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Small people, big business

The advertising freaks to the little ones everywhere they can be reached. Who wins when the state takes up the fight against the marketing industry? In the new Marketing Act, the very youngest consumers are dedicated to a separate chapter. But the fight against the commercialization of childhood is lost, experts say.


[advertisement] In the shelter of a blank Peppes Pizza car, dad Ketil A. Homme sits with two pink-clad daughters. They breathe a little fresh air while the other family members explore the possibilities in the large shopping tent at Norway Cup. Seven-year-old Liv Hege has bought a horse cover for his mobile phone. Has a horse at home in Setesdalen. Little sister Wild on three smiles wide and holds out a purple toy mobile with the Barbie logo.

For thousands of mobile suppliers, clothing chains and food manufacturers, Liv Hege and Vilde are not just young children, they are small consumers. Their penchant for electronic puppeteers becomes a strategy in the game of directing children's advertising in the right direction. Now Norwegian children and parents are promising stricter regulations with a new one

Marketing Act.

Increasing scope

- Marshall McLuhan was right, today the kids have a global village in the children's room, says Trond Blindheim, rector of Oslo Market College.

With the term "global village", the media theorist McLuhan in 1962 described a reality in which the entire globe is connected as a small village, as a result of global mass media. 92 per cent of Norwegian children between the ages of 9 and 16 have access to the Internet at home, and the vast majority have satellite TV and mobile phones. With so-called small TV and mobile content services, interactive computer games and spinoff products, the boundaries between advertising and entertainment are blurred – and it makes it easier for commercial players to get away with increasingly aggressive marketing towards children and young people.

- There is a strong development in the market when it comes to advertising aimed at children and young people, so there is a need to legislate some rules around this, says Minister for Children and Equality Karita Bekkemellem to Ny Tid.

The draft new Marketing Act, which has now been sent out for consultation by the Ministry of Children and Equality, contains a separate new chapter on child protection. Here, among other things, it states that when market practices are aimed at, can be seen or heard by children, particular care should be taken for the children's sensitivity, lack of experience and natural credulity. Advertising should never directly encourage children to purchase.

- This is a clear tightening, Bekkemellem states, even though the changes are mainly a legalization of principles that have previously been part of the administrative practice.

Bekkemelem believes a legislative move will raise awareness of the need to protect children and young people from the growing scope of advertising.

The growing scope strikes us in a colorful corporate community as we move across Ekebergsletta. Norway Cup is a mecca for football, flirting and not least logo exposure. 12 million sponsorship money has been collected for the cup. After a walk along the stands, Ny Tid has written down over fifty different brand names, represented on banners, balloons and courses. Several of the sponsors have their own containers and trailers. Climbing walls and bouncy castles. Over a loudspeaker, a metallic voice announces that the Coop balloon is a nice meeting place if one has got lost.

Missing ban

Trond Blindheim, rector of Oslo School of Economics, is somewhat skeptical of the effects of Bekkemellem's clear sharpening.

- Children are carpet bombed with lifestyles and dreams. I do not think it is possible to get laws that stop the development of advertising, says Blindheim, despite the fact that he himself was involved in initiating the amendment of the Marketing Act.

Consumer Ombudsman Bjørn Erik Thon sees the change in the law as a positive development, but also states that there are many important things the law does not say anything about. Advertising in schools, for example.

- There must be rules here, a ban on advertising in schools would be very important, says Thon.

- The red-green government said before they were installed that they would introduce advertising bans in schools, but I do not fully trust that they will do so.

Advertising expert Trond Blindheim also agrees that a ban is needed in schools if one really wants to protect children from the advertising pressure. For more and more commercial players, the back road takes in their small consumers via free teaching materials such as pencils, school diaries and business excursions for school students. Thon mentions in particular DnB Nor's Ibsen brochure during the Ibsen anniversary, which had a competition that required login on DnB Nor's website.

- A real roar, you ask me. This should definitely be banned, says Thon.

But the advertising does not disappear from the schoolyard with the new bill. Nor does the advertisement in the children's programs on television, or in the children's computer games. Or the advertisement in the Donald magazines, or the advertisement sent to the kids' mobiles. Trond Blindheim says that Norwegian advertising has a turnover of NOK 16 billion annually, rising to NOK 30 billion, according to some. Blindheim predicts a fully commercialized school within 15-20 years.

- The cities have been taken. The media is taken. The schools are next.

A growing share of marketing to children and young people takes place integrated in computer games, television programs and experiences. On the internet, for example, games are offered where mobile-based sales are included as part of the game. In the popular online game Powerbabe, which is published by Egmont Serieforlaget, girls will dress up their virtual dolls in garments for five mobile kroner each. It also costs five kroner for what the game calls "silicone lips" and "Lolita lures".

Powerbabe is intended for teenage girls, but is directly linked from the website of the girls' magazine Julia, with a target group of 9-14 years. This despite the fact that Powerbabe has references to sex and alcohol, and in the game encourages bullying as a means of asserting oneself in the virtual schoolyard.

The new bill states, among other things, that market practices aimed at children can be considered unreasonable if it plays on social insecurity or uses aggressive means such as sex or intoxication. Ny Tid shows the Powerbabe pages of the Consumer Ombudsman, and asks if it might be relevant to crack down on this type of marketing.

- In such cases, it is difficult to determine where the line goes between advertising and editorial content, sighs Thon, and confirms that such mixed entertainment and advertising is becoming an increasingly widespread problem.

- This probably falls into the category of distasteful and unfortunate, but not illegal, he says.

We ask the Minister for Children and Equality how the forthcoming legislation can set limits when advertising and editorial content are mixed.

- In addition to its own child provisions, the bill continues provisions that the advertisement should not be hidden, Bekkemellem says.

Head of Operations Bodhild Fisknes in the Ministry of Children and Equality's consumer department has worked closely with the development of the bill. She points out that the Marketing Act is a framework law.

- Practice will determine the content of the regulations. Therefore, it is not easy to say specifically where the boundaries should go, says Fisknes.

She admits that the boundary between overt and covert marketing is difficult.

- Complicated area

In Norway, there is a ban on television advertising aimed at children. The ban is laid down in the Broadcasting Act, but can be circumvented by broadcasting programs from abroad, as TV3 does, among others, or by letting the programs advertise themselves. The same friendly characters appear at the same time on the screen and in the shops. TV mascots sell candy from the bottom shelf. Blindheim thinks this is particularly worrying when it happens on Children's TV on NRK.

- NRK is state-funded, and should have been chemically cleaned of such ulterior motives, says Blindheim. Consumer Ombudsman Thon also emphasizes the importance of advertising-free zones on television.

- Maintaining the ban on child advertising on television is important. We should go even further, and let the ban apply to cinema commercials before children's shows, videos, online commercials and so on, says Thon.

An extended ban, however, it seems that Harry Potter-weary parents can only dream of. The European Commission has proposed that children's programs that are shorter than 30 minutes should no longer be exempt from advertising. That is, almost all children's programs. The Consumer Ombudsman pointed out in this context that such a decision would expose children to significantly more advertising. The Ministry of Church and Culture has expressed its skepticism about the proposal in an EFTA statement to the European Council and the European Parliament.

- We take the pressure seriously. We will draw boundaries. This is a complicated area with strong business interests, which is precisely why we can not do anything, says Bekkemellem.

At Telenor's extensive stand on Ekebergsletta, we meet Thomas Bjermeland from Vestnes Varfjell. Wearing last year's logo-adorned football shirt, the thirteen-year-old happily surfs the free network offered by the telecom operator. Telenor's stand is the best on the plain, he believes.

Will test the limits

- You have to get it! laughs Per Anders Vold.

He works with sponsorship in Telenor, and is responsible for the stand. He points to a large poster with surf and chat rules hanging on the tent wall. Collaboration with Save the Children. Telenor does not sell anything here, he explains.

- We are careful to integrate the offers in a soft way. We will be soft present, and only increase the total experience value for those who are here, says Vold.

- Hopefully the children choose a Telenor subscription when they get a little older?

- That is not what we are thinking about here, we want to show a social responsibility, says Vold, and refers to another collaboration, with Anti-Doping Norway.

Speaking of responsibility. The Consumer Ombudsman will be responsible for administering the forthcoming law. Thon says that they have had an increase in cases during the last 3-4 years, from 3300 to 7500 cases a year.

- It sounds like you want to get busy, have you been promised more resources?

- I have not received binding agreements. But it would be natural for us to get more resources, says Thon.

Bekkemellem will not go into the Consumer Ombudsman's budget, and says that all budget issues must wait until the budget proposal is presented this autumn. New technology brings with it more channels to advertise in, and more areas for the Consumer Ombudsman to control.

- The fight against the commercialization of childhood is lost, there I agree with Blindheim, says Thon.

However, he is not pessimistic.

- It is up to us to interpret the new rules. And we will test the limits, he promises.

Back at Peppe's car, dad Ketil A. Homme thinks there is too much advertising on the plain, soft or not. They get a little run over, he thinks. A couple of football girls sail by, with their backs full of sponsors. Little Wild laughs raw, and cools the Barbie mobile phone on the ground, an activity that turns out to be so much fun that it has to be repeated fifteen times. It flutters in colorful banners. Umbro and Bama, Extra and X-Box. Young people with strong purchasing power are locked in and out of the shopping tent.

- Football comes far behind. As soon as the match is over, it's a fun fair, says Homme.

A ringtone-screaming Barbie mobile goes to the ground. Wild clay.

By Silje Bekeng (text) and Adrian Øhrn Johansen (photo)

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