When marketing is child’s play

There is a show business cliché about not working with children and animals. It’s one that could be taken to heart by the marketing community – at least when it comes to children.

There is a show business cliché about not working with children and animals. It’s one that could be taken to heart by the marketing community – at least when it comes to children. With retailers ignoring the law on baby milk products, Calvin Klein accused of pushing child pornography and educationalists raising doubts about the benefit of developing corporate sponsorship in the classroom, it has not been a good week to say that you market to kids.

The youth market is huge. If you can attract children early, the theory goes, they could be customers for life. As this realisation has grown so has the number of advertisers wanting to get into the market.

The playground has been transformed into yet another market where corporate sponsors are now estimated to spend between 160m and 320m placing their brands in classrooms. That is at least twice and possibly four times the value of the UK’s most valuable advertising account, British Airways.

The danger is not that children are becoming corrupted, because as we are so often reminded by research, they are more streetwise than ever, the danger is that schools are becoming dependent on the corporate sponsorship to provide basic education.

Calvin Klein did not attempt to scale the school walls to deliver its message. But can it be surprised that people “misunderstood” its message when it dressed it up in the imagery and language of a porn movie? Or was it a cynical attempt to exploit the young people involved and win press attention?

At the same time, questions must be asked about how Safeway has made such an elementary error as including baby milk products in its ABC loyalty card scheme. Legislation only six months old clearly outlaws such backdoor discounting but the chainstore has chosen to ignore that.

Tesco has always excluded such products from its Clubcard and Sainsbury’s, acting after the Marketing Week investigation raised the issue, ensures all its stores comply with the law. But Safeway seems determined to continue flouting the legislation.

In all three situations there is implicit exploitation.

Corporate sponsors are exploiting a lack of Government funding in education, Safeway is offering a price discount on a product that young babies do not really need and Calvin Klein pandered to pornographic predilections.

The issue of children is always an emotive one. Companies act beyond reproach if they are to ignore the warning – and work with children.

News page 9; Analysis page 22; Cover story page 34.

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