How many of us remember taking a jibe at our friends who were shorter than us in school, “Kya Complan nahi pite ho?” Now in retrospect, wasn’t Complan moulding in us kids both a concern for good health as well as an unconscious inclination to bullying.
The advertisements children are exposed to play an important role in shaping their attitude and opinions. According to this survey, on an average, children between two and five years spend 32 hours a week watching TV and children between 6-11 years about 28 hours a week in front of TV. Hence, most marketers target children through televised commercials and advertisements.
Just like the messaging of the Complan commercial are other examples where a children’s brand propagate values and practices that are potentially harmful for the upcoming generation. For example, an ad titled McDonald’s Gf & Bf features a boy telling a girl: “Girlfriends bahut demanding hote hain (girlfriends are very demanding).” Does such a message not instil gender stereotypes in children? Kinder Joy advertisements also market the same chocolate to boy and girls, differently; predictably, Kinder Joy packaging for girls is in pink and blue for boys.
A large genre of advertisements affecting children is those of fast food brands such as McDonald’s, Domino’s and the like. The advertisements of such companies not only feature children but also directly appeal to them as consumers. Happy Meal ads by McDonald’s attract kids with the prospect of free goodies with food. Is it ethically right to market food that is potentially harmful to health to children? The percentage of children with obesity in the United States has more than tripled since the 1970s and the WHO attributes it to the advertising of “discretionary foods.”
Not all advertisements featuring children market children’s products though. For instance, e-commerce company Flipkart cast a child in the role of a Gorkha who stereotypically is a watchman. The watchmen are portrayed in a poor light through the series, and in one commercial, one of them is referred to as a “duffer”. While such advertising is aimed at the adult consumer, they are still watched by children and perpetuate the stereotypes on impressionable young minds.
Having said that, not all as featuring children send a negative message. The ITC Classmate brand has a series of ads that attempt to have progressive messages. A recent advertisement by ITC Classmate featured a girl giving her competitor, a boy a notebook so that he wins an essay competition. The ad clearly encourages a spirit of healthy competition among the school-going kids viewing it. Another ad by AMFI Mutual Funds, which talks about diversifying ones’ investments, features children and brilliantly familiarises the idea of savings and its importance among young kids through the concept of sharing.
Advertising can be an important tool to spread awareness and positive messaging among children. A few months back, a commercial on women’s safety produced by Rhombus Factor featuring kids imitating their parents as abusive spouses was aired during commercials that created repulsion for such practices among kids I know. Awareness is also packed with the popularisation of political policies as seen in advertisements like those of Swachh Bharat, where a child spreads a message about sanitation with the star power of Amitabh Bachchan popularising it. These advertisements aim at moulding the young population to implement ideas.
At the same time, there are many advertisements of products which promote popular ideas that may hinder free thinking. This advertisement by Nivea called ‘Yeh Maa Ka Pyaar Hai’ featuring a mother and deaf daughter idealises the giving and caring nature of a mother. Here, should we question that ads such as this plant in young minds the idea of an exaggerated idea of a mother’s giving nature? Does it cut out the view of a father with the same attributes in a child’s mind? Isn’t such an advertisement sexist and how many father-oriented advertisements does a child come across? Of course, it would be entirely wrong to say father-oriented ads do not exist. A recent advertisement by MetLife called My Dad’s Story breaks a lot of stereotypes.
With such capacity of affecting children’s mind, advertising companies and brands hiring them should follow ethics that help in the healthy and unprejudiced brain development of children.