There’s lots to say about yesterday’s new law, which prevents junk food from being advertised to children. However, I’m not particularly interested in the predictable ‘nanny state’ argument, which I am sure will surface elsewhere. Nor will I touch on the technicalities, which may well prove to be quite absurd.
First, I think that those who campaigned for the law may soon find that it is a hollow victory. For example, groups such as Netmums supported the legislation in order to protect their children. They reason that if the adverts for junk-food are banned, their children will be less predisposed to buy things that are unhealthy for them. Therefore (the logic goes) the kids are saved from an exploitation of sorts.
However, the unintended consequence of the ban is that TV channels will look for other advertisers to provide them with revenue. Yesterday we heard they had found such an income stream… from car manufacturers. By advertising to children, these new advertisers believe they can build up brand loyalty and demand amongst young people, who will be more likely to buy their product when they reach an age of majority. It’s the ultimate long term marketing strategy, yet has a sinister air to it, and I doubt the Netmums’ activists will be too happy with this alternative. And since we know that car adverts are the elusive sixth element, its all the more worrying – We just don’t know what effect early exposure will have on the extra-absorbent minds of our youngsters.
Second, the idea of an advertising ban seems outdated. The initial premise – that children are captive audiences – is becoming less true as technology develops. These days, TV audiences are able to bypass advertising on their way to content. I watched an entire series of Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip on the More4 channel, without glimpsing any of the adverts: I used the fantastic Sky Plus features to fast-forward my way to the drama. I do enjoy my American TV shows, and I’ve managed to see three series of 24 and three of Lost, the first season of Prison Break and the entire West Wing canon, without troubling myself with ad-breaks. This is all because of DVD technology, only truly ubiquitous in the last few years. And when the Blu-Ray/HD-DVD format war is resolved, we’ll have even easier access to the best entertainment around, without concerning ourselves with advertisements.
Banning one particular ad genre seems slightly pointless, when the entire concept of TV ad-breaks is under threat. Concerned mothers and politicians should turn their attentions to cross-media marketing campaigns and product placement instead.