Does advertising really influence children and young people? Does it need to be regulated? Or should advertisers have the freedom to say whatever they want?
Our recent research, and workshops with parents, young people and the wider public, have produced some surprising findings: 30 per cent of young people aged 11-16 have been bothered by an advertisement in the past 12 months; violent and sexual content, body image and charity advertisements are most likely to be the source of distress. When asked for the main elements that bothered them, a quarter said "sexy" images.
Advertising is a part of our culture. At its best it can entertain and inform. But it can also divide opinion. Do advertisements for unhealthy foods add to the national obesity problem? Do thin models contribute to negative body image? Whatever your view, it's essential that young people learn how advertising works and understand how it can influence their lives.
That's why the Advertising Standards Authority has launched a new resource for schools, Ad:Check, to help children and young people make a critical assessment of the advertisements they see and hear and to protect them from potentially harmful or inappropriate material. Our work reflects a public appetite to put the brakes on the perceived "commercialisation and sexualisation" of childhood.
Ad:Check aims to encourage key stage 3 and 4 pupils to analyse advertisements, understand the rules that govern them and debate with teachers and peers topical and controversial issues surrounding advertising. It takes a "big question" approach, exploring issues of what is misleading, harmful or offensive. For example, in one case study, pupils look at an advertisement that received more than 1,000 complaints. They are asked to assess the advertisement and grapple with the concerns raised by the public.
Pupils are then given the opportunity to create an advertising campaign of their own. We hope Ad:Check will also encourage them to raise concerns that they might have about existing advertisements, or those they see or hear in the future.
Advertising is a fascinating topic. We hope that our resource will stimulate debate in schools across the country.
Lord Smith is chair of the Advertising Standards Authority. Ad:Check can be downloaded from TES Resources at bit.lytesASA.