SVT - Swedens state television - are currently airing an ad campaign which states two simple truths, but in doing so court controversy. The first truth is the one I keep repeating in every posting about childhood obesity and the link to advertising since 2003 - the reality is that while advertising aimed at children in Sweden is illegal in theory, it isn't in practice. The super in this ad reads:
Children advertising (advertising to children) is - forbidden forbidden forbidden - in Swedish Television- BUT - TV3 and Channel 5 - are not Swedish Television. They are English channels that air in Swedish. - And then you can ignore the ban.
This ad in particular seems to upset a lot of people in Sweden. Some of the people raving against these ads are just angry that the reason these channels are aired from the UK isn't mentioned - as if that is needed to make this point. The truth is, that back in the 1980's, TV not controlled by the state was completely forbidden and TV3 got around this ban by airing from the UK. They didn't set out to avoid the ad-to-kids-ban, they set out to start a third TV channel in a country where the only two that legally existed were state-controlled. Inspired by satellite television they saw their opportunity to compete and offer an alternative even though Sweden's laws hadn't quite grown out of the rosy pink ideal of the socialist 1960's. Just for the record. Kay?
Still, that isn't what this ad is about, Swedes know this history (unless they lived under a rock or as dumb as one), this ad aims to inform about the children-ad-ban and clear up that myth that keeps getting regurgitated every time someone talks about advertising to children anywhere in the world. Since I keep seeing well educated smart people who should know better proudly proclaim that ads targeting children don't exist in Sweden it seems that the message in this ads really does need to be heard, if only to delete the false claim that "Sweden has no advertising to children". That is what this retro-looking ad does, and in my humble opinion it does it quite well.
The other ad (above) in the campaign concentrates on the fact that the competition is privately owned, rather than state owned, which is pretty normal in most democratic (capitalist) countries. Three large privately (family) owned companies own most of the press and commercial channels in Sweden. Big whoop, some may say. The idea is of course to promote the fact that SVT is owned by the Swedes themselves, and like any public broadcasting its goal is to serve the diverse needs of the viewing or listening public rather than chase ad dollars with popular programming. Thusly, SVT airs educational programs, news for the deaf and in minority languages and for minority populations such as the Sami, as well as children's programs in a whole bunch of languages such as Finnish, Croatian, Romanian, Romany, Arabic, Persian and many more (as far as I know not in English, French or Spanish however) to promote bilingual children learning their (parents) native language as well as Swedish. Mind you these days SVT offers a lot of ridiculous game shows during prime-time, but I'm talking about the kid-TV part here and that is largely the same as it ever was. It's likely the rabid commentators against this ad campaign are bitter because they had to watch mind numbingly boring and educational shows like "the food and your body" when they were kids. ;)
So, even though my opinion is also the same as it ever was - I disagree with proclaiming advertising aimed at children completely innocent in changing and shaping children's behavior since I sincerely believe that advertising actually works - and I like the first mentioned ad for the look and feel of it as well as the message, even if the irony of the ads looking like 1970's eastern (communist) European TV is not lost on me. Well done Forsman & Bodenfors, I especially like that they dug up and dusted off and old children's TV song from the seventies.
The only reason I put "Free" in scary quotes in the headline is simply because like all other public broadcasting companies, such as the BBC and PBS, Sweden's SVT costs a fee each year. In Sweden they've solved this billing by trying to enforce anyone owning a television to pay a yearly fee for owning it. So it's "free" but it costs money. See? You can not own a TV and simply watch commercial channels only. Unless you totally lie, but if you get caught you'll be fined.
More from previous kid-ad debates here on Adland: Do fatty food ads make obese kids? Yes. No. Maybe., UK bans junk food ads aimed at children More food marketing and fatter kids and advertising does work - on obese children.,Inquiry into obesity 'timebomb' may lead to advertising ban (which it did in 2006 in the UK)
Also, hat tip to Bold for alerting me to that ads are airing.