Parodies in advertising: Addressing the hippo in the room

First there were the Baby Boomers, then came Generation X and today marketers are dealing with a new demographic group called the Echo Boomers or Baby Boomlet Generation. Edu-Promo has prepared a short document on the ethics of marketing to children, answering a couple of burning questions and touching on the concept of educational marketing material and services.

Before commenting on the ethics involved in marketing to children, I think it is important to differentiate between marketing and advertising as people tend to confuse the two.

Marketing is the broad term used for selling products or services. This includes packaging the product, pricing it, placing it and promoting it. Products and services are promoted in different ways – advertising is one of them – but there is more to promotion than advertising. Promotional toys, services, websites and PR campaigns also play an important role in the marketing process.

Most debates on ethics evolve around one aspect of marketing, namely advertising. This could be due the fact that advertising is such a direct form of communication. One should, however, pay attention to the other elements marketing, as well. It is these elements which will form the foundation of marketing to children, should advertising to them be banned.


The focus always seems to be on the evils of marketing and how to prevent it. The time has come to shift the focus from ‘how can we implement this science without doing harm’ to ‘how can we implement this science to the benefit and growth of South Africa’s children’ and that is what Edu-Promo is all about.

Although Edu-Promo (occupational therapist approved marketing) embraces all aspects of ethical marketing (including material which is safe to use; implements discretion and sensitivity; acknowledges that children are not adults and that all marketing techniques are not appropriate when working with them; acknowledges that most marketing interactions require consent from the child’s parents and does not exploit the credulity, lack of experience or loyalty of children) it assists businesses to be pro-active and develop marketing material with educational value.

By working closely with the team of professional Edu-Promo occupational therapists, specialising in child development, companies not only protect children’s rights when it comes to their marketing efforts, but also produce promotional material which develops and educates. This includes all aspect of marketing namely packaging, promotional toys & products; advertising; promotional services such as crèches, play parks, clubs; websites and PR campaigns. For the first time medical experts assist marketers in their efforts rather than criticize them.

Not many mediums are as strong and as far-reaching as the mediums for marketing. Edu-Promo can channel this powerful medium to develop, educate and teach – reaching children who can’t be reached in other ways. Businesses participating in the Edu-Promo program not only get their message across without harming, but they are providing South Africa’s children with a new, much-needed source of education which is paid for by the business sector.

Specific Questions Answered

Question 1:

What important points do you need to keep in mind when marketing to children?

Answer to question 1:

Important points to remember when marketing to children:

Traditionally the youth market has been segmented into two categories – 0 – 11 and 12 – 18. Today we have much tighter segmentation and in order to communicate to a segment effectively it is essential to understand the needs and expectations of your target market. Edu-Promo’s occupational therapists have the medical background to comment on these needs. A three-year-old is not developed to the same level as a six-year-old, for example.

Marketing material should have visual appeal – kids rely on visual information.

Marketing mechanics should be interactive if possible. Children remember an interactive message longer than a static advertising experience as it requires input from their side.

Ethical – marketing material should be ethical. This means it should be safe to use; implement discretion and sensitivity; acknowledge that children are not adults and that all marketing techniques are not appropriate when working with them; acknowledge that most marketing interactions require consent from the child’s parents and should not exploit the credulity, lack of experience or loyalty of children.

Edu-Promo has established another important marketing factor: marketing material should have educational value and give something back to the child.

Question 2:

The boundaries between education, marketing and promotion are being blurred and with the inroads of permission-based marketing, the question then: are we not stealing are children’s youth?

Answer to question 2:

First of all it is very important to note that ethical marketing is not the same thing as educational marketing. Ethical marketing is a way of marketing to children without harming them (material should be safe, not communicate negative messages etc.). It is ‘not doing harm’. Educational marketing ads value to the marketing process – it is marketing which not only does not harm, but it actually benefits the child.

Are marketers stealing children’s youth?

Maybe we are attacking the wrong people. Marketing as such does not steal children’s youth from them, but the same can not be said for some of the products and services it sells. Businesses should ask themselves if the product or service they provide does not harm children in any way. Toy manufacturers, should, for example ask themselves if they are not putting a damper on children’s creativity with toys which require little interaction and no imagination

HOWEVER, marketing in itself can be harmful if it is unethical (unsafe, insensitive, promotes egative messages, exploits children etc.) and only aims to entertain and entice.

BUT with ethical, educational marketing material, businesses are giving children a free tool to help them grow and develop. Not only are they not stealing children’s youth, but they are actually fostering healthy child development. What makes this form of education and development even better is:

A lot of time, money and effort is put into marketing material (the quality of educational material stemming from it would therefore be high)
Its distribution and reach is phenomenal
It is free – it’s a form of education parents don’t have to pay for

Packaging and below the line marketing mechanics (such as websites, promotional toys etc.) would necessarily be more valuable in this regard, as it lends itself to more interaction than advertising. That is not to say, however, that advertising can not be educational. Being a strong form of direct communication it can ‘teach’ positive messages.

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