Ethical marketing – Why is it such a lost art?

By Indu Balakrishnan

My kids and I watch many TV shows and movies together. My daughter is a teen and fairly ‘aware’. My son. Well. He’s 8 and not ‘unaware’ in any sense. But when it is time for commercials, I make sure that they do not watch them. I either change channels or distract them from the idiot box. 

It is estimated that advertisers spend more than $12 billion per year on advertising messages aimed at the youth market. 

With no dearth of competition in the market and so much at stake, advertisers tend to go overboard when they write the script or direct the actors in the ad. I am obviously understating the problem here in a gross manner. The fact is that many brands seem to have lost the moral compass while trying to find a way to connect with their target audience. 

And I wish this ‘target audience’ stood up and not only took notice of the way they have been represented or stereotyped to be in the ad, but they would also protest and complain about it. 

For example, let’s talk about that toothpaste ad. Or a perfume ad. Or even a shampoo. What is the need to bring in romance at the end of the ad? Is that honestly the goal of every youngster today? To win the heart of their heartthrob? With shiny white teeth and a good smell? Is that all the opposite sex would want? 

These products are not even remotely related to pheromones, for crying out loud. They are basic hygiene. Soaps, shampoos, and toothpaste. What is the need to objectify anyone to sell a product? As an audience, are you OK with being put in such a superficial category? Besides, if the brand gave this reason as the USP to buy the product, isn’t that a reason to worry about whether it is really worth the purchase? 

Even if such ads should be allowed, shouldn’t they be sensitized? Why would you play such an obscene ad during a movie that is meant for children? (OK, obscene may be overstating it, but I feel somewhat justified in using these strong words). 

The youth today seem to be terribly susceptible to what they watch. It’s not just the tween and the teen but also the Vicenarian (those in their twenties) who are also vulnerable. And older, if I am not wrong. 

Policymakers need to take steps to better protect the vulnerable children from exposure to advertising because of the inherent unfairness of advertising to audiences who cannot evaluate biased sources of information found in television commercials.

The average child watches more than 40,000 television commercials per year. This is appalling on various levels as well. 

It is not just about unhealthy habits but ridiculous choices that they might end up making in their lives. Many of these ads only strengthen the sad biases that are floating around. “You need to have fair skin to get married”. “There is no room for nerds.” “Bad hair means you cannot step out of the house.” (God forbid, if that were true, I’d never see the light of day!) 

As a content writer who writes ad content for various clients, I am sure we can come up with clean and creative ways to promote a product. It does not have to involve wooing someone. Fair skin is not what makes you employable or marriage worthy. Having a cool deodorant will not attract women like moths to a flame (I did cringe when I typed this sentence). Just study well, work hard and be a good person. 

Let’s step up and put an end to this atrocity. And it begins only with us. Let our moral compass point to the north and let us promote ethical marketing. 

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