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Comment - Primark and the Padded Bikini – when “doing the right thing wins the day”!

Yesterday was a good day in the world of children’s marketing; a day when the “right thing” was done for the young consumer. By Nic Jones

GENERAL MERCHANDISE

Comment - Primark and the Padded Bikini – when “doing the right thing wins the day”!

Yesterday was a good day in the world of children’s marketing; a day when the “right thing” was done for the young consumer. By Nic Jones

Primark not only agreed to pull from its shelves the now infamous padded bikini but, to boot, added an apologetic statement.

Unfortunately it’s not too often we can say this, as manufacturers look for new products to gain some market share in an incredibly competitive marketplace and even cleverer ways of marketing them to our kids. The sad state of affairs of what follows, more often than not, is that the brand and product is at the forefront whilst the considerations and ethos of “children as consumers” takes a back seat. The result is ill-perceived products which should never have got to the shelf in the first place.

So how did we get to this day, where a major retailer has to listen and act upon the majority mood? It’s interesting to look at the kids market and the ethics which prevail.

A good example I’m always citing is that of the food industry and most especially the cereal manufacturers. In all kids markets, I don’t believe that anybody deliberately sets out to produce products that harm children. Ergo, I don’t believe anyone would want to fill our children with fat, sugar or salt, more especially now that the obesity debate is at fever pitch throughout the World. However it is apparent in the food market that we have a contradiction and it is clear to observers that there is a problem here. The problem doesn’t necessarily lie in the product, but in how it is marketed. For food that is high in salt, sugar or fat we often see marketing that makes us believe the product is in fact healthy and cereals are a case in point – if you don’t agree please take a look at the levels of sugar and salt on the side of the cereal box and then take a look at the claims made on the front of the box! My beef isn’t with the cereal but with its marketing. We’ll leave it to nutritionists, but it may in fact be a good idea for kids to get salt and sugar at breakfast time, but if mum knew the food she was giving her child had high levels of sugar and salt she can then regulate the amount of each that goes into the diet for the rest of the day. My point is that the manufacturer should simply tell the truth to help mum out; they should “do the right thing”.

Which brings us neatly back to the bikini.  The category may be different but the ethos is the same. Typical of the lack of forethought which epitomises the children’s markets, the product was developed with no thought to its possible effect on the consumer. What tends to happen with kids products is that someone (an adult!) has a clever idea that may appeal to children and after discussing this with other adults they make the product and put it on shelf. Primark is now the latest retailer/manufacturer to fall into this trap; at no stage, I suggest, otherwise it wouldn’t have happened, did anyone look at the product and think “is this right?” or  “are we doing the right thing?” and if they did, then there should be outrage internally as to why they were ignored.

It is probably fair to say that there was no malice in the intention of the clever developer and buyer who conjured up the idea and certainly the bikini was not developed with the intention to create the controversy it ultimately achieved. Further in Primark’s defence, I suggest that they were looking to produce a product that they thought girls would love and their girlswear developer was most likely aware of one of the  truths about marketing to children – that kids are always wanting to be considered to be older than they actually are. Thus a product such as this would have been “sold” internally as a positive affirmation for young girls who are fashion savvy and extremely keen to look “grown up”. If the bikini had been researched with young girls my guess is that they would have endorsed it and of course, if they had bothered to ask mums, teachers, guardians, school caretakers and the Lollipop lady they would have been told that this product was a terrible idea.
And this is my point; no-one, it seems asked anyone or actually sat down and thought about the bikini with a view as to its ethos and the message that such a product may give out. If they had, would they have allowed it?

I’ve got another question to pose.
Was the product withdrawn because Primark had a pang of conscience about the message they were sending to children or was it withdrawn because of accusations of “encouraging paedophilia” as was reported in the Sun and which ultimately (and quite rightly) gained a tidal wave of disgust from pressure groups and politicians alike.
In announcing their about face the spokesman for Primark said: "Primark has taken note of the concern this morning regarding the sale of certain bikini tops for girls, a product line that sells in relatively small quantities. The company has stopped the sale of this product line with immediate effect.”
Note there was no pang of guilt or apology for developing the product in the first place (apart from “any offence caused”) and certainly no acknowledgement that this type of product is unsuitable and that they will do their utmost never to repeat this mistake.

And here is the crux. We shouldn’t be relying on the media and so called “moral crusades” to police brands and products which we plan to sell to our children. The speed by which the Primark bikini was withdrawn was very impressive and goes to show how quickly things get scrutinised and scandalised in the digital age. It should act as a clear warning to anyone who sells brands targeted at children to get your act together and look very closely at what you’re doing and judge each line as to its “ethical” credentials. For Primark today read the food business, the drinks industry, the mobile phone business and many others, tomorrow.

If I were you I’d be “getting ethical” with your kid’s brands.
Ethical, in this case doesn’t mean to judge its green credentials or whether it is healthy, what it is about is being honest and telling the truth. By taking a good look at your children targeted categories, brands, ranges and products can you categorically say they have a child’s best interests at heart? Can you honestly say to a child or their mum that you “did the right thing” when developing, manufacturing, buying or marketing that product? I suggest that in the majority of cases you will be absolutely fine, but are you sure you don’t have your own “bikini”?

That’s the litmus test and there are now, more than ever, people who do care and who are watching your every move.

About the author
NIC JONES is a specialist in developing brands which engage with children and families.
He has published a book entitled “Marketing Brands to Children – Ethically”, which is available alongside further information regarding Nic’s services and contact details at: www.childrensmarketingexpert.com

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