Copy Vs Content and why YouTube Makes Me Cranky!
Like just about every almost-three-year-old, my toddler LOVES YouTube. YouTube is the go-to place for movies about car washes, rubbish trucks, diggers, fire trucks, dirty drains and…toys. Toys. This is the bit that I have the problem with. It boils down to Copy Vs Content – what’s there to be enjoyed and what’s there to sell my small child toys.
I am a helicopter parent most of the time. My child is in my view. I am monitoring what he’s watching/eating/doing to the cat at all times. However, YouTube buys me that crucial ten minutes needed to shower, dress, cook dinner, feed the dog, do the washing, tidy the lounge and pack the nappy bag and I have no idea how parents managed this before the Internet – so I am definitely a fan – but these are ten unmonitored minutes of media consumption. The problem is that YouTube allows marketing to children that is on a whole new level – and it’s not regulated by FreeTV – in fact it’s not regulated at all.
It’s not just the ads for scary movies or inappropriate products; it’s that the videos themselves are often copy disguised as content. For me, the core ethical issue of marketing to children is that kids can’t always tell if what they’re watching is an ad or a program. Transparency on this matter is vital – and YouTube is just one medium that really blurs the lines.
Copy Vs Content
OK so the difference between copy and content is pretty much impossible to define a lot of the time. In my opinion, copy means copywriting – that is writing with the intent to sell or market a product or service. Home, About Us, Products, Services, radio advertising, billboard ads…that sort of thing.
Content on the other hand, is about informing, educating, entertaining or engaging. The problem is that in terms of money making entities, that content also re-enforces the brand’s market position and in theory, ultimately helps lead to a sale…. So, it’s hard to define, even for an adult….even for an adult copywriter! Kids don’t stand a chance!
George Lucas ruins more than Star Wars Sequels
“I don’t make movies, I make toys.” To probably slightly misquote George Lucas, the movie biz is now all about selling merchandise. Just this morning, as I tripped over Buzz and skidded on Lightning McQueen, I was forced to acknowledge that as a parent, I treat movies like ads myself. This blurs the line even further for kids, because content is sales copy – the two have become synonymous. It’s even more complicated and difficult to discern marketing from entertainment when the two have become one. I had an LP of Michael Jackson reading E.T. and a set of Mickey Mouse ears…and I grew up OK? So what’s the big deal?
The big deal about ads on YouTube
This morning, while I showered, my son watched a YouTube video about *SNIP* (best not get sued). For those without a 2-5 year old boy, *SNIP* are little *SNIP* that live in *SNIP*. The video was disguised as a kid playing with his *SNIP* truck. Seemed fine to me, “toy porn” as my husband calls it, is one of my son’s favourite things – watching kids play with their toys and use their imaginations has definitely played a role in developing his own very complicated imaginary scenarios – so I happily left him to watch away.
In record time, I showered and dressed and returned to see the child in the video was gone and a grown man, using fun kiddy language was demonstrating the features of the *SNIP* and saying just how great the logo was. Telling kids to look at the lovely colours on the logo, to see how great the images were. To check out the cool, awesome, clear packaging on the box, so you can see the cool, awesome toy inside at the shops.
OMG. OMG. OMG. If this isn’t implanting “remember this box so you can ask mummy to buy it next time you’re at the shops” into my child’s brain, then I don’t know what it is. For me, this isn’t just producing a really cool movie and then selling the action figure, this is about directly and unethically marketing to children who are too young to understand. This product is targeted at boys my son’s age and slightly older, these kids aren’t even in pre-school yet. It was at that moment that I vowed, that no matter how much my son now wants a *SNIP* toy, I will never, ever get him one.
Talking to young kids about advertising
At almost-three, my son is too young to really talk about the ethics of advertising, although, we’ve started. My son very rarely watches commercial TV but when he does, we talk about “just an ad” and “it’s the show”. When YouTube has ads, we talk about them in negative ways – like they’re just there to annoy us. When an ad makes a claim, I ask him if he thinks the claim is right and if it’s just silly nonsense. We can’t really discuss in depth the ethics of advertising but we can instil critical thinking, not passive consuming in young children. We can’t shelter kids from advertising, it’s all around them, the best we can do is to help them understand that it’s not truth, it’s sales information and teach them to recognise that.
So what did my child say when I turned off his *SNIP* video in disgust?
“OK mummy, never mind, it was just an ad”
That’s my boy.