May 14, 2013 by Nash Riggins
In a speech earlier this week, Labour policy review boss Jon Cruddas said that his party is set to consider backing a Swedish-style ban on adverts that target children in the run up to 2015. Very noble, but he might be wise to reconsider; after all, haven’t we already decided that such a ban is utterly pointless?
In 2011, a policy document leaked from Downing Street revealed that David Cameron’s government had already considered the same idea and tossed it – why? In Sweden, ads that target under-12s are strictly prohibited on media channels such as TV, radio, billboards, etc. The move received substantial public support, and sought to curb what UNICEF described as the “compulsive consumerism” imposed upon our kids, which is arguably harmful to society and reinforces social barriers. On the one hand, UNICEF is probably right; however, who’s to say such a ban actually has the power to counter compulsive consumerism?
According to government-backed research conducted by the charity Mother’s Union, it doesn’t. Indeed, Chief Executive Reg Bailey told Downing Street in 2011 that, not only would ‘insidious marketing’ via the internet make any such advertising ban otherwise ineffective, but that popular demand in the UK just wasn’t as high as Mr Cameron’s government might have thought. Consequently, overlooking the fact that the Mother’s Union is a private interest group – as well as the fact that a ban on the £100m industry targeting British children through advertising would put most kids’ TV channels out of business – it appears safe to say there’s very little domestic support for pursuing this kind of legislature.
Sure, children who are over-exposed to rampant consumerism will grow up with a compulsion to ‘buy, buy, buy’; however, whether they grow up in said environment or not, it’s where they’ll live all of their adult lives. Unless Westminster plans on banning all adverts geared at all ages, children can never be protected from manipulative consumerism – that’s just what capitalism has done to society, and like it or not, this social compulsion is here to stay. As a result, one could go so far as to argue that Swedish children have thus been cheated out of their chance to develop a critical sense in relation to advertising – and that by denying them exposure to such marketing ploys until they’re teens, they’ll be less able to deal with the disappointment of not possessing everything they see advertised. That’s only speculation, but it’s worth thinking about.
At the end of the day, David Cameron’s government dropped the policy because it wasn’t effective – nor popular. In fact, the only reason it was probably pursued in the first place was because, at that time, the Conservative party was desperately searching for a way to appeal more to female voters. If implemented (Tories must have assumed), an advertising ban defending housewives from the incessant nagging of children who want every toy they see on TV would give the party a healthy surge in the polls. Yet as Mr Cameron apparently discovered, most stereotypical ‘housewives’ (or househusbands) just don’t need defending, and realise that enduring the consumer-related whinging of their children is just part of everyday parenting.
Perhaps the Labour Party hasn’t come to terms with that yet; however, its leaders would do well to learn from Dave’s mistakes and drop the idea of an advertising ban for a proposal that will actually accomplish something – after all, Ed Miliband can hardly differentiate his party from the Conservatives by constructing an entire party platform using only Mr Cameron’s legislative scraps. Like it or not, we can’t cure British society’s rampant level of consumerism without flirting dangerously close to full-fledged socialism – and call me crazy, but I don’t think that idea would go down too well in The City. With any luck, Labour will figure that out before they’re able to waste a whole lot of time and money trying to suss out what the Tories already know.