A Leading Advertiser Calls for an End to Advertising to Children

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Josh Golin

There are days when the forces that mine childhood for profit seem too formidable; when the corporate capture of our government feels like far too much to overcome; when the chorus of "it's all parents' fault" is so deafening that I have trouble hearing other voices. And then there are days like today, when something extraordinary happens that renews my faith that a commercial-free childhood is possible.

I have just read a truly remarkable, eloquent essay by the most unexpected source. Alex Bogusky is a Founding Partner of Crispin Porter + Bogusky, one of the nation's most influential and successful ad agencies. Until recently, their accounts included Burger King and the agency is responsible for, among other things, the infamous SpongeBob SquareButts commercial that was the target of a CCFC campaign. And last week, Alex Bogusky, in an essay that I cannot recommend highly enough, called for an end to advertising to kids.

Advertising to adults is not without controversy. And although I’m concerned about consuming for consumption’s sake, I am able to see the role advertising plays in moving our economy forward and the benefit to society that can be created. However, when it comes to advertising to children, it’s much more difficult to find any redeeming value created by the activity. In fact, to the contrary, it is easy to see how destructive the process is to most of us.

The solution? A call for advertisers to stop targeting children, whom Bogusky notes, "are fundamentally and developmentally unequipped to deal with advertising in the way an adult can." That's right -- not a call for advertisers to be more responsible in how they advertise to children, or to only advertise products that are "healthy," but an end to all of it.

It’s not a matter of the rightness or wrongness of the products being advertised. That is a gray area. But there are children and there are adults. And the duty of adults in society is to protect it’s children. And that is black and white.

It's a bit hard to type when I'm speechless, but here are a few other highlights: Bogusky's cogent argument that because of children's developmental vulnerabilities, advertising to children is fundamentally different than advertising to adults . . . and wrong; his assertion that children and families would be a lot better off if there was no advertising to kids; and his debunking of the myth that the sky would fall for the economy and advertisers if children were off limits.

I'm particularly impressed that Bogusky believes that a legislative ban on advertising would be the most effective way of protecting children, even if he's not sanguine about the political prospects of getting one passed. He even suggests that large advertisers like the fast food industry throw their considerable weight behind a legislative ban since, "(t)hey need the publicity that puts them on the right side of these issues and, if legislation is created, it makes a new and even playing field where there is no disadvantage created. " Bogusky also favors "adding a bit more pressure to the ethical side of the scale" for advertisers, a crucial component of CCFC's advocacy. He'd also like to see considerations of corporate social responsibility include whether or not a company advertises to children. I couldn't agree more.

I could gush some more, but I really hope you'll read Bogusky's piece in its entirety. The comments are worth reading, too. The commenters, many of whom appear to work in advertising, are incredibly open to Bogusky's ideas -- a refreshing change from the attacks and rush to blame parents that often greet blog postings that suggest limiting advertiser's access to children.

So thank you, Alex Bogusky, for the powerful reminder that another childhood is possible. I'm thrilled to know that we're on the same side. And all of us at CCFC look forward to continuing the conversation that you so courageously started.

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