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Consumption Markets & Culture

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Get MediaSmart: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Controversy Around Advertising to Children in the UK
Terry O'Sullivan

To cite this Article O'Sullivan, Terry(2007) 'Get MediaSmart: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Controversy Around

Advertising to Children in the UK', Consumption Markets & Culture, 10: 3, 293 314 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/10253860701365397 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10253860701365397


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Consumption, Markets and Culture, Vol. 10, No. 3, September 2007, pp. 293314

Get MediaSmart: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Controversy Around Advertising to Children in the UK
Terry OSullivan
t.j.osullivan@open.ac.uk 0 3 Dr 00000September TerryOSullivan 2007 Consumption, 10.1080/10253860701365397 GCMC_A_236431.sgm 1025-3866 Original Taylor 2007 10 and & Article Francis (print)/1477-223X Francis Markets Group Ltd and Ltd Culture (online)

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In response to calls for increased regulation of advertising to children (occasioned by concerns over childhood obesity levels) a group of UK advertisers targeting young people have sought to demonstrate social responsibility by providing media literacy education resources for children aged six to eleven through the MediaSmart initiative. This article draws on Critical Discourse Analysis (Fairclough 2001) to analyse a selection of publicly available accounts of the 2002 launch and operation of MediaSmart in order to explore how alternative discursive representations of MediaSmart construct children and advertising in relation to one another, and how these constructions work to further the social practices of which the discourses in question are part. The analysis concludes that the competing discourses have a stake in the problem of advertising to children remaining open-ended, but suggests that the possibilities of its resolution lie in (a) the incorporation of childrens own perspectives in controversy conducted on their behalf by adults, and (b) conceptions of media literacy which are more active and age-inclusive than those evident in the discourses currently available. Keywords: Advertising; Children; Critical Discourse Analysis; Media Literacy; MediaSmart Introduction After an advance publicity campaign lasting the best part of two years, MediaSmart was launched in late 2002 by a group of UK advertisers with interests in marketing to children. Its launch leaflet (aimed at recruiting support from other advertisers and
Terry OSullivan is a lecturer in Marketing at the Open University Business School, UK. Correspondence to: Dr Terry OSullivan, Open University Business School, Michael Young Building, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK; Email: t.j.osullivan@open.ac.uk ISSN 10253866 (print)/ISSN 1477223X (online) 2007 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/10253860701365397


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advertising agencies) describes it as a programme for primary school children that aims to develop media competence through a range of teaching and advertising materials (MediaSmart 2002). UK primary schools are the equivalent of first through fifth grades in the United States, catering for children between the ages of five and eleven. Modelled on a Canadian industry-led initiative from the 1980s, MediaSmart has produced teachers resources aligned to the UKs National Curriculum, television advertisements, and an interactive web site (www.mediasmart.org.uk). Critics have dismissed it from the outset as an industry fig-leaf to pre-empt calls for the tighter regulation, or even abolition, of advertising to younger children (Rogers 2002). Defenders maintain that it demonstrates social responsibility on the part of a marketing industry seeking to engage with vulnerable stakeholders (Asscher 2002). MediaSmart thus acts as a sharp focus for the emotive debate around advertising to childrena debate engaged in by concerned adults on childrens behalf, but suggesting tensions around adults own roles, responsibilities, and relationship to children in contemporary consumer society. Cook (2003, 119) traces the genealogy of commercialised childhood to the early decades of the twentieth century, drawing on historical retailing literature to reveal working models of the child as a knowing, independent consumer. Attempts to shield children from the market also have a long history. Kunkel at al. (2004) preface their report on the psychological implications of contemporary childrens advertising with a quotation from an 1874 Act of Parliament pledging to protect children from their own lack of experience and from the wiles of pushing tradesmen and moneylenders (2004, 1). The struggle between advertisers keen to expand their franchise to ever younger customers, and consumers determined to constrain them, is about plenty beside what is immediately at stake. In establishing their respective claims for the rights and limits of children and advertising, the participants draw on complex networks of assumptions and positions about the nature of childhood and business, and how adults and children relate through managed consumption. Attempts to make sense of skirmishes on this front of the culture wars thus need to acknowledge the systemic underpinnings of the conflict, and their implications for how consumption and markets are socially constructed and politically managed. They also need to take account of the real social consequences of policy in this area, which have been argued to include challenges to the physical and mental welfare of young people from an advertised diet of food unremittingly high in fat, salt and sugar, and the pervasive pressure of the commercial environment (Hastings et al. 2003; Kunkel et al. 2004; Mayo 2005). Critical discourse analysis (hereafter CDA) is acknowledged, even by critics such as Hammersley (1997), as a social research method which emphasises the systemic nature of social phenomena in order to reveal ideology at work, and which takes a position on its practical consequences. It therefore recommends itself as a methodology to explore and understand the issue of advertising to children, as well as forming a basis for policy recommendations. This paper uses CDA (following Fairclough 2001) in order to analyse a range of accounts (from press-releases, journalism, official reports, and political speech) of the launch and early operation of MediaSmart as an exemplary engagement in the conflict around advertising to children. It aims to recognise how these accounts construct advertising and children in relation to one

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another, going beyond their surface work of reportage, advocacy, criticism or evaluation, to examine the links between the representations they perform and the wider social practices (such as journalism, marketing and political activism) in which they are enmeshed. Adults not only disagree about the subject of advertising to children, but are deeply implicated in it. Commenting on American society, Cross (2002) links what he sees as a contemporary decline in the historic parental goal of sheltering the child from the consumer market to ambiguity about the nature of childhood arising from the complicity of adults in the commercial construction of children: Modern American adults view children as creatures to be protected from the consumer market and, at the same time, as recipients of consumer spending in a process that has gradually undermined traditional bourgeois paths to maturity (Cross 2002, 442). In short, adults assuaging of their own needs (nostalgic or sentimental) through spending on, and for, children has had the effect of accelerating children into the role of consumers themselves, in ways which emphasise their agentive power at the possible expense of their developing judgement. The globalisation of consumer culture means that this is hardly peculiar to the US, and neither is it a trivial issue given that goods and services aimed at the four to fifteen age group are worth $450 billion world-wide (Euromonitor 2002, 13). This spending is divided between childrens own spending and spending by others (much of which they influence) and includes both products targeted exclusively at children as well those (such as fast food and soft drinks) which cross over to adult consumers. The child/consumer is held in a tension between self-realisation and control: selfrealisation through making or influencing identity-oriented purchases such as fashion, music and entertainment (Mayo 2005); control, as a source of concern to adults who are committed to shielding children from the materialist blandishments of marketing and advertising. As Prout (2000) points out, following Giddens (1990, 1991), the self-realisation/control tension is characteristic of late modernity itself. Children are societys hope of controlling the future and therefore need protection and control themselves through education and parenting on their way to productive adult lives. Yet as heirs of modernity, they are entitled to participate in the process of self-realisation through self-determination and creative choices (including those afforded by consumption). Advertisers entry into the field of media literacy education through MediaSmart can be seen as a move to bolster the self-realisation side of the equation, while keeping intact the rhetoric of control (the initiative has been developed alongside a parenting charity and with government approval) (MediaSmart 2002). Another way of seeing it would be as an example of advertising practitioners attempting a further regime of mediation, to adopt the phrase used by Cronin (2004) who makes a convincing case for understanding the role of advertising agencies as cultural intermediaries in multiple regimes of mediation beyond the immediately obvious dyad of client (producer) and consumer (market). These include mediation between themselves and their clients, suppliers and peers, as well as intra-agency mediation between the values and priorities of the different people involved in planning, managing, creating, producing and

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placing ads. In their separate ways, all of these acts of mediation interpret and inform what Bourdieu calls the art of consuming, spending and enjoying (2000, 311, cited Cronin 2004, 350). They can work to draw and redraw the boundaries between different consumption categories (for example, melding food and medicine into nutriceuticals like cholestrol-lowering yoghurts). They can also work on reclassifying the parameters of acceptable marketised exchange (Cronin 2004, 365). MediaSmart can be read as part of a strategy to expand the parameters of marketised exchange not to new or controversial products or services, but to new or controversial marketsin this case children. It is part of a set of regimes of mediation, involving advertisers with teachers and children, parents, editorial media, pressure groups and policy makers. The interactions which result from such relationships are characterised by textual productionof publicity material, journalism, controversial prose, interviews, web sites, reports and political speeches. These are examples of interactive discourse written with specific audiences in mind, and thus guided in their verbal and rhetorical choices by an assumed reader or receiver. They create meaning within and, crucially, between each other through their interaction as texts (Bakhtin 1986). They are thus part of a network of social practices (such as advertising) as well as a repository of representations of other social practices such as consumption and being a child (Fairclough 2001, 234). My intention in this article is to analyse a selection of such accounts of MediaSmart with two overall questions in mind:

how do the available discursive representations of MediaSmart construct children and advertising, and in whose interests do such constructions work? in the light of this, what might be appropriate policy directions for regulation and education in this area?

The contribution of the article is to offer a fresh perspective on how the subject of advertising to children is culturally constructed. The accumulating research literature on advertising directed at children (while ambitious to prove empirical points to inform policy) has been accused of falling short on theoretical coherence (Friestad and Wright 2005). Livingstone (2005) takes the view that it suffers from a fixation on the ideal experiment to prove, finally, that advertising has a particular effect, isolated from all other factors, on children. The resulting public polarisation into pro and anti camps overlays what Livingstone detects as greater tacit consensus than the public differences admit. The present article is not concerned with critical analysis of academic research literature, but of a sample of part of the publicly-available discourse which it sustains (however indirectly at times). Nevertheless, the commitment of CDA to set such discourse within wider social practices underlines the pragmatic political and economic framework in which the academic research is produced, and offers a point from which to reflect on its operation. Using Critical Discourse Analysis Discourse analysis is one of several techniques arising from the recent concentration on language-in-use as a key to the complexities of representation in social scientific

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practice (Smith 1998, 231). It covers a range of methods implying diverse epistemologies, activities and purposes. What unites them is a close study of language in use (Taylor 2001a, 5) and an acknowledgement of languages active role in creating meaning. This is not to deny the existence of reality beyond language (Hall 1997a, 73). Different discourse traditions vary in their knowledge claims, but all concur that without language there can be no meaning and we cannot apprehend reality. Furthermore, language has a social history. It is continually changing and, consequently, rearranging the boundaries of what we can apprehend. As a methodology, discourse analysis is beginning to make inroads into marketing research, both academic and applied, in determining new understandings of consumers and marketers. Hackley (2002, 212) lists it amongst the qualitative techniques which advertising agencies use in their surveillance and production of consumer culture. Elliott (1996, 1999) draws on the concept of interpretative repertoire in the actively social reception of advertising by groups enacting particular discourses. Catterall and Maclaran (2002) bring discourse analysis to bear on online consumer ethnography. Hackley (2000) extends the approach to yield a critical understanding of advertising agency management and, in later work, goes beyond interpersonal discourse to draw on sources such as textbooks in an ideological critique of marketing as an academic and professional practice (Hackley 2001, 2003). In promoting the shaping effect of discourse on meaning (and, by extension, policy and action) CDA does not dismiss the power of individual or group agency. Language, and social circumstances, are dynamic, and the necessary interplay of voices in meaningful language, its dialogicality (Bakhtin 1986), argues for the links between ideology and language as complex and changing rather than simplistically determined. Stuart Halls concept of the logic of articulation (Grossberg 1996) acknowledges discernable links between language and social life, but sees them as flexible and capable of severance and regrouping (disarticulation and rearticulation). CDA tends towards a more structured account of power relations within society than this (cf. Taylor 2001b, 316) but manages to avoid oversimplification by attending to detail and complexity in language. Stemming from CDAs preoccupation with power is a commitment to social change:
[CDA] is critical, first, in the sense that it seeks to discern connections between language and other elements in social life which are often opaque Second in that it is committed to progressive social change, it has an emancipatory knowledge interest (Habermas 1971). (Fairclough 2001, 230)

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The invocation of Habermas places CDA in the Western Marxist tradition of critical theory, which balances economic determinism with the shaping effects of culture on social life. These include what Habermas called systematically distorted communication (Fairclough 2001, 233). This idea has its origins in the doctrine of false consciousness but, as Hackley (2002, 223) argues, a post-Marxist perspective holds that [c]onsciousness is not so much false as stifled by the continual reflection of socially constructed consumer reality back on itself. Analysing discourse which constructs (and contests) children as targets of advertising, may reveal the kinds of


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distortions which govern how a debate constructed by adults reflects the social lives of children themselves. The complicity of adults in childrens commercialisation is one example of this, as we have noted (Cross 2002). Another tempting hypothesis is that adults concern to protect children from advertising also works to protect adults from childrenboth in terms of the demands that children as consumers might make on adults, and also in terms of the child as psychoanalytic Other, threatening adult selfcomposure from within (Hall 1997b). Fairclough (2001, 236) proposes a template for structuring a piece of CDA moving between the social context of an issue and its textual incarnations, as follows: 1. Selection of a social problem in its semiotic aspecthow a problem is represented in language. 2. Identification of obstacles to it being tackled (an explanation of its persistence, requiring analysis not only of the resulting discourse, but of the network of practices which accompany it). 3. Consideration of interests supporting its lack of resolution (how, for example, does the problem support the status quo of social or economic organisation?). 4. Identification of new possibilities for resolution. In the light of stage twos analysis, what undiscovered possibilities are available for solving the problem under investigation? 5. Critical reflection on this process. The structure of this article will now follow the five stages outlined. 1. Advertising to Children as a Social Problem in its Semiotic Aspect Public controversy over advertising to children has recently been given renewed impetus in the United Kingdom by concerns over the possible contribution to childhood obesity of the advertising of unhealthy foods (cf. Dibb 1993; Barwise 1994; Dalmeny, Hanna, and Lobstein 2003; Hastings et al. 2003; Paliwoda and Crawford 2003; Livingstone 2005). There is considerable political pressure for a ban on television advertising of certain sorts of foods directed at children (Leonard 2004), in spite of the research-based claims of advertisers that advertising plays only a marginal role in childrens food choices (Young 2003). One of the interesting things about this particular social problem in its semiotic aspect is its persistence. Not only do the dates of some of the above citations demonstrate the reconflagration of controversy after a ten-year interval, but many of the positions currently visible in the debate are recognisable in the conflicts between the Federal Trade Commission and Congress around toy advertising in the United States from the 1970s and 1980s ( Liebert and Sprafkin 1988). One of the problems of discourse analysis as a technique is to select a manageable body of data with which to work which is both concise and coherent. Concentrating on publicly available accounts of Media Smart limits the amount of text to manageable proportions, and provides a common point of reference, and thus a basis for comparability between the available discourses. This activates the central concern of discourse

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analysis: variation in how the same phenomena are presented, both within and between texts (Potter and Wetherell 1994, 53). In consequence, the sampling strategy began by selecting a variety of journalistic accounts of the same verbal entity. The words MediaSmart and Media Smart as search terms on an online news database (Lexis Nexis Executive) in December 2003, a year into MediaSmarts operation, yielded 18 and 154 hits respectively. Of these only 52 referred to the actual schemea testament, perhaps, to the contemporary resonance of its title. The results provided accounts from two types of journalism (trade papers such as Marketing Week and newspapers such as the Birmingham Post and Financial Times) and from a ministerial speech. The latteran address to an invited audience of UK advertising and media industry representatives by the then Minister for Culture, Media and Sport on the occasion of the launch of MediaSmart (Jowell 2002) has been excluded from the present analysis in favour of a focus on non-governmental accounts. However, political language, particularly the language of New Labour (Fairclough 2000), offers a potentially rich vein for further research in this area. Entering the same search terms into the Google internet search engine in search of other than journalistic accounts yielded 117 returnsthe vast majority irrelevant to MediaSmart as a specific initiative, but picking up on the use of the words media and smart in various combinations. However, as well as leading directly to the MediaSmart web site, the internet search produced examples of pressure group references to it (from both marketing industry and food activist groups). While many of the relevant web sites had substantial graphic content, this was ignored in an attempt to treat the language found as if it had been from text-only databases comparable with the data from Lexis Nexis Executive. After repeated reading in search of regularities, sources were categorised according to their intended audience (industry or wider public) and attitude to the initiative. A categorisation of the sources resulting from these searches as representative of four professional discourses is summarised in Table 1: trade and news journalism, and industry and consumer activist groups. The extracts used as examples in the following analysis were selected for their representativeness of their respective discourses and, in the case of the pressure group examples, for their convergence on comparable issues. 2. Identification of Obstacles to the Problem Being Tackled This section will briefly explore each of these discourses in turn, concentrating on the language and rhetorical devices used to position MediaSmart in relation to the concepts of advertising and children, and linking this to the networks of practices in which such positioning occurs. Trade journalism Trade journalisms account of MediaSmart is broadly affirmative of its intentions and role in legitimising advertising to children, in line with its target readership of advertisers and marketers. Yet, while the need for controversy and reportable events common

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Table 1 Four varieties of discourse

Representative media and bodies in sample (searches of Lexis-Nexis Executive News Database and Google Search Engine, 2003) Irish Marketing and Advertising Journal, Marketing, Marketing Week, Brand Strategy BBC News Online, Belfast Telegraph, Birmingham Post, Daily Telegraph, Financial Times, Glasgow Herald, Guardian, Independent, Irish Times, Observer, Sunday Times, Times, Times Educational Supplement Advertising Association (AA), Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA), Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) International Association of Consumer Food Organisations (IACFO), International Obesity Task Force (IOTF)

Discourse Trade journalism

Texts sampled for analysis Brierley (2002); Kleinman (2003a, 2003b); Smith (2003): Articles in Marketing Swain (2002): article in The Sunday Times

News journalism

Industry pressure groups

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Consumer pressure groups

Palomba (2003): article in Guardian; Earnshaw (2001, 2002): speeches/papers on ISBA web site Dalmeny, Hanna, and Lobstein (2003): IAFCO report for WHO consultation

to all journalism is evident, only one of the trade press articles in the sample (Brierley 2002) questions the principle of advertising to children. The rest collude in its naturalisation. MediaSmart is referred to as an ad literacy programme whose members have joined forces to educate kids about the role of advertising (Kleinman 2003a), and a focus for positive efforts by advertisers in the face of overzealous regulatory proposals (Smith 2003). Trade press reports concentrate on MediaSmarts exceptional exemplification of industry solidarity (in contrast to normative competition) and tend to be accompanied by a litany of names of backers of the scheme. The ongoing news story is driven by the arrival of new members, for example Heinz (Kleinman 2003a) and McDonalds (Kleinman 2003b) after a lengthy hesitation which itself provoked press comment. The following extract exemplifies a number of these aspects of trade journalism:
In the UK, there have been active attempts at industry level to head off the threat to marketing to children. At the end of 2002, the Chartered Institute of Marketing promoted research showing childrens savvy when faced with ads, while the MediaSmart programme, which is backed by Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Kellogg and Masterfoods, will send materials to schools to teach kids how to understand when they are being sold to. (Murphy 2003, 24)

The list of brand names towards the end of the second sentence acts to confirm the programmes credibility, depicting an industry uniting under regulatory siege (even to the point of reconciling arch rivals Procter & Gamble and Unilever). The spatial metaphor of industry level, together with the theme of MediaSmart as an organising core around which hitherto disparate brands are gathered, conveys a sense of disciplined, rational order. Here marketing to children is territory already occupied as of right, from which a threat (of unspecified origin here) must be headed off. Interestingly, the ad literacy focus of MediaSmart in Kleinman (2003a), cited earlier, is softened here

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to marketing to children, incorporating both being faced with ads or being sold to. Murphys acknowledgement of marketing as an integrated system including advertising and selling departs (perhaps because of journalistic norms of stylistic variation, or news objectivity) from the tendency noted by Hackley (2002, 212) in marketing discourse for the subdivision of marketing communications activity into specialist elements. Hackley sees this as a rhetorical strategy to present such elements as a set of ethically neutral technical disciplines rather than anything more ideologically charged. Murphy does suggest, however, that this process (being sold to) is discrete enough to be isolated and explained to children while they stand aside from it, rather than being inseparable from an overarching category of marketing communication that invades, shapes and reflects consumer consciousness (Hackley 2002, 212). Murphy positions kids in an institutionalised educational context: recipients of teaching materials in schools (although there is no acknowledgement of socialisation from other sources). Like the extracts implied model of advertising, its model of education as transfer (of materials to schools, of understanding to children) is one derived from, and perpetuating, relatively unreflective commonsense. There is also a faint hint in the lexical choice of kids itself that the industry is going to greater lengths than necessary in order to demonstrate its responsibility towards already sophisticated young consumers. Young (1990, 293) identifies the use of kids with a view of children as streetwise, amusing, interested in excitement and fast action (as opposed to children who are constructed as trusting, innocent and in need of protection), arguing that these rival images of children underpin competing positions in debate on advertising to children. Interestingly, Murphy refers to children at the start of the extract (in the context of threats to marketing to them and industry research about them). The variation in terminology suggests an aspiration to journalistic even-handedness in reporting a controversial issue. But it also carries the subtle implication that marketing to children and marketing research about them is of a higher order of seriousness than teaching them to understand when they are being sold to.

News journalism Non-specialist news journalism, as might be expected, takes a more critical viewat least superficially. Its discursive norms privilege telling a dramatic story and, as Altheide (2002) points out, children (alongside issues like crime and immigration) are a potent focus for crisis stories. Galtung and Ruge (1973) offer a classic exposition of news values as a principle by which the discourse of news recognises some phenomena while ignoring others, a literal example of power creating knowledge. Conflict and controversy are high on their list of relevant criteria, and the emotive potential of the subject of advertising and children makes the subject an attractive one for feature writers. An account of MediaSmarts launch in the Sunday Times (Swain 2002) includes a disapproving preamble covering market research aimed at very young children, the growth in media reaching children beyond their parents control, and the burgeoning economic power of children as consumers. Given the tendency of the consumer press to associate power with consumers, MediaSmart itself is positioned as a response by


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advertisers to an increasingly hostile parental environment (rather than the political environment indicated by the trade press). While this makes the narrative more dramatic, and flatters the agentive powers of its readers, it plays down the sense of a structural economic and cultural conflict:
Concern centres on the feeling that children are being shaped by powerful influences over which parents have no control, that they are growing up too fast and too materialistic, and are only able to express themselves or fit in with their friends through the things they possess. However, the marketing industry is becoming increasingly sensitive to accusations that it is exploiting youngsters. In response, a group of companies, including Cadbury and Kellogg, have co-operated with the government to launch MediaSmart, a campaign to teach 6 to 11-year-olds how advertising works. (Swain 2002, 16)

This extract acts as something of a fulcrum in the article (as the narrative locus shifts from children to industry). To this point the journalist has portrayed children as child labourers paid from an early age to attend focus groups, recipients of targeted marketing beyond their parents control, and victims of a siege of more advertising during childrens television programmes than any other children in Europe. Where it appears in the story, MediaSmart dispels some of this tension for the reader by resetting the advertiser/child balance. After the conflicts and tensions implied in the lists of concerns for children, the initiative introduces collaboration and consensus between brandnames and government (whose vision of democratic participation, of course, includes focus groups and brand revivals). Yet the choice of the word campaign here hints at ambivalence. In one sense it paints MediaSmart as morally energetic in resolving tensions. In another it is yet more organised aggression from the big guns of advertising. On whose behalf is this campaign being waged, and against what? Interestingly, Swains exposition of the purpose of the campaign comes not in her own words but as an extended quotation from the chairman of MediaSmart, Paul Jackson, who describes it as enlightened self-interestan expression which captures something of the circularity of resolving concerns about advertising to children by having advertisers teaching children about advertising. The way the article constructs advertising depends largely on this authoritative interviewwhereby the journalist effectively hands over to an expert voice in an effort to neutralise the disturbing images and tensions from the articles earlier section. It finishes with the following paragraph quoted as direct speech:
Children understand the difference between advertising and programming from an early age, but they dont understand the promotional principle: that advertising is there to sell. MediaSmart will teach them what is an advert, what is a brand, why people advertise. It is about critical thinking and critical viewing. If you help children learn how to choose, they grow up with a life skill that will make them feel more comfortable in this commercial world. (Jackson, quoted in Swain 2002, 16)

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Instead of something whose workings can be taught to six to eleven-year-olds, advertising appears here as rather more complex. Mr Jacksons focus widens from the mechanics of an individual ad to the broader processes of branding, economic

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rationale, criticality and choice. Again, this might seem to run counter to the marketing communications industrys tendency to divide itself into ethically neutral technical disciplines, but here it has the purpose of taking the pressure off advertising in isolation by flagging MediaSmart as a non-profit media literacy programme for UK primary school children, initially focused on advertising. Interestingly, its Canadian precursor, Concerned Childrens Advertisers, has gone even further in this direction, proclaiming its mission as Giving Canadian Children Tools to be Media and Life Wise and adopting a recent focus on anti-bullying (Concerned Childrens Advertisers 2003). Swains article casts children in a number of roles, ranging from victims to rampant consumers. Its title, Pester Power, invokes a term which, originally given currency by the ad industry, has rebounded on it (Earnshaw 2001). MediaSmarts purpose of making children feel more comfortable in this commercial world suggests a project of socialisation of natural children into consuming adults. Jacksons phrase strikes an ironic parallel with parents concerns earlier in the article about their childrens transformation from their natural selves into consumers who can only express themselves or relate to others through material possessions. Jackson appears to be confirming this. His educational materials may reconcile children (and their parents) to consumerism, but will do nothing to challenge it. In fact MediaSmart might be more accurately seen as aimed at consumer socialisation rather than media literacy, a rather less disinterested aim for industry. As Hackley observes: [c]orporations are served better where humans are socialized into consumption at an early age (2002, 224). While this critique may be implicit in the article, the conventional news-feature structure of controversy followed by resolution does not allow its exposition. Instead, the article ends by tacitly endorsing the industry line on consumer socialisation. It is hardly to be expected that, beyond exciting readers concerns as part of a dramatic story, mainstream journalism will attempt to radicalise readers in a way which might prompt the resolution of a social problem through generating unconventional insights.

Industry pressure groups Marketing and advertising industry pressure groups are clearly committed to the perpetuation of advertising to children. Sources here include MediaSmart itself through its web site and publications. As we have noted, it describes itself as a nonprofit media literacy programme. The lexical choice media literacy is a key source of variation in this discourse in the way that it positions its subjects of children and citizens. The phrase is a relatively recent coinage in Europe (Higham 2002), but Taylor (2003) points to its use in North America for over two decades. Its adoption in industry pressure group discourse seeks to align MediaSmart with a contemporary international agenda of citizenship education. As Taylor (2003) points out, the immediate stimulus for its currency appears to be concern about the unprecedented contemporary media saturation of children. MediaSmart web sites Media Literacy/ What is it? section begins with a 1991 Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) definition of media literacy, and refers to the Council of Europes definition


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of media competence. The implication is that in a deregulated, market-based global economy, protection for citizens depends on their developing individual consumer skills rather than being a government responsibility. Significantly, the DCMS definition cited is focused exclusively on reception skills, defining media literacy as the ability:
to appraise critically, and assess the relative value of, information from different sources, and gain competencies in understanding the construction, forms, strengths and limitations of screen based content. (DCMS 2001)

Livingstone with Thumin (2003, 2) broaden this definition considerably, adopting a working definition which, after stressing the a priori importance of access to media in developing any level of literacy whatsoever, places critical reception skills between two other key elements: technical competence and the ability to produce content. This embodies a far more active conception of citizen/consumers than does the DCMS definition. Here, they are envisaged as emancipated communicators with something to say, rather than critical, but essentially passive, receivers. Furthermore, Livingstone with Thumin stress that adults are as much in need of media literacy skills as are children, in spite of the almost exclusive focus of policy discourse on the latter. As well as revealing the way in which MediaSmart (and, for that matter, the UKs Department of Culture, Media and Sport) limit their construction of consumers, this highlights two other deficiencies in the industry pressure-group discourse. First, the industry takes the issue of access for grantedwhereas the real market suffers from inequalities, and thus the uneven distribution of vulnerability (some citizens, whatever their ages, are better placed than others to cope with advertising). Secondly, it questions the ability of adults (as much as children) to manage whatever the promotional industry throws themwhereas current media policy assumes their complete competence (and thus responsibility) from age eighteen onwards within the law. Responsibility is an important site of variation in conflicting discourses on advertising and children. Departing from the view of parents as legitimately anxious about the onslaught of marketing on their children (Swain 2002), Palomba (2003), writing on behalf of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (the pressure group representing UK advertising agencies) argues that the industry is already doing more than enough to protect vulnerable consumers:
Television advertisements are already vetted in advance of broadcast in the UK, as called for by the International Association of Consumer Food Organisations in its recent international report. The industry also already embraces the need to educate children about the media and of its own initiative has set up a project called MediaSmart to tackle this issue. (Palomba 2003, 7)

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MediaSmart is constructed here as a projecta voluntary provision to address an emerging need. There is no sense of forestalling legislation (as in the journalistic discourses). The word tackle has warmth (from its sporting associations), a positive move in contrast to the redundant and ill-informed negativity of the named consumer pressure group. The energetic sweep of the article draws in the common reader by its use of the first person plural: Advertising provides us all with information the fact

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is that most of us enjoy the odd hamburger we all know what became of the US prohibition laws. Irresponsible parents, some consumer groups, some politicians, are positioned outside this consensus. Advertising is constructed as an informational service to society. It is not even mentioned in connection with MediaSmart, whose remit is to educate children about the media. Palomba portrays advertising as the provision of information and choice to responsible consumers, rather than the artful management of consumption through actively understanding and engineering consumer demand. Given the UKs relatively liberal regulatory regime, this construction of consumer responsibility is clearly an important rhetorical defence of the freedom to advertiseeven though the freedom of information and choice on which it is premised applies unevenly across social groups according to their education, opportunity and resources. All, on the other hand, rich or poor, savvy or naive, adult or child, are capable of generating profits given the appropriate marketing approach.
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Consumer pressure groups Consumer groups share the industrys concern to fix responsibilitybut with advertisers rather than children and parents. They too press science and experts into service with footnotes and academic references, in the service of condemning advertising to children. They often represent a concerted resistance to prevailing forms of economic and social organisation on a wider front. Their very names are a rhetorical resource, tending to emphasise consensus, international alliance and official-sounding organisational forms such as Council or Commission. The recent international report from the IACFO mentioned by Palomba (2003) is subtitled A report by the International Association of Consumer Food Organizations for the World Health Organization consultation on a global strategy for diet and health. The preposition for linking IACFO with WHO might be read as hinting at some kind of client/supplier relationship rather than the response of one among many organisations to a public consultation. As well as having a dialogical relationship to Palomba (2003), IAFCOs report has influenced thinking by the leading UK charity, The Childrens Society (Reitemeier 2004). The report dismisses MediaSmart as ineffective:
In the UK, a media literacy project called MediaSmart (funded largely by the advertising and food industries) does not treat food advertising as a distinct subject, nor does it tackle media literacy with regard to interpreting nutritional and health claims. It is designed for 611 year olds, although marketing is also targeted at pre-school children. (Dalmeny, Hanna and Lobstein 2003, 28) Unfortunately, there appears to be little or no evaluation of whether media literacy programmes have any positive impact on childrens food choices.

This treatment undermines MediaSmarts mission to educate children in consumer skills by pointing out that pre-school children are also target customersan unappetising consideration even for those who defend advertising to older children on the grounds of their cognitive development (cf. Young 1990). The framing of the key


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phrase media literacy with inverted commas implies scepticism, and its effectiveness is explicitly challenged. Finally, the footnote is used to barbed rhetorical effecta device associated with academic conventions revealing the presiding authority behind the scheme as no more intellectually-respectable than a PR company. Advertising here is constructed as cynically manipulative, children as soft targets. Compared with the industrys breezy polemic (Palomba 2003) the tone is dourly serious. It pours scorn on the good faith of the advertising industry by relating the inadequacies of MediaSmart specifically to current, international, concerns about childhood obesity. This contrasts with the less circumscribed goal of media literacy espoused by MediaSmart. Thus the single-issue negativity of the consumer pressure groups discourse is a telling rhetorical move against the less clearly focused position of the industry. For the industry, Earnshaw (2001) questions the validity of what he calls consumerists purporting to represent the real consumer. But as Worcester (2002) reveals, real consumers in the UK include a significant number of activists in their ranks with claimed rates of participation in boycotts and action groups at 24% and 18% respectively. Thus the scepticism of consumer pressure group discourse has a social grounding which the advertising and marketing industry needs to take seriously. Jenkins (1992) has demonstrated that campaigners in the UK on a range of issues from pornography to violence have exercised a politics of substitution to reprofile their causes in terms of the threat offered to children (making it difficult for opponents to disagree with them). Similarly, consumer activists whose central concern is to reduce what they see as the anti-democratic power of capitalism, have an interest in casting their campaigning spotlight on advertising to children, compromising MediaSmarts claim to being a positive move by the industry. They need the problem of advertising to children as a rhetorical resource, quite apart from any scepticism they might reasonably harbour about the sincerity of the initiative.

3. Consideration of Interests Supporting the Lack of Resolution of the Problem The positions mapped in the preceding discussion are summarised in Table 2. As can be deduced from this summary, the social problem of advertising to children serves practical interests for each discourse. This addresses the first research question posed earlierin whose interests do the available constructions of children and advertising around MediaSmart work? In summary, they work in the service of the social practices from which they originate, as follows:

in the case of the trade and consumer press: advancing the news agenda and journalistic convention. For consumer journalism the issue of advertising to children has the characteristics of an excellent news story. It has wide relevance to readers experience, it builds on and elaborates their world-view (acting as a focus for intergenerational concerns and anxieties about corporate power), it is emotive and involving. As an aspect of this story, MediaSmart is one of a series of angles or perspectives which hint both at its inexhaustibility as a topic and at its open-endedness as an issue.

Consumption, Markets and Culture 307 Table 2 Summary of discursive positions around MediaSmart
Topic MediaSmart Trade journalism Industry news event exceptional for its collaborative nature, but revelatory of participating companies strategy in a difficult political area. Kidssavvy but passive. News journalism An initiative from an industry under pressure from parents concerned about the exploitation and manipulation of their children. Industry pressure groups A voluntary project to enhance consumer skills, citizenship and media literacy. A showcase for industry solidarity and corporate social responsibility. Naturallydeveloping consumers, agentive and receptive to learning. A right, to be exercised responsibly. Persuasive but mainly informative. Consumer pressure groups A tokenistic and inadequate gesture to preclude effective legislation against advertising practices which harm childrens long term health.

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A natural activitytaken for granted by readership. Persuasive, with some information.

Focus of parental and social concerns, incongruous targets for marketing industry. A potentially controversial activity which needs regulation. Persuasive.

An easy target for advertisers (who start with preschoolers). At avoidable risk.

The problem

The industrys attempt to head off the threat to marketing to children.

The challenge to conventional relations between parents (readers) and their children, and the threat to their well-being.

Institutional drivers

Journalistic conventions within the press addressing a niche industry.

Journalistic conventions within the consumer press.

Increasing hostility to advertising from legislators and media based on ignorance and prejudice, heralding the danger of inappropriate regulation. Economic interests in the production and consumption of goods and services by children.

A source of oppressive economic and social power, persuasive and manipulative. Needs strong regulation. The proliferation of accepted economic practices which both exploit and endanger children (and other citizens).

A focus for consumer resistance to advertising and marketing through NGOs and activist groups.

The wider implications of children being socialised as consumers (a process at least as much in the interests of advertisers as of children) are not explored. As a subject, MediaSmart thus allows journalists to exercise the medias most general function of reworking ideology and maintaining the status quo (Curran and Seaton 1991,


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273). For the trade press, MediaSmart also has emotional resonance with readers as an episode in the unfolding narrative of hostilities between industry and regulatory bodies. Even those not directly involved in advertising to children may see it as a straw in the wind for future policy on a wider scale. An implication of this account of opposing interests is the reinforcement of the perceived separation between the realms of production and consumption, seen by Cronin (2004, 359) as one of the ways in which advertising practitioners themselves legitimate their existence to clients. in the case of industry pressure groups: the positioning of consumers (including consumers-in-training) as informed, responsible yet needy choosers whose freedoms would be limited by further regulation. As we have seen, this positioning draws on a network of political and commercial doctrines around media literacy, about individual responsibility and the receding role of the state in an increasingly complex media environment (or market in policy terms). While amplifying the agentive nature of consumers, it simultaneously appears to limit the prospect of their active participation in public communication through its partial definition of media literacy. In the time-honoured paradox of consumer sovereignty they are free to make informed and responsible choices, but their options are limited by the structure and extent of what is made available (Smith 1990). Furthermore, even responsible consumers must also be seen to have needs which can only be met effectively through products and services supplied by advertisers. These appear to include the need of children for media literacy on advertisers terms. MediaSmarts presentation by the advertising industry as a pledge of its social responsibility is a very high-risk strategy given the semiotic power of childhood as an image, compared to its contestability as a concept. We have observed earlier in the present article how different views of childhood (kids versus children) are appropriated by rival camps as central to their rhetorical positions (Young 1990). But the advertising industrys ways of knowing about and communicating childhood are always likely to appear less authentic and less disinterested than those of educators or consumer groups who can claim to have the welfare of children, rather than shareholders, at heart. in the case of consumer pressure groups: a focus for scepticism and the provision of a powerful rhetorical resource. Anxieties about the social and economic consequences of globalising corporations have found articulation in a number of popular texts (cf. Klein 2000; Hertz 2002; Stiglitz 2002) and practical expression in a range of activities from violent demonstrations to ethical consumerism (Harrison, Newholm, and Shaw 2005). MediaSmart provides a focus for the elaboration of concerns which, while immediately focused on the issue of advertising to children and its suspected role in fostering obesity, nevertheless draw on wider disquiet about the power of commercial interests in contemporary culture. Industry advocates such as Earnshaw (2002) may dismiss such disquiet as fomented by balaclava bolshies rather than the real consumer. Yet it represents part of the contemporary zeitgeist which advertising and marketing ignore at their peril, and whose actual influence on the consumer landscape can be seen in, for example, the rapid growth of

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the organic food sector in the UK, much of which has by-passed the established infrastructure of advertising and marketing (Lawrence 2005). 4. Identification of New Possibilities for Resolving the Problem The answer to the second research question posed earlier, about appropriate policy in the light of this analysis, is inevitably provisional in an article of this length. However, one promising direction is pointed out by Zelizer (2002) who emphasises that the usual questions about children as consumers are framed from the perspective of the adult world. She argues that seeing engagement with the commercial world from a childs point of view reveals significant aspects of it which are obscured by the adult emphasis on consumption (whether around socialisation into it or protection from it). Childrens lives, she contends, are layered with production and distribution activitiesboth inside and outside the homewhich involve them in commercial relations of informal work, various exchanges (monetary and/or barter), and giftgiving. Furthermore all such practices are closely connected to wider patterns of consumption within the family (particularly by parents), a point which can be overlooked by analyses concentrating on whether (or how) advertisers produce consumption in children (Martens, Southerton, and Scott 2004). Brief as has been our examination of them, none of the competing discourses we have surveyed admits in any detail of the way in which children experience consumption or advertising in practice or how it fits into their lived culture. If they did, there might be considerably less concentration on the iconic medium of television advertising (fast being supplanted by other media in the way children connect to the world), and considerably more emphasis on the varieties of commercial experience in which children participate at different ages and in different settings. How does this contribute, for example, to the tacit marketing expertise with which they approach exchanges and evaluate offers? Children themselves are conspicuously absent from the discourses surveyed herein spite of the fact that MediaSmart exists precisely to provide educational resources which might be expected to stimulate debates inside and outside the classroom. It may be unremarkable in a research paper to call for more research, but an important unrealised possibility for solving the problem of advertising to children would be to refocus the research agenda on childrens, rather than adults, perspectives (cf. Lewis and Lindsay 2000; Preston 2000). A related issue is policy on the focus and scope of media literacy education. By its very nature, MediaSmart perpetuates the orientation of this towards children, in spite of the gaps in adult competence noted by Livingstone, and restricts its definition of literacy to passive reception rather than active, and perhaps troublesome, production. This view remains unchallenged by any of the accounts of MediaSmart we have analysed, and, as has been noted, it coincides with the governmental media agenda prevailing in the UK at the time of the programmes launch. However, there is some evidence of a development in policy here. The UK communications regulator, Ofcom, following a period of consultation, now defines media literacy (for whose promotion it

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has a statutory responsibility from Section 11 of the 2003 Communications Act) as the ability to access, understand and create communications in a variety of contexts (Ofcom 2005). The last element here, creating communications, represents an advance from the 2003 legislation which saw Ofcom come into being. It reflects, to some extent, the enormous recent growth in opportunities for consumers (particularly young consumers) to create and publish audiovisual material on the weba phenomenon which has even caught broadband internet service providers unawares because of their technical emphasis on downloading rather than uploading facilities (Economist 2006). Ofcoms stated strategy and priorities for fulfilling its responsibility continue to emphasise reception skills targeted on children (Ofcom 2005). But the very act of naming the creation of communication among the elements of media literacy opens the way for a more active, participative, model of the empowered citizen/consumer, whether adult or child, of which advertisers and regulators need to take cognisance.
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5. Reflection on the Process Qualitative methods cannot claim to produce universal or value-free knowledge, but they can claim to generate valuable and relevant insights capable of further development. While it is possible to envisage CDA within a positivist framework, the evidence drawn on in this study has been selected purposively, and analysed qualitatively to illuminate what, for the researcher, are key themes in accounts of a particular industry. Different researchers might take different views of the boundaries, or number, of discourses evident. Clearly, too, interpretation of language in use will evoke different responses in different readers. On the other hand, the study has been careful to support its argument with appropriate exemplification and reference to the wider literature, so can lay some claim to replicability and overall coherence. An arguable limitation of CDA in this context is its debt to critical theory, and its resulting tendency towards the logic of mediation (expecting the direct determination of sociocultural phenomena, such as consumption, by economic forces). This paradigm has long since given way to an active construction of the consumer in marketing literature. Children as consumers are included in this, but (as noted in the Introduction to the present article) the balance of autonomy and vulnerability with which they are credited creates a troubling tension (Prout 2000). CDAs commitment to progressive social change on their behalf is thus rendered problematic. Instead of the structural oppression at which critical theory railed, power relations in society are now seen as less hierarchical (if no less potent). Van Dijk (1993, 256) comments on the complexity of co-produced dominance, in which vulnerable groups become complicit in their own domination. In the absence of clear victims and villains he looks to CDA to explore the intricacies of power relationships, in a way which approaches Foucaults concept of the circulation of power as a productive force (Foucault 1977; Hall 1997a, 77). A fruitful avenue of future research would be to apply CDA to childrens own discourses around advertising and consumption in order to map such intricacies, building on the work that has already been done on young peoples use of advertising (e.g. Ritson and Elliott 1999).

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Part of the attraction of CDA is its acknowledgement of the practical consequences of power rather than the floating moral relativism of which post-modern social analysis (including Foucauldian analysis) has been accused (cf. Gillies and Alldred 2002). Debates about advertising to children have consequences on behaviour and policy. The conclusions here are that they should include childrens perspectives more fully, and replace the deficit model of children with a broadened media literacy agenda to comprehend a more participatory view of consumer/citizens, whatever their age. References
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