Just read Tim Lott’s article in the Guardian about how children’s parties have turned into a commercial guilt fest.

He suggests starting a Campaign for Real Childhood Celebration where

” a) birthday parties are limited to six attendees, none of which is required to bring a present and none of which will receive a party bag, b) all celebrations other than Christmas or birthdays will not require the exchange of gifts and cards, c) all parties are limited to two hours maximum, and d) all children over six must be involved in preparing for said party and clearing up after it.”

I’d join.


The Dutch research team whose work showed that advertising plays on the insecurities of the most vulnerable children has also concluded that advertising leads to materialism in 8-11 year olds.  This echoes findings from Watching, Wanting and Wellbeing but is the first time this link has been made in a longitudinal study – helping to establish a cause and effect relationship rather than just a correlation.


Following on from yesterday’s call from Leave our Kids Alone to ban advertising to primary school children, I thought I’d post something about the latest evidence on how advertising and materialism affects children’s wellbeing.

Longitudinal research from the Netherlands shows that it is children who are unhappy (for whatever reason) that become materialistic rather than materialism causing unhappiness- but that materialistic values only arise in children who are exposed to a lot of advertising.  So it’s not that advertising makes children materialistic and unhappy – it is that insecure children latch onto advertising as a way to solve their problems.

Research with adults shows clearly that those who have developed materialistic attitudes are more prone to a range of issues from life dissatisfaction to depression.  Thus it seems that the most vulnerable in society are seduced by advertising into developing materialistic values that are linked with adult unhappiness.



The Office of Fair Trading has launched an inquiry into “free” apps for kids that turn out not to be free at all because you have to make in-game purchases of jewels, snowflakes, virtual coins or even weapons to get the really good content.

Every international conference I have spoken at recently has included audience members whose children have run up bills of hundreds or even thousands of pounds on these games without them knowing.

Stories about these in-game purchases have been widely reported in the press.  See examples in Guardian, Daily Mail, Telegraph.

If you have any more examples of these get in touch with OFT

Leave Our Kids Alone?

April 11th, 2013

Leave Our Kids Alone, a campaign to ban advertising to primary school children was launched to-day with a letter to the Telegraph and a piece on the Today Programme.   John Humphrys branded this a non-starter.  But is it? To me it highlights the complex tension between conviction and evidence-based policy.

Clearly banning advertising is not a non-starter – other countries have done it.  Sweden famously banned TV advertising to under 12s in the 1990s.  OK, so a few companies went to the bother of broadcasting from Scotland (out of Swedish jurisdiction) and others are now trying to target children with new media, but for Sweden the ban was, above all, an important statement of political will.  A country that again ranks very considerably higher than the UK in the UNICEF Child Well-Being ratings wanted corporations to know that children need to be left alone from commercial pressures until they have a good understanding of how the commercial world works.  And the severity of their recent sanctions against Stardoll for aggressive advertising to young people on the internet  (www.kov.se ) shows that that political will is still alive and well.

In the UK, political will around advertising seems often to be conveniently paralysed by the rhetoric of “evidence-based” policy.   The advertising of High Salt Sugar and Fat foods in and around children’s programmes was finally banned in 2006 when it was decided that there was “enough evidence”  to constitute this.  However, this ban was not extended to the internet – partly because TV and internet are regulated by different codes (which of course makes little sense in to-day’s cross platform media environment).   In order for the ban on HSSF advertising to children to be extended from TV to the internet the ASA is insisting on a completely new evidence base – something they are well aware may take 20 years to establish.  That gives corporations ample opportunity to target children on the internet while we wait.  And with a tripling in mobile advertising announced yesterday we can assume that companies will be allowed to target children’s phones for as long as it takes for academics to gather the (mainly tax payers’) funds and resources to establish yet another media-specific evidence base.

And here we can see how “evidence-based” is not quite as transparent or simple a term as we might be led to believe, because when it comes to advertising to children, politicians and regulators have a choice of how to act before the evidence is firm.  Do they take the precautionary approach and assume that if HSSF products are banned on TV they should be banned everywhere else until there is hard evidence that the advertising on the internet or mobile phones or iPads is somehow more benign? Or do they begin with the assumption that advertising on all new media is automatically beneficial to children?  They have chosen the latter.  Interestingly this is certainly not a choice that is “evidence-based” because when DCFS/DCMS commissioned a review in 2009 it found precisely no empirical causal evidence that proves that advertising benefits children.

Which – somehow inevitably this week – leads us to Margaret Thatcher.   Whilst many of her policies were misguided, they were, as Jonathan Kent pointed out this morning, based on conviction and beliefs about what is important.  So what is fundamentally more important?  Allowing children to develop their understanding and awareness of the commercial world at a pace which parents dictate or the profits of the companies marketing to them?