WFA opinion: why advertisers must support media literacy


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There will always be brands and products of intrinsic appeal, interest and value to kids. And so there should be. Imagine how colourless childhood would be without them?

We may not always agree how these products are marketed. We've seen how food marketers have voluntarily limited the marketing of certain foods to children, for instance. But I think we all agree that if a product is safe and legal, then it has every right to exist and form a part of- to a lesser or greater degree, according to what parents decide- a child's life.

We all know how the media world is changing. New technologies and media fragmentation mean children are interacting with media in a way which is totally alien to kids just a generation ago. Children are exposed to lots of different brand communications on an increasingly large number of channels for products designed for them- but also for adults.

The individualistic, capitalist models that almost all societies have chosen make it almost impossible for us to segregate adults from children; a point that was made compellingly in an article recently published in the Guardian.

In today's fast-changing, media-filled world, it is not practical - even desirable - to wrap children in cotton wool and pretend that the commercial world doesn't exist. When more traffic poured onto our roads, we didn't ban cars. We taught kids how to cross the road.

Many forward-thinking companies understand that it is “enlightened self-interest” to fund media literacy to children. They understand that it helps legitimise their long-term license to develop products and communicate them in this new environment.

Media Smart was launched in 2002 in UK to help give children aged 6-11 years the skills to better understand and deconstruct advertising. It has since been rolled out to eight other European countries and between 3 and 4 million children have now been taught using the materials.

“Media Smart so obviously, so patently gets it,” says the UK independent broadcast regulator. “It understands that's the challenge of the future. It appeals to children clearly. It appeals to teachers equally clearly”

So much so that the UK Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone has recently asked Media Smart to develop a new teaching pack to help children understand how images in the media are altered and the impact these have on self-esteem as part of its Body Confidence Campaign. “I want children to recognise from an early age that their value is worth so much more than just their physical appearance. I am delighted to have worked with Media Smart to produce this important work.”

European and many other national regulators have been quick to congratulate and promote Media Smart. On October 6th, the European Commission invited the Dutch version of Media Smart, to present to its Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. It even drew praise from some of industry's most vehement critics.

Companies- and the broader marketing industry- would do well to support Media Smart. The ad industry suffers a fair degree of criticism and regulatory scrutiny. It's not every day that we are perceived to be so in tune with government policy objectives.

It shows that industry expertise doesn't just go into selling product. It gives a human side to an industry too easily depicted as a faceless, profit-obsessed juggernaut. Most importantly, it demonstrates that we're listening to the concerns of parents and regulators.

For a full presentation of Media Smart, click here or contact Will Gilroy for further details

Responsible Advertising and Children Programme

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