Sun, Jul 11, 2004 - Page 18 News List

How to bait Chinese children through advertising

`Advertising to Children in China' is an academic work that provides some uncritical guidelines to stirring material desire in China's youth

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

The history of attitudes toward children in the West has undergone some strange changes. Or, to be more exact, it underwent one big change, and is now in the process of drifting back to where it was before.

For centuries children were considered simply as small adults. They frequently worked as soon as they were able to do anything useful, and -- something that perhaps surprises us most these days -- the age of sexual consent was 12. This, at least, was the case for long centuries in the UK. People just looked at the young, saw that nature brought on puberty at about that time, and effectively said "So that's how nature has arranged things," and set their laws accordingly. When Juliet marries Romeo in Shakespeare's play she is 14.

The big change occurred some time in the late 18th or early 19th centuries. People began to see childhood as a special, even magical time. The Romantic poets exalted childhood as a time of peculiar grace, certainly in England, and for William Wordsworth, for instance, the child was a species of visionary.

This new attitude eventually caught on as the received wisdom, and as a result there were calls for the banning of child labor in factories, and the raising of the age of consent. In the UK this was raised from 12 to 13 in 1883, and from 13 to 16 two years later (against grumbling protests from the parliamentary upper chamber, the House of Lords).

When commercial television first made its mass appearance in the 1950s it was still felt by many in the West that advertising aimed at children was wrong. It wasn't so much that children didn't yet have the discernment to judge such things rationally -- many adults, after all, never gained that ability. It was more a lingering feeling that childhood was an idyllic time that oughtn't be intruded upon. Advertising, in other words, was seen in that context as a kind of pollution.

Publication Notes:

Advertising to Children in China

By Kara Chan and James U Mcneal

206 pages

Chinese University Press, Hong Kong

Yet here we have a new book published by two China-focused academics that treats the phenomenon in what is almost a matter-of-fact way. It isn't only that they take TV advertising aimed at kids in China, as elsewhere, for granted. An endorsement printed on the back cover even goes so far as to state that the book "will prove useful to international business students and advertising practitioners."

The book continues by establishing different sub-groups based on age among children, looking at statistics about what they watch and how much and in what ways they're influenced. The authors then proceed to compare these things with the way they are in the US and Europe, and then looks at issues such as state controls on advertising to kids in the different places.

One of the main points it has to make is that the child occupies a rather special position in the family in China. The reason for this, of course, is the one-child policy, first set in place in 1979. This one child, the authors argue, quickly grows to have far more power over family decisions, including decisions on what to buy, than its equivalent elsewhere. Does it answer to the classic definition of "spoiled brat," they ask. In many cases the answer in China has to be "Yes."

But the authors aren't apparently unduly worried about this. If you're only allowed to have the one child, then it's hardly surprising that four adoring grandparents and two adoring parents are going to constitute a powerful pressure-group in the domestic domain. Besides, consumer protection, is a relatively recent development in the West, and a highly sophisticated form of human right in China, considering all the other human rights, acknowledged or denied, it has to compete with.

This story has been viewed 4849 times.

Comments will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned.

TOP top