23 March 2008

Banning silly op-eds not an attack on free speech

Whenever people propose bans on junkfood advertising on kids' TV, they make it really clear they are not seeking to ban the product advertised altogether. They make it really clear that they are not against letting consumers know that a product exist, and that their real problem is the emotional manipulation of children too young to know they're being manipulated for commercial gain.

Chris Berg has no excuse for ignoring this painstaking work.
But are we that easily manipulated by brand managers and advertising firms? Does the Government have to step in to protect us, and our children, from harmful ads?

Depends who you mean by "we", really. It should be possible for children to be given appropriate entertainment without the parent having to resist demands for junk food. Anyone who doesn't realise that if kids aren't regularly reminded about something they don't need, they might forget about it, has forgotten a lot about their childhood.

They might have also forgotten that the Eye Pee Yay, which hires Chris to edit their journal, is funded by tobacco companies whose sales have declined since the ban on advertising their products. It's dishonest of Chris Berg to wade into this debate without even acknowledging that key event in the advertising/ public health issue. And let us have no protest from Chris Berg that he was writing an article, not a book: there is so much padding in his article that the issue could at least have been addressed, earning him and his views more respect than either is due.
Advertising is, at its core, just the simple delivery of information.

Why not strip it back to its core? Why allow the emotional manipulation element targeting children, who are not making mature decisions over their own money?
The anti-capitalist Naomi Klein famously took this argument one step further when she decried the psychological power of corporate brands — we are all, apparently, oppressed by tyrannical graphic designers.

This is several steps further, actually. If you haven't done the hard work with the painstakingly balanced reports coming out of government and NGOs, you have no business representing Klein's simplistic pap as representative.

Klein sees what she wants to see, and so does Chris Berg: they deserve one another. The rest of us deserve better.
This view does not just reduce us to the level of dumb automatons, passively waiting for advertising executives to beam their instructions directly into our brains, it also creates a profound dilemma for democratic politics. If we don't have free will in the shopping centre, we certainly don't have free will in the voting booth.

There is nothing profound in a Chris Berg article, and this is another example of overreaching. Berg conflates children with adults. If he believes that consumption is performed by well-informed individual - adults - with free will, why would he not extend the same view to consumers as voters (or other facets of their citizenship)?
Minors are depicted by policy-makers as unable to defend themselves against a well-planned onslaught of marketing. However, as the new book Prohibitions published by Britain's Institute of Economic Affairs shows, children as young as five form preferences about their favourite TV programs. And by the age of 11, children demonstrate a pronounced scepticism about claims made in ads.

Children as young as five form preferences but are unable to distinguish between emotional manipulation in a story and emotional manipulation in demanding their parents buy them a given product. Some but not all eleven-year-olds make the judgments Berg would ascribe to them; ramping up the quantity and targeting of ads makes formation of this judgment harder, not easier.
During the federal election campaign, anti-advertising rhetoric took a decidedly surreal turn.

Assuming it actually was against all advertising per se, Chris. At least you've tried.
... the Howard government promised to fund a new ABC channel for children completely free of junk food ads. It was a bizarre train of thought that led Liberal policy-makers to think that the best way to combat childhood obesity was to make sitting on the couch and watching TV more appealing.

Once again, Chris Berg has a firm grasp of the wrong end of the stick. The poor lamb expects you to be impressed by the firmness of his grasp. Kids will watch TV anyway, why not better quality than crap? What of the Rudd government's decision to can this channel, anything? No?
The belief that an individual's free will is crushed under the jackboot of catchy advertising jingles is, of course, nonsense. We have just as much autonomy over our personal decisions as we did before an ad break.

Bit of a straw man, then, wasn't it.
So what, then, is advertising for? It informs us that new products are available in the marketplace.

Like a dog returning to its vomit, really. The Eye Pee Yay, like the French monarchy, has learned nothing and forgotten nothing.
An ad that informs us that McDonald's now sells salad only interests those people who would probably like to buy a salad from McDonald's.

Those ads are not run during kids' TV programming. They run different ads during those times. Nice try at shirking the hard work of research, though.

If McDonald's have commissioned you to write this article Chris, you should have said so. It's a form of dishonesty to pretend you're motivated by "public affairs" generally if you're acting on behalf and behest of an interested party.
What child is going to abandon chocolates and lollies when their ads disappear off television? Kids will always like junk food. Any parents who think that a government ban will make walking up the chocolate aisle less stressful are deceiving themselves.

The frequency and severity of the demands will lessen in most cases. It's certainly worth a try.
And anybody who thinks that teenagers will refuse the next "alcopop" just because they are no longer being specifically marketed to under-25s has forgotten a lot about their youth.

The media environment of our youth and that of today's youth are different, Chris, and loosening the linkages between teenagers' lives and alcohol use is no bad thing for anyone without shares in a small number of companies.
... people are smarter than advertisements.

Well, some people. A child can be clever and yet unable to form a mature, considered judgment. Both are smarter than Chris Berg op-eds.

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