How ethical are marketers while marketing to kids in India?

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Falguni Vasavada Oza, Associate Professor, Marketing, MICA

Falguni Vasavada Oza, Associate Professor, Marketing, MICA

Gone are the days when kids would talk candies and dolls playing around in the neighbourhood getting all dirty! Welcome to the age of kids liking stains because of a certain detergent brand while others sing to the tune of an energy drink which gives them the extra power. And wait a second, all of a sudden I see kids who give a new meaning to the word “competition” and “brain power”. And of course you also get to see kids dressed and talking like adults with satire in their language in the commercial break trying to educate you on the benefits of buying online!

Historically speaking, children have always been used in advertising for products which directly or indirectly target them. Children in case of categories like baby soap, confectionaries, juice are used not only because they are projected as the users but also due to the fact that the chances of people attending to commercials with sweet and chubby kids is higher in a cluttered world. But over the last decade or so, particularly in India one sees product categories like cars and creams using children to put emotional appeal in the fast lane. According to me, the real problem and this is where ethics is questioned is portraying children as mature and wise and talking all sense when they are least expected to do so! So the big question is, are we putting them into adulthood too soon in order to catch them young? The issue of moral questioning comes because frequently ads show children fighting to be a topper in class or breaking boundaries in order to become a champion at a game and such role projections do lead the real world child to believe that this is the only world one should live in! So there is no space for average performers or your parents do not feel proud if you fail to bring the trophy home which leads to a lot of stress among children at a very young age. As a gradual effect of such media exposure, children start living in a very idealistic world and somewhere they lose out on the joys of fantasy and wonder world.

The world has changed and if we take a quick account of how India and families have changed over the last decade there are revelations and insights! Shrinking of the family size, more nuclear families, one kid houses, both parents working, retail sector development, more channel genres, children entertainment, elite schools, and many such changes are giving birth to newer lifestyles which means a new way of looking at the world for the parents as well as kids. So the fact remains that the kids of the current generation are smarter, more aware, and knowledgeable and get more attention. But the problem or the issue of ethics comes when ads cross the limit. Like the milk additives brand which demands continuous efforts to be a champion. Or a fairness cream ad where kids where talking about moms and their fairness levels! Things like showcasing a car as key to happiness in the innocent eyes of a young bubbly school girl or where a boy is teased because of his height. All these things create a strong impression on the minds of children and they start believing in the idealistic scenario as being real. The problem with brands marketing to kids starts when they either use them just as attention grabbing objects or when their portrayal is not in a natural manner. Like for e.g. most of the sales promotion offers in products like toothpaste and soft drinks are directed towards kids that gives a rise to pester power and children start demanding these products for the sake of freebies. This is where the strategy gets lost somewhere and tactics like sales promotion dominate which is in most cases short lived.

However, recently quite a few companies worldwide have pledged and promised that they would not market to kids below a certain age. Therefore, at times when self discipline is not the norm one needs laws and rules in place. But the beauty of anything anywhere in the world is the art of self balance and therefore marketers who use their power to communicate with children with a sense of responsibility are always seen in a better light and society does respect such brands.

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