statutory regulation

57% of labour MPs are in favour of statutory regulation

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