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Does Marketing Promote Child Abuse?

Now, why should a blog from Italy be asking such a question? Well, I have a child, and like most children, he watches TV. My little son is bombarded with highly sophisticated targeted marketing. You probably know what I mean.

Here is an illustration. My child watches X cartoon, and X cartoon is then followed by adverts showing off products directly related to X cartoon. Child then passes Y shop and stops when he sees all those products on offer relating to X cartoon, or film. Yes, even the great Walt Disney appears to be abusing my child, not to mention the likes of Steven Spielberg, and even the great J K Rowling, and many others.

Oh, I’ve studied a little marketing theory, and I know about targeting those who influence purchasing decisions, and as anyone with children will know, children are influencers par excellence. This is something which has not escaped the notice of all those marketing strategists par excellence either.

A Tale

Let’s take this a little further. Only let’s assume my child is a little older now, and is a girl, around 12. A daughter, like yours, brought up on a diet of TV, which started with those oh so innocent ‘toons, and who travels to school surrounded by advertising promoting the good things in life, such as Dolce and Gabbana and Versace clothes and accessories.

My daughter pesters me and her mother endlessly about buying her some ‘nice’ clothes. However, I don’t capitulate, not this time. After all, she already has the camera phone. I say ‘no’, as is my perogative as a parent. As with many parents, I want to try to instil some values in her and send the message to my daughter that there is more to life than looking good and wearing Versace.

My little daughter hates me and her mother. At school though, our little love is surrounded by friends with parents who splash out on flash clothes. Got to keep up appearances and all that. My daughter feels marginalised and outcast, simply because she cannot have what she has been brainwashed into believing she needs.

One day, the little girl stomps off after yet another argument over Prada bags, grouching over how stupid and odious her parents are, and how ‘They don’t understand.’. Only they do, but it is she who does not ‘comprehend’.

Now, this girl is not stupid, and so she hatches a little plot to enable her to raise the money she needs to acquire the items she so desires. This plot involves popping into the toilets at school, and taking a few knickers down and topless shots of herself with her camera phone. Just like the blond ‘showgirls’ she’s seen on TV. The ones who sell calendars full of topless shots of themselves. Our little entrepreneur then sells these images for a few Euros and suddenly finds she can afford the designer labels she had been lusting after.

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Quite an appalling tale, is it not? I dearly wish it were simply something I made up. The trouble is, it isn’t. A 12 year old Italian girl who was told she could not have the latest fashion wear took lewd photos of herself, and did indeed raise enough money to buy new clothes.

The question is ‘Did she abuse herself or was she abused?’.

Catch ’em Young!

Is the above a result of subjecting youngsters to ‘targeted’ marketing? It certainly could be. My youngster has been having his mind conditioned ever since he was old enough to watch, for want of a better example, a Disney cartoon.

From the story above, it could be argued that marketing has indeed led to child abuse, and the incident above is most probably the tip of an iceberg. Actually, I wrote about a similar incident in my ‘The Things A Girl Will Do‘ post back in December 2006.

Marketing is Not Bad Per Se

While I’m wary of marketing which abuses young minds and may, in turn, lead to abuse, especially via the tactics of ‘family friendly’ companies who should know better, I’m certainly not against marketing in general.

Good, ethical, marketing can help adults find products, information, and even assistance, which they probably never would have come across if someone had not employed some marketing tactic or other.

The overall problem, as I see it, and I’ve rattled on about this before, is that mankind is great at acting, but dire when it comes to contemplating the consequences of its actions.

Profit is good, but how well can we sleep at night knowing that the way we do business may promote child abuse?

Still, what the heck. Life is short, why should I bother about the future?

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