Marketing and the Fight for Our Children

Many of you may have seen this article printed on Chris’s personal web site. We liked it and thought it relevant to recent posts, and so we’re reprinting it here. Please free to add your comments.

I’d like to share with you three things that show how corporate marketing is targeting our young people in a way that is extremely damaging. The third of these makes me furious.

First there is this video for Avicii’s excellent song Wake Me Up. In it, a beautiful woman and her younger but equally beautiful sister (I assume) live in a town full of ugly people. The beautiful people are scared by the ugly people who stare meanly at them. “Why don’t they like us?” says the little girl.

“Because they aren’t beautiful and cool like we are” say the woman. No she doesn’t. Of course she doesn’t. Because marketing tries not to make statements. Marketing implies.

Luckily, the two beautiful ladies discover that all the beautiful and cool people are at an Avicii concert in the next town. They move there, and are happy. The ugly people, meanwhile, continue to stare and glare, resigned to their terrible fate of being uncool.

Incidentally, Avicii has his own range of clothing for sale. The video has had over 240m YouTube views.

Now, look at this amazing video which shows how pictures of beautiful people are really made. This is what goes on all day every day. These are the images that are targeted at us, and at our children. And especially at teenage girls. (Thanks to Pete Matthew for bringing this to my attention)

And finally, my 13 year old daughter bought a new school bag on Amazon. As anyone who has bought anything from Amazon will know, when you make a purchase they fire at you a host of other products that you might be interested in. Now, I don’t know how these things work, presumably there are algorithms which link one product with another. But I’m also guessing that you can pay Amazon for your product to feature more heavily than if it relied on algorithms alone.

So what did Amazon suggest my 13 year old daughter might be interested in? A selection of four different slimming and workout DVDs.

These three insights into marketing are not unconnected. Marketing sells aspiration. And sometimes that aspiration needs a little encouragement. We all aspire to be more beautiful, don’t we? To be slimmer. To be cooler. To be with the hip crowd.

It’s easy for a 46 year old man to reject these suggestions, but less so for a 13 year old girl who is trying to find her place in the world. Which is why they target her, not me.

Incidentally, my daughter thinks I am being stupid. She just likes the song, and doesn’t think anyone is deliberately trying to sell her clothes, or that the video has a message. As I say, marketing implies, it doesn’t make statements.

I want to end this blog with a ‘what can be done’ type message, but I don’t know. This is too big. It’s become part of our culture. I guess we can just try and recognise when this message is being shoved at us and reject it. Talk to our teenagers. Help them understand how they are being targeted. Fight back with knowledge.


11 thoughts on “Marketing and the Fight for Our Children

  • Pour yourself a drink, sit back , close your eyes and listen to your grandparents talking to your parents and then to your parents talking to or about you and wondering what on earth happened to the wonderful world in which they grew up.

    You can only hope that this sentiment will repeat ad infinitum as it is an indication that the world is moving forwards.


  • Agree with your sentiments Chris. I have three young boys and they are bombarded with advertising 24/7. I can’t imagine how much these big brands will be entrenched in to their minds when they are teenagers and then adults.

    I do think that’s girls are targeted more and are more vulnerable due to the constant striving for the perfect body, the perfect hair etc.

    What can we do about it? I don’t actually know. As you say, it is just too big and now part of our culture.

    I’m hoping that is what @philmelville meant with his comment. The world does change and move on Phil. Not always for the better. It is not ( I quote) “moving forward” in this area. This most certainly is not progress. It is damaging and I for one will attempt to shield my children as much as possible and talk to them about it. The alternative is to do nothing, but I can’t do that.

  • Hi again,

    I have two adult daughters and four grandchildren ranging from 28 to 12.

    Of course it is a better world for them than it ever was before.

    The challenges for parents are different but not better or worse and it is really a bit self indulgent to think todays problems are worse than those of yesteryear.

    No wars, no child labour, proper education opportunities for all – I could go on.

    The lives of plenty we all now live come complete with advertising etc. and we will not get one without the other so we must learn to deal with change not to fear it.

    What to do is to show a better way.

    • Phil

      Your comments seem to suggest that we should keep quiet when we see something wrong in the world. To ‘learn to deal with it’. I’m afraid I simply can’t go along with that.

      Marketing that plants the idea in young people’s minds that there is something wrong with them in order to then sell them the solution is wrong. Whether it used to be like that or not is irrelevant, I made no comparison with the past. Whether other things are great now or not is also irrelevant.

      Sadly I have little to fight back with other than my opinion, but at least I am able to voice it. One might say the voice of one individual multiplied many times is the only thing that has ever changed anything. I suggest we all use it rather than accepting what is wrong.

      • Hi Chris,

        I am afraid I prefer to deal with my own world and can happily say that my daughters have up to now managed to keep stuff in perspective with their children and have very strict rules regarding social media and peer pressure.

        You simply cannot expect to abrogate responsibility to others and then be surprised if the outcomes are not what you want.

        Our industry is a prime example of a blame culture as the regulator et al are deemed to be the root of all evil

        Look around you at adult response to peer pressure with possessions. We are all lemmings under the pressures of modern living as we seek to live what we think are appropriate lifestyles.

        If you want to have a different world for your family then you have to work hard at it by example as kids have to learn from somewhere !.

  • I agree that the world moves on and every set of parents is concerned for the children. After all, mine warned me about the effects of pop music.

    It’s also true that you can’t “put the genie back in the bottle” and that the influence of the internet is too widespread to be reversed. I agree with Chris though that it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to moderate the influence of online advertising.

    I can only comment as a grandparent. Observing my grandkids it seems to me that peer pressure is as much a danger as advertising, although I accept that pressure may have originated from advertising.

    I fear that as with myself all those years ago, the main influence for good must come from responsible parents. Maybe too that having grown up with the internet and online selling in a way that I never did that many children may prove to be much more savvy about advertising messages than we think.

  • And while big advertising companies are distorting the reality of what real beauty is, we have companies like Dove and intiatives like this that allow social media as a great vehicle to fight back.

    I once read (although it was in a Malcolm Gladwell book, so I think Phil Young might say it’s not worth the paper it’s written on) that the school your child goes to will have more influence (the peers at the school) than the family does. I think to believe that we are able to guide our children is right, that they’ll listen to us more than all the other input they get? – I’m not so sure. But if we can show them more material that supports our thoughts, we might have a chance.

    • I don’t have much against Gladwell, really. Lehrer can sod right off though.

  • Hi Chris,

    Great Article!

    The nature of advertising, although it’s evolved with technology, hasn’t changed that much in the past century.

    Advertisers go where the eyeballs are…..first it was newspapers, then radio, then TV and now the Web.

    However technology has allowed advertisers to target us more specifically than ever before (If I look, for example, at a gaming website the next few ads will be game based).

    The Cynic in me would suggest that Amazon had promoted the products based on the information they have and knew exactly what it was doing!

    The hopeful side of me would suggest that even smart advertising can be dumb and that the selection of products was a mistake.

    At the moment, and I hate to say this, I’m feeling way more cynical and not particularly hopeful about the intentions of Amazon!

    However you’re right to highlight this as well as draw it to the attention of Amazon….it’ll be interesting if you get a response!

    I’ve got 2 girls. Whilst Sophie is still a little young Charlotte uses the web a lot and I know she gets advertised to all the time!

    The main thing I think all us dads and mums can do is to talk to our kids about having their own mind, an independent perspective and to make sure they have the mental tools to make half decent choices.

    I’m not convinced we’re going to do much about the general trend of web advertising until the ‘eyeballs’ head in another direction….and I don’t reckon that’s going to happen anytime soon!

    However the power of the web allows us to openly disagree about the techniques firms like amazon use and get an audience for these opinions like never before.

    That’s an opportunity my parents didn’t have when I was growing up and that’s an opportunity I relish!

  • When I was your children’s age, I used to watch telly, go to the cinema and generally be exposed to advertising, particularly at football matches. What was being sold to me?
    Fags and booze.
    Has the world moved forward?

  • I have every sympathy for you Chris. I handed my 18 month old iPhone to my 12 year old daughter last August when I received a free upgrade. Her delight turned to consternation when within weeks of returning to school, she was ridiculed by her peers because it had been made ‘obsolete’ by Apple’s latest launch. Our children are bombarded by messages more frequently and often more inappropriately, than we were.

    However, I think Phil Melville is correct, our best defence is in arming our children with the appropriate perspective, just as our parents did for us.

    Its easy for us to look back and say it was better/easier in our youth, when in reality, although the means marketers use has evolved, their intent is the same – flog us stuff.

    I think this is is what Psychologists call “consistency bias.” It is when we retrospectively adjust our attitudes to the past, so that we don’t have to admit we have changed, where as the world is in fact, much the same.


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