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The ethics of advertising to children is naturally a hot topic. Who should be allowed to advertise, what should they be allowed to advertise, when should they be allowed to advertise and which advertising techniques should they be allowed to use? However, the ethics of sales promotions aimed at kids seems less of a debate when I think they have a potentially far more damaging effect.
My three year old son is really into Pixar’s new movie Cars. Not that he has seen it or would actually sit through a two hour film in a cinema. This makes no difference to his interest in the film and its characters.
This interest has been maintained in part by the six-sheets advertising Cars that he takes great delight in pointing out. And through the promotional packs of Shreddies.
He was pleased as punch when he got a Doc Hudson in a pack of Shreddies and when it came to buy a new pack it was clear from the packaging that another character from the film would be inside.
However, the new pack of Shreddies contained another Doc Hudson not the Luigi he had hoped for. And for a three year old this discovery was devastating. I mean really distressing.
He simply couldn’t understand why the pack would have a car inside that he already had. In other words the reality of the promotion, that repeat incentives are quite likely is inconceivable to a three year old. And of course I refuse to go and buy another ten packets of Shreddies to desperately find a different car inside – this isn’t Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Result, meltdown of reactor one.
Just as I have argued (in ‘the ethics of advertising to children’ post in the archive) that rather than ban advertising to children for particular products that inappropriate advertising techniques should be banned like celebrity endorsement, so I believe that promotional techniques need to come under the same scrutiny.
A five year old may be at a level of development to understand the way a ‘free inside’ promotion works but not an equally hungry 3 year old.
Here is my action plan:
Child facing promotions are deep down really unethical and unattractive and should be legislated against for childrens products. Children’s products should only use adult facing promotions like money off, extra free and multi-saves.
If the Sales Promotion industry is squeemish about this (though I’d like to know their rationale for strong arming me into purchasing their product on the basis of the plastic tat inside that they seduce my children into ‘needing’) then individual promotions should carry a parental advisory to suggest that they are not suitable for kids under a certain age.
And there should always be a facing of non-promotional product available so you don’t need to engage in this game at all if you don’t want to.
And if they are really that uninterested in addressing these issues properly, at an absolute minimum they should tip the promotional merchandise onto the front of pack (like they do in the Thomas magazines he also loves) so you can pass over the packs that are likely to start world war three in the average British household.


My three year old son is really into Pixar’s new movie Cars. Not that he has seen it or would actually sit through a two hour film in a cinema. This makes no difference to his interest in the film and its characters.
This interest has been maintained in part by the six-sheets advertising Cars that he takes great delight in pointing out. And through the promotional packs of Shreddies.
He was pleased as punch when he got a Doc Hudson in a pack of Shreddies and when it came to buy a new pack it was clear from the packaging that another character from the film would be inside.
However, the new pack of Shreddies contained another Doc Hudson not the Luigi he had hoped for. And for a three year old this discovery was devastating. I mean really distressing.
He simply couldn’t understand why the pack would have a car inside that he already had. In other words the reality of the promotion, that repeat incentives are quite likely is inconceivable to a three year old. And of course I refuse to go and buy another ten packets of Shreddies to desperately find a different car inside – this isn’t Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Result, meltdown of reactor one.
Just as I have argued (in ‘the ethics of advertising to children’ post in the archive) that rather than ban advertising to children for particular products that inappropriate advertising techniques should be banned like celebrity endorsement, so I believe that promotional techniques need to come under the same scrutiny.
A five year old may be at a level of development to understand the way a ‘free inside’ promotion works but not an equally hungry 3 year old.
Here is my action plan:
Child facing promotions are deep down really unethical and unattractive and should be legislated against for childrens products. Children’s products should only use adult facing promotions like money off, extra free and multi-saves.
If the Sales Promotion industry is squeemish about this (though I’d like to know their rationale for strong arming me into purchasing their product on the basis of the plastic tat inside that they seduce my children into ‘needing’) then individual promotions should carry a parental advisory to suggest that they are not suitable for kids under a certain age.
And there should always be a facing of non-promotional product available so you don’t need to engage in this game at all if you don’t want to.
And if they are really that uninterested in addressing these issues properly, at an absolute minimum they should tip the promotional merchandise onto the front of pack (like they do in the Thomas magazines he also loves) so you can pass over the packs that are likely to start world war three in the average British household.

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