Posted by The TV Team,
Sep 16, 2011
On Saturday, I had the pleasure of frequenting one of the most popular restaurants around the world - Mc Donalds.
I admit that it was a moment of weakness which caught me in a busy shopping centre, but I buckled. While I was tucking into my Mc Chicken sandwich meal, a family sat down next to me who I spent some time watching while scoffing away. Two little girls, both around 9, sat side by side but had totally different opinions to what they ate. One, admittedly slightly more rotund, was happily inhaling her Happy Meal, not a worry in the world. The other (possibly her sister) sat by her side watching her eat with her lip curled in a disapproving sneer and didn’t have a bite to eat but instead pulled out her compact mirror and reapplied a layer of Barbie-pink lipstick, to accompany a face already covered in a layer of makeup complete with false eyelashes. Honestly, she could not have been more than 9-10years old – what has influenced these kids?
Let’s take the first, in my opinion, happier child. I have to admit that it was bad of me to criticise (being in the process of eating a Maccie D’s myself…) but I started to judge her parents for bringing her to this fast-food outlet. But at the end of the day…it’s not just the parents who have influence over what she wants to eat. I started to think about how else she may have been subjected to Mc Donalds - perhaps the family had seen a poster outside, or had seen an advert on the TV before they left the house? How easy is it for parents to put their foot down when their young beloved have seen a tasty-looking advert and wanted it NOW?
In recent years, concerns about the nation’s ever-expanding waistline have prompted some important investigations into society’s habits, further provoking government and health professionals to attempt to identify and tackle the root causes. One factor that has had a sizeable chunk of the blame directed at it is advertising. An increase in food and drink brands has led to an inevitable increase in targeted advertising, hoping to catch the eyes of the innocent and potentially vulnerable, those who “see and want”.
A few years ago, critics began to argue that ads for ‘unhealthy’ food were a contributory factor to childhood obesity and subsequently called for restrictions or even outright bans of advertising for less healthy products. The ASA took these protests on board and in 2007 responded by introducing stricter advertising rules around food and soft drinks. On TV, this has meant that products classed as high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) can no longer appear in or around children’s programmes or be targeted at them. In an effort to get around this rule, many brands have taken to advertising the ‘experience’ of a product, rather than the product itself. For example, you won’t catch a Mc Donalds Cheeseburger advert during The Simpsons, but you may well see a Maccie D’s ad promoting ‘Fun & Games with Giant Happy Meals’, thus skirting around the HFSS-ban whilst still advertising the brand itself.
As most of us all know, this isn’t the only rule which the ASA has enforced on advertising. There is the obvious no ‘false claims’ rule, restrictions on times which certain brands can advertise, rules that ban the promotion of any brand contributing towards an unhealthy lifestyle (e.g. linking alcohol with irresponsible behaviour), and most recently the ASA’s rulings about the use of airbrushing.
This brings me on to the second, more self-image-conscious, little girl. Gorgeous as she was, I was certainly a bit shocked at such a full face of make up on such a young one. Again, I began to think that it surely couldn’t only be her parent’s influence that prompted her to want to wear so much make up. At nine, I was playing “Castles and dungeons” in the garden, making Mudpies with my younger sister…not perfecting the art of applying false eyelashes – something that I still struggle with today.
In today’s very stylish society, everyone wants to be top of their game; the most gorgeous; the most glamorous; the most fashionable in comparison to their friends. If you’re not top of the trends, you’re forgotten about. Unsurprisingly, this is reflected in the advertising surrounding fashion and beauty brands, promoting that “be as hot as this model in our brand new sheer sleeve sequin t-shirt” idea or the “get flawless skin instantly by using this creamy foundation” image.
Already questioned by thousands of critics, parents and consumers in general, we have all begun to ask…….. ”Really???” But we will not be fooled any longer – rules have changed.
Britain’s best loved Geordie icon Cheryl Cole was thrown into the spotlight when it was revealed that she’d had £1,000 worth of hair extensions attached when her L’Oreal Elvive Full Restore shampoo advert was filmed. Though the advert certainly noted that Cheryl’s hair was “styled with some natural extensions”, this tiny message was flashed for a few seconds during the 30 second TV ad and stood only 2mm high in the press ads. 13 complaints about these adverts prompted the ASA to change the rules regarding airbrushing and digitally enhancing in adverts. If these enhancements are chosen to be used, brands must be careful not to over exaggerate the performance of a product as it is technically a false claim.
I always see adverts and think ‘WOW I’d love to look like her’, but I have the adult-understanding to know that ‘she’ is probably airbrushed to perfection and it isn’t an accurate representation of how she really looks, or how a product might actually work. Children don’t have this knowledge, they merely believe what they see and they want it. Dove produced a brilliant advert highlighting the effects of makeup artists and airbrushing, bringing to light just how false a lot of models and adverts actually look. Check it out here…
My point here is that children are mouldable – they are a totally different type of consumer to adults as there are no ‘considerations’ to be made pre-purchase. They just want it. End of story. Whether as parents or advertisers, it is up to us as adults to take responsibility for the effects that advertising might have on children. When the health or self-esteem of a child may be jeopardised, this is when rules must be made and quite rightly so, I say.
Written by Emily Chapman