Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 8 Issue 73 | June 12, 2009 |

  Cover Story
  Current Affairs
  Special Feature
  Writing the Wrong
  Straight Talk
  Star Diary
  Book Review
  Post Script

   SWM Home


Advertising Children

Saad Adnan Khan

Sexualisation of children in ads must be banned. Photo: Www.news.com.au.

In today's world, television commercial is merely a marketing strategy. It alludes to formation of art and more so to the selling of human norms and emotions, thus taking the 'encouraging, persuading and manipulating' factor to a whole new level. However, a new definition might also suggest that advertisements do not acknowledge 'manipulation', but 'partipulation', since the audiences ardently participate in the ads too, given the fact that the promotion is done by merging the product into the fabric of social life and range of cultural significance. This is happening more and more because consumers nowadays are more emotional than rational. So when the innocence of children is used as a tool to promote any good, rest assured that the consumers would hold an inexplicable predilection towards the ad and the product. There is nothing inexplicable about that. Children usher tranquility, love and beauty that every human being, in this case consumers, want. Thus, when the current commercials of Bangladesh wrap up the vulnerability, innocence, emotions regarding children and sell them back to the consumers, the promotion is a success. However, what the ad makers fail to notice is that they are exploiting the innocence in the most silent way, for which children speak on mobile phones and demand for a big house and posh cars in ads. On top of that, the child artists, not only are draped in garish make up, but also are used to (knowingly or unknowingly) preach wrong ideologies and stereotypical conventions that affect the psychology of under aged consumers.

Children evoke honesty and innocence, and thus radiate product satisfaction. Even though several policies in many countries pose a strict prohibition on the use of child artist for promoting adult products (soaps, cars, credit card etc), Bangladeshi television media has seem to have turned blind eye regarding any such policy. There are mainly three marketing strategies behind using children in ads:

a) The amount of money children spend themselves (mainly for those who earn pocket money)

b) The influence the children have on their parent's spending (the nag factor).

c) The money the children will spend once they grow up.

No wonder in the ad of 'Citycell', the young boy ardently uses the improvised mobile phone and enters the customer care centre to confirm that in near future he is going to buy a mobile phone of the brand. The use of the child in the ad, not only seeps in an extra emotional touch to the whole concept of being in touch with loved ones and thus affects the targeted audience emotionally, but also creates false needs among children to use mobile phones. Similarly, in an ad of 'Warid', a similar case is observed where a teenage girl is seen to possess a mobile phone with which she complains to her father for not answering her calls. At this age, teenagers feel insecure and want to feel that they belong to their peer group. Thus this ad might manipulate teenage viewers through their insecurities, seeking to define normality for them; influencing the way they view and obtain appropriate models for the adult world and undermining fundamental human values in the development of their own identities. Advertisements actively encourage them to seek happiness and esteem through consumption.

Speaking of how the children are presented, ad makers seem to have taken a vow to shock the audience by portraying child artist Dighi, the role model (?) of several kids in our country, in the most absurdly disturbing way. In the recent ad of 'Elite vc drink', she ends the ad by holding out the bottle of juice and sing-songs 'chumuke chumuke shanti' (pleasure at every sip). Now the makeup and getup in question is kept aside, because the facial expression does it all. She adds a mischievously 'sensual' touch to her tone when she ends the commercial. We of course cannot and would not blame Dighi for such an explicit voyeuristic representation of innocence, because she plays a mere pawn under the eyes of the 'creative and innovative ad making geniuses'. In an ad of 'Dano milk powder', Dighi is seen to have dyed her hair golden and coloured her lips and eyes with unnecessary make-up. This completely distorts the innocence of a child. Further more the kids exposed to this ad might start being superficial too.

If we talk about ads that preach and condone wrong ideologies, then the example of ad of 'Pran Foot Lolly' would be apt. In the ad, a young boy is harshly silenced by his mother by putting the Lolly in his mouth. She does this deliberately so that he cannot spill the beans about the mothers marital situation to the other woman the mother is talking to. In the meantime we hear the voice over saying, 'Chapa baji Chaliye Jan' (continue lying).

This ad can have devastating consequences. Children are viewed to be honest and are encouraged to be so, but in this ad the mother stops the child from being honest. Moreover, the ad of 'Konka TV', not only promotes the false need for TV among the brothers, by showing that they literally do not have any thing else to do (recreational work) other than watching TV, but also promotes selfishness through the girl's rude behaviour (when she impolitely shuts the window on the faces of the boys).

In many of the commercials it is seen that the ad makers take the advantage of the 'guilty conscience' of parent consumers. In the ad of 'Horlicks Junior' an adorable looking child constantly demands for chaowmein. The mother, being unable to provide that, tries to fulfill his demand by giving him Horlicks. Now the boy's stubborn outbursts, for his chowmein undoubtedly provide a hearty laugh, nevertheless might affect child viewers by making them more obstinate and demanding. Similarly, in the adv of 'Prime Bank Loan', a father gets hold of his son's drawings that speak of the kid's want of a house with a playing field and a car. The father's dismal expression pours out guilt and he decides to take a bank loan. So, it is quite self-explanatory that using children in commercials to feed the guilt of the parents is indeed a very unethical way to promote sell of a product.

In several cases, children are used to increase the aesthetics of the adv. However, the commercials turn out to be sheer presentation of stereotypes and conventions of the society. Thus, the children viewers subconsciously take in the stereotype that affects their psychological build up and way of thinking. In a 'Surf excel' commercial (originally an Indian ad), it is seen that a pair of sibling is walking home from school, when the younger sister, lost in her thought, tumbles in the mud. To 'avenge' for his sister's dismay, the brother jumps on the mud and starts throwing punches at it. Despite the humour of the adv, it does not fail to depict a generation old convention that portrays the male figure as the stronger and dominating one. Of course we could point out, that biologically males are stronger than females or that it is easier for our society (being a patriarchal society to an extent) to relate to the ad. The question answers our concern. The ad does nothing but reinforce the patriarchal convention a little bit more.

If media, being a powerful exposure, is not aware of such a mishap regarding the use of children in commercials, the effects (as assumed) could be devastating. Of course to not sound cynical anymore, we could definitely figure out healthy commercials that justify the presence of children. For example: in one of the latest ad of a book 'Ekattur er chithi', the presence of the child artists symbolize the preaching of the Golden history of Bangladesh liberation war of 1971 from generation to generation. It is implied that the children are the future of the country and it is significant for everyone to know about the history. The ad is not only aesthetically, but also meaningfully deep and beautiful. As laymen and a part of the general audience, we can look forward to a civilized and appropriate presentation of children (only if required) in commercials, because they are equally important and vulnerable when it comes to them being exposed to and in commercials.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2009