Marketer, regulate thyself

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‘If it is legal to manufacture a product, it should be allowed to promote itself legally’ is a fair business practice. Yet, within such an outlook there are reasonable restrictions. Tobacco marketing, for example, has such restrictions in many countries; in India, sale of tobacco products is not permitted near a school. Such measures are taken to reduce chances of children being influenced by harmful products which are anyway aimed at adults. Tobacco companies willingly comply with many such rules as part of marketing.

In this context, I was wondering if marketers are doing enough to keep away certain marketing messages from an audience group which is easily impressionable. The Indian Premier League (IPL) is arguably one of the popular events on Indian television and a substantial chunk of the viewership is likely to be that of children. In this telecast, risqué condom ads have begun to make an appearance on prime time. Now I am neither equating condoms with harmful effects of tobacco marketing nor am I labelling them as ‘dirty’. But isn’t it fair to expect marketers to keep away certain imagery from the purview of kids? Visual imagery is a powerful thing and it is reasonable to expect parents to expose children to positive imagery as much as possible. That’s why society considers images of extreme violence or overtly sexual imagery to be inappropriate for children.

One might argue that kids today are a lot more aware than previous generations and it silly to be paranoid about such. At my daughter’s school a specialist child counsellor made a presentation on ‘adolescent sexuality and parenting’ and gave tips on how to handle questions from kids about sexuality in a straight forward manner. It is natural for kids to be curious about say, women’s sanitary products when they see an ad on TV and the usual response from parents is to change the topic or admonish the kid for asking such. But the counsellor suggested ways of answering such without lying, in a manner that is relatable to the child. She also cautioned about the ill-effects of visual imagery in popular culture and news. Pre-teens ask questions about rape – thanks to what they see and hear on the news – that is reality. There was a report recently about the horrific impact of watching porn among 16-21 year olds (please read the article) and how it shapes views about the opposite sex among men.

But can we all hide under ‘kids nowadays grow up too fast’ and not do enough to prevent the bombarding of inappropriate stimulus which they are exposed to? In my view, overt sexual imagery, objectification of women (very common in our popular culture thanks to ‘item songs’ and more) and innuendo of a condom ad is one such stimulus. What’s more, it is knowingly placed during a TV event likely to be watched by kids. Yes, it is not just advertising but popular culture which has become ‘bolder’ – if that’s the word. Many are likely to dismiss my concern as being a prude or as an over-reaction. But can we ask ourselves – would we not want our children to be exposed to age-appropriate, inspiring stimulus as much as possible?

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