Libs, Cons, and Marketing to Kids

Victorias-Secret-Call-Me-ThongAs a mother of young girls, I was disturbed to see Victoria’s Secret’s marketing of sexualized products extend down to the teen and tween market with their new Bright Young Things campaign.  For many years now, I’ve been concerned about how marketers target kids and the negative impacts are well documented by the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood.

Children today are inundated with media and marketing that use sex to sell products. Embedded in these sexualized images are harmful messages that equate personal value with sexual appeal and turn sex into a commodity…Sexualized media and marketing can actively interfere with adolescents’ healthy sexual development and promote risky behavior. Today, even young children are internalizing sexualized images and appropriating sexualized behavior-long before they are able to understand what it means to be a sexual being.

This Jezebel article dismisses the concerns over the Bright Young Things because they were raised by a conservative writer.

Gerwing’s dog-whistling to conservative values couldn’t be more obvious. Social conservatives aren’t interested in fighting the objectification of women in advertising or the sexualization of young girls: they’re interested in the social control of women’s sexuality, plain and simple. They are not feminist allies.

The Bright Young Things campaign came to my attention via a conservative friend.  I did not dismiss these concerns because of the source.  In fact, I was really glad to see they came from a conservative.  All too often concerns about marketing to kids are pigeonholed as liberal issues and conservatives dismiss them with cries of “nanny-state” and blaming parents for not saying “no.”  This time it was different and resulted in a conservative father writing an impassioned plea to put the best interest of children ahead of a company’s bottom line.

I believe that this new line “Bright Young Things” thwarts the efforts of empowering young women in this country.  “Bright Young Things” gives off the message that women are sex objects.  This new line promotes it at a dangerously young age.

I implore you to reconsider your decision to start this line.

By doing so you will put young girl’s self-esteem, self-worth and pride above profits.

It also resulted in petitions asking for the same. Victoria’s Secret seems to have responded to these calls.

But while staunchly defending its brand, Victoria’s Secret is apparently quietly removing the worst offending items from its online store. Click through the links in articles from The Huffington Post and The Telegraph, and instead of “underwear with the word ‘Wild,’” you find a demure flowered print (on a less-than-demure garment). The “Kiss Me” beach towel is gone, and I can find no sign — online — of “Feeling Lucky?” thongs or the “Call Me” item pictured on the petition. On the Victoria’s Secret Web site, at least, “Bright Young Things” seems to be gone.

Victoria’s Secret denying that this marketing is aimed at young girls reminds me of R.J. Reynolds denying their Joe Camel ads were aimed at young children.  The Jezebel author tries to make the public outcry over Bright Young Things an issue of adults denying teenagers’ healthy sexuality instead of a company expanding their profit base.  This ignores some important information about the campaign.

Last winter, the lingerie company put teen idol Justin Bieber on the stage as models wearing the colorful Pink line cotton panties and bras strutted across the stage.

The point? To market the popular Pink line initially launched for college students to an even younger audience—teenagers.

At a conference in January Limited Brands’ Chief Financial Officer Stuart  Burgdoerfer confirmed Victoria’s Secret’s plans. “When somebody’s 15 or 16 years old, what do they want to be?” Burgdoerfer asked. “They want to be older, and they want to be cool  like the girl in college, and that’s part of the magic of what we do at  Pink.”

This marketing push for kids to grow up too fast is well documented in the 2009 book So Sexy So Soon.

Thong panties, padded bras, and risqué Halloween costumes for young girls…These products are marketed aggressively to our children; these stars are held up for our young daughters to emulate–and for our sons to see as objects of desire.

Popular culture and technology inundate our children with an onslaught of mixed messages at earlier ages than ever before. Corporations capitalize on this disturbing trend, and without the emotional sophistication to understand what they are doing and seeing, kids are getting into increasing trouble emotionally and socially; some may even to engage in precocious sexual behavior.

In addition to the sexualization of childhood, marketing to children is problematic on many levels.

Research consistently demonstrates that until the age of 8 years, most children do not possess the necessary cognitive skills to understand that advertising is not just another source of information and presents a biased point of view. Although older children and adolescents understand the intent of advertising, they do not regularly act on that knowledge nor do they attempt to counteract its influence. Resisting advertisements for the highly tempting products commonly promoted also requires the ability to weigh long-term health consequences of consumption against short-term rewards, an ability that is not fully developed persuade indirectly (eg, through logo placements, associations with popular characters and movies, and Internet games) are designed to create lifelong customers by imprinting brand meaning into the minds of young children.  Before children know better, they have learned to love the products they encounter most frequently and associate with positive experiences.

This marketing manifests itself in some children as disordered eating.

As an example: one of the most common and serious mental illness diagnoses is Binge Eating Disorder (BED) – an illness that can range from catastrophic self-starvation to morbidly dangerous obesity and affects men and women almost equally.  BED affects approximately 15 million individuals and can be thought of as the “bridge” between obesity and eating disorders. It is the illness where both an obesogenic and thin obsessed culture collide to produce an often disabling disorder requiring years of physical and mental health therapeutic interventions.

Michele Simon addresses the misguided notion that it’s completely up to parents to protect children from all the unhealthy marketing they face.

But if you still think that protecting kids is all up to parents because they are actually purchasing the Happy Meals, I asked Steve Gardner, litigation director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest and architect of the lawsuit, to respond to this argument.

His answer was simple and elegant: “Just because it’s possible for a parent to intervene doesn’t change the fact that what McDonald’s is doing is illegal.” In other words, there are often many ways that parents can act to protect their children but that doesn’t make it OK for others to break the law.

Instead of dismissing concerns over marketing to children based on whether a liberal or conservative brings up the issue, let’s unite for the well-being of all children.  Let’s work to limit marketing to children whether it’s lingerie, Happy Meals or soda and give children space from all these messages that are harming their physical, spiritual and emotional health.

One thought on “Libs, Cons, and Marketing to Kids

  1. Pingback: Coffee + Talk: Weekly Wrap-Up on Tweens, Teens & Other Things @ The Art of Connecting with Tween-to-Teens

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