Limits Of Persuasion

As children are exposed to various forms of media increasingly, experiencing subtle forms of persuasion, the debate over the ethics of advertising assumes greater significance. And that is the reason why there are codes of advertising in countries sensitive to the impact of messages that young children have no way of decoding, owing to their specific developmental stage.

The self-regulatory, British code of advertising and sales promotion, created by the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) offers helpful pointers in this direction. ASA is an independent body regulating the advertising industry in Britain.

Limits Of Persuasion

Limits Of Persuasion [Illustration by Shinod AP]

And when dealing with advertisements aimed at children, the ASA is guided by the principle that “Advertisements should contain nothing which is likely to result in physical, mental or moral harm to children or to exploit their sense of loyalty or lack of experience.”

What the advertiser needs to keep in mind

Today’s consumers receive hundreds of advertising messages every day. Adults can view these messages with a skeptical eye but children are more vulnerable. The ASA codes contain special rules for advertisers who target this group:

  • Pester power – the advertisements should not encourage children to make a nuisance of themselves to parents or other adults. For instance, in an advertisement for a particular brand of soap, the child says he won’t bathe until he gets that particular brand of soap.
  • Easy to understand – the price of the product featured should be clearly stated by the advertisers and should not exaggerate its appeal or performance. Like a toy should not be shown to be larger than it already is.
  • The advertisement should not make children feel inferior or unpopular for not buying a particular product.
  • Advertisements should not encourage children to eat at bedtime or replace meals with snacks or sweets. Like advertisements for instant noodles, which propagates the message that you can eat these noodles anytime you feel hungry – be it breakfast, lunch or dinner.
  • Children should not be encouraged to copy any practice that might be unsafe for the child such as an advertisement for an instant energiser depicting a superhero flying in the air and rescuing people from difficult situations.
  • Children should not be shown unattended, or shown playing in streets unless they are old enough to take care of themselves.
  • Children should not be shown using dangerous substances such as medicines or equipments such as electrical appliances without adult supervision.

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