Regulating advertising targeted at children! Sweden Versus Nigeria – unbelievable gap

Several countries across the world put in place various steps towards ensuring a socially responsible advertising targeted at children. Regulations of advertising targeted at children is very essential because they ensure that the society which enjoys an ethically acceptable advertising with respect to children and their upbringing and safety. This will also be beneficial to all the stakeholders including the international community.

Advertising is essential to the life of children. It has both beneficial and harmful effects on children and the society in general. As a beneficial tool advertising informs, educates, and offers social benefits. Advertising also plays positive roles in the socialization process for children. It also has downsides which revolve around deception of the audience through unethical advertising of protections, especially those that falsely claim they can achieve certain goals in the life of the consumers, among others.

There are different rules guiding advertising through the mass media in different countries. When it has to do with the broadcast media, some countries are very careful with what is aired as advertising targeted at kids. For instance, in Sweden, there is a total ban on some kinds of advertising on television targeted at children. This ban basically has to do with timing of such advertisements.

In 1991, Sweden passed legislation banning advertising targeted at children under 12, including all commercials promoting food or toys that are aired before, during or after children’s television programming. The reasoning behind that ban is that kids cannot tell the difference between ads and actual TV programmes, and this stance is supported by numerous pieces of research, including a 2009 study from Yale University, reports Culture Trip.

In Sweden, advertising that includes direct exhortation to children, to either purchase or to persuade their parents or other adults to buy an advertised product for them, are prohibited according to the Marketing Act. Sweden also has a total ban on television advertising aimed at children under the age of 12 and restricts direct advertising, such as text messages or emails, aimed at children under the age of 16.

Efforts to ban advertising targeted at children came in the wake of deregulation in Sweden, which saw the country go from having just two state-funded TV channels (SVT 1 and SVT 2) to a growing number of commercial channels that showed ads and had a much more aggressive stance on gaining viewership, and increasing profits. The government of Sweden, a country that never had any commercial broadcasting before the deregulation, moved quickly to protect children (and parents) from commercials that would increase consumerism, including unnecessary promotion of unhealthy food products and bad habits among kids.

The Yale study cited earlier found that children between the ages of seven and 11 who watch cartoons were unable to differentiate between the actual program and the food commercials shown in between segments – and that they ate more snacks and sugary food when watching with ads, and demanded more things they saw in ads between episodes of their favourite cartoons, compared to when they saw the cartoons with no ads.

Sweden was doing the right thing in regards to protecting kids from an overdose of advertising, and in 2001, when it held the EU presidency, Sweden even pushed for the ban to be implemented across the European Union, but that move was unsuccessfully. Though this legislation protecting children remains widely popular in Sweden, the fact is that its impact has been weakened by the advent of satellite TV channels that are broadcast from other countries, such as the UK, where no such ban exists, writes Culture Trip.

There are several studies that have raised concerns the ethical issues surrounding the advertising of unhealthy foods in particular have increased. These studies have found a direct link between obesity in children and their exposure to marketing of highly unhealthy food, particularly when favourite cartoon characters or film heroes are used to promote the ‘food’.

Studies also show an increase in parent–child conflicts and increased materialistic values among children who are exposed to advertising targeted at them while they watch TV.

Government of Sweden is interested really in protecting children from harmful advertising even while kids in much of the rest of the world actually spends time discussing their favourite ads. Children in Sweden are somewhat protected from this, giving them a better shot at not fighting with their parents over that must-have toy, and avoiding food that is really just a collection of chemicals. This is not a bad idea for other countries to consider in view of the health challenges and harmful habits certain products targeted at kids can cause to them.

In Nigeria there is no specific law that regulates advertising to children but there are subsidiary legislations that provide protection for young people. So the situation is not as serious as in Sweden where the government is totally interested in protecting children from harmful effects of advertising.  In relation to advertising to children in Nigeria, Advertising Practitioner’s Council of Nigeria (APCON) provides some form of protections for kids in this way:

Section 4.11 of the revised Nigeria Code of Advertising Practice, 3rd Edition, January 1, 2005, provides for the protection of children. Advertisements, which tend to induce children to unduly pressurize their parents, guardians, etc to purchase advertised products, are barred. Further, advertisement depicting street scenes or inducing children to copy such behaviour shall not be used to exploit the innocence of such young ones. Further, if young models are to be used in any advertisement, the consent of their parents or guardian should first be sought and obtained before using such minors (www.apcon.gov.ng).

The APCON guide further says that concerned parents could register their complaint by calling, writing, or sending electronic mails in respect of material in question (www.apcon.gov.ng). This provides opportunity for parents to contribute towards ensuring an ethical advertising practice. Despite this provision, it is obvious that the Nigerian government and regulatory bodies have a lot to learn from Sweden when it has to do with advertising to children.  Nigeria also has guides for advertisers on how to protect of children in the country while packaging their adverts targeted at kids. But Nigeria really need to wake up to this role and do more in ensuring that adverts aired in the broadcast media, especially the ones targeted at children do not have hidden contents that could be harmful to children.

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

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