Brands are flashy, but they aren’t malicious.

Have you ever bought something because of the branding? Surely you have, especially when the packaging is very flashy and enticing. If we were to deny that we respond to good ads we might as well condemn millions of marketing departments to obscurity, because what value does marketing have in a world of numb people?

We respond to brands as a factor guiding our purchasing decisions, but establishing customer loyalty takes more than good packaging. Modern consumers look beyond even the quality of a product — they are interested in production methods, ethical treatment of workers, and sustainable supply chains. Whatever we tend to sometimes cynically call “greenwashing” is a real phenomenon of consumers exerting pressure on companies to change their policies.

What good would this pressure be if we were to get rid of marketing or brand awareness altogether? The reason I pressure my favourite laptop producer to avoid slave labour at all cost is so I can consciously stay loyal… not to laptops themselves, but to this particular brand. If that software producer also commits to thorough privacy standards, then I am even happy to be an unpaid brand ambassador for this company, through word-of-mouth. 

Some public health advocates have claimed that branding and marketing are essentially deceiving consumers into buying things that are unhealthy for them or guiding them to purchases they don’t really want to make. The terms “marketing” and “brainwashing” sometimes appear synonymously, especially when it comes to children. Some products face blatant advertising bans in some EU member states because of them advertising to children — or rather advertising to the parents making the purchase later. These suggested bans cut out the responsibility of parents.

If the choice is between educating children about the consequences of their behaviour and a blatant ban on the advertisement for products, most people would prefer to educate children. Children can only learn to become responsible consumers later if they are educated, instead of being told off. The restrictive and punitive approach to being confronted with the world is what we used to apply to children and young adults until the cultural revolution in 1968, and it did not produce any positive results. Yes, broadcasters need to be aware that displaying alcohol ads during children’s shows is (beyond not being economical to the advertising company) irresponsible. This, however, doesn’t mean that we should veil the existence of alcohol from children. Yes, alcohol exists, and consumption at the appropriate age and in appropriate quantities can be enjoyable and is safe.  

We should treat children as children, but we shouldn’t forget that they are in a process of growing up, and capable to understanding nuances as they grow older. Being overly protective is not only unproductive, it is patronising to adult consumers. Under the guise of the ill-informed belief that all marketing is malicious and under the accurate yet out-of-context statement that all ads CAN be seen by children, some argue for complete bans. That is the wrong way to go. Many video platforms and streaming services already offer parental control options, that help regulate the things children see. Major internet browsers do the same.

Marketing restrictions aren’t only a blow to consumer information from a perspective of availability of products, it’s also a clear message to parents that says “we don’t trust you to make the right choices for your own children. Advertisements are essential to brand freedom. Brands matter to consumers, not only because they establish consumer loyalty, but also because they help distinguish products on the market. In situations where companies give inaccurate information about their goods, competitors should be able to market safer and healthier products. That is the essence of consumer choice.

Originally published here.



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