Hey Marketer! Where are YOUR ethics?

Have we lost our ethics in marketing?

What if I told you that I came across these images in a magazine that was called “Playtime with Sexy Kids”? You’d bounce. You’d send me hate mail. You’d probably want to scream and break things.

The truth is these images come from catalogues for children’s clothes and other advertising channels. So, I guess that’s ok? After all, it’s only a marketing campaign.

sexualization of children in advertising
Images from Jours Apres Lunes

It’s one thing to create a controversial campaign, it’s another to throw your ethics out of the window.

We have a responsibility as marketers, according the the American Marketing Association to  “Recognize our special commitments to vulnerable market segments such as children, seniors, the economically impoverished, market illiterates and others who may be substantially disadvantaged.”

So where are those commitments exactly?

Children are vulnerable. Children cannot process abstract concepts such as “informed consent” when it comes to adult themes.

Sultry poses, alluring gazes, poses which are overtly sexual and suggestive are totally inappropriate for children.

The line between marketing children’s clothes and the unspeakable representation of children is becoming harder to see.

Thylane Blondeau who appeared in French Vogue at Christmas is just 10 years old.

Her pose, her make up, the setting of the photo are entirely inappropriate for a child.  The part that confuses me is who would look at this image and respond positively to the products being modelled? Louboutains on a 10 year old?


Sexualization of children Thylane Blondeau
Thylane Blondeau in Vogue

Playing with words does not make it ok

The laws on child pornography are quite clear:

Under federal law (18 U.S.C. §2256), child pornography is defined as any visual depiction, including any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer or computer-generated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, of sexually explicit conduct, where:

  • the production of the visual depiction involves the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; or
  • the visual depiction is a digital image, computer image, or computer-generated image that is, or is indistinguishable from, that of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; or
  • the visual depiction has been created, adapted, or modified to appear that an identifiable minor is engaging in sexually explicit conduct.

Personally I see no difference.  Celebrating Lolita, creating paedophile fodder and calling it advertising is totally unethical in my mind.

HOW are brands allowed to advertise in such a sexually explicit way? Should there be controls in place?

As Marketers, as consumers and as humans we have a responsibility to protect the vulnerable. Or do we?


22 Responses to Hey Marketer! Where are YOUR ethics?

  1. Thank you Ameena. Completely and totally agree with you. Are you kidding me ? This is Ridiculous. Apparently there are NO ETHICS left in this arena. But isn’t this the way we have gone recently in society ? It is sad, but true. Thanks again for shining light on a disturbing trend.


    • @Al Smith Thanks. It scares me. So many people get up in arms over the stupidest things yet this type of thing is just becoming a growing trend. This is not the first, nor the last time I’ll be talking about this. Nice to “meet” you by the way 🙂

  2. Being a father and also a human being with a sense of morality I find these images beyond inappropriate. The fact that you have children dressed in bikinis with makeup etc. is to be abhorrent. I would not purchase the products of these (this) company nor would I recommend them after seeing these photos.

    This is timely as we just bought a new bathing suit for our daughter who is three-and-a-half. The one we bought (that she picked) has long sleeves, covers her entire upper half, and has an attached skirt. Of course all lower parts of covered. When we were looking at options I mentioned to my wife that the bikinis for a little one are entirely inappropriate which she agreed with. Then she told me that some people she knew back in the US always dressed their kids (of varying ages, all young) in skimpier outfits. I was shocked to say the least.

    I’m not an attorney so I won’t go there with the law, but we do (or should) have morals with what we do in marketing. I think you can sell swim suits without pictures of *children* like this. I think kids have enough to worry about once they get to a certain age without being inundated with this crap to make them feel even more self-conscious.

    • @RobertDempsey I don’t take massive issue with the clothes themselves. A child in playing in the sand being a CHILD, smiling, laughing etc is fine in my opinion. Raunchy poses and voyeuristic style photos ARE NOT!

      We do have a responsibility. What is the world coming to? It’s ok to make a huge deal over the latest Kenneth Cole campaign and this type of thing is … umm… ok? World. Gone. Mad.

  3. As s father like @RobertDempsey I’m shocked that any parent would sell their daughter like this. Beyond the personal responsibility of a parent, brands have a corporate social responsibility which is obviously not valued here.

    The question is why do these brands use suggestive, adult poses to sell kids clothes to mothers? The target audience is obviously mothers who buy most of the kids clothes, so which kind of mother would respond to these type of ads?

    Seriously did they have focus groups and 10 mothers said “yes I like the pin-up route for your next campaign, that’s how I want my daughter to look like”?

  4. Ameena, very disturbing, but thanks for pointing it out. It is a shame what some marketers will do to be outrageous. Even worse are the parents who allow this to happen. I wonder, do they do it for their kid or for the almighty dollar? Neither seems right!

      • @Ameena Falchetto @adamsok Reminds me of the mockumentary “Bruno” that came out a while back (by Sacha Baron Cohen). In one scene he’s telling parents about this photo shoot he wants to do with their baby- dressing them up like Hitler to see what their reaction would be. Several of the parents were totally up for it to make their kid a “star”.

  5. As a mother and a women that was a victim of sexual abuse as a young girl, I know this is dangerous. There are some very sick adults out there that don’t need this kind of encouragement. It is astonishing that there are adults out there that are creating these ads and photographing these kids as they do…and then have them approved to be in magazines. There as so many people involved with the process of a single ad…yet they still get into the public hands without anyone stopping it. Worse yet, in my opinion, are the parents that see the ads and are buying these items.

    • @Joanne Cipressi Thanks Joanne for sharing. We have similar background which is why this angers me further. WHO is buying this stuff? Thank you for speaking out here – this topic seems to get very little engagement which worries me. Being an ostrich doesn’t make it go away.

      • @Ameena Falchetto Yes, any topic in this “category” receives very little engagement. I am open about these topics as I feel we need to be in order for things to shift. I have been told by many, “Oh, you should not talk about that….” That mindset is why these situations happen and little girls are exploited.

  6. I’m seriously worried about anyone who doesn’t find these images disturbing. How these got OK’d is beyond me and saying “Oh, it’s the French” doesn’t count. Jours Apres Lunes is a French company, and I’m not blaming the French at all…only that I’ve heard people actually say it’s OK because it’s a French company.

    • @Steve | ROI detector Are you serious Steve? It’s ok because it’s French? WOW. You’d be surprised how many people do think it’s ok UNTIL you point out the issues with it.

      Thanks for stopping by even if I am now even more incensed!

      • @Ameena Falchetto Yeah, seriously. Apparently others have placed “The French” in another category to explain things they don’t understand (or don’t have the guts to be outraged by). I’m by no means a Puritan…but really? People should have the common decency to get pissed off once in a while without worrying about who it might offend.

  7. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be actually something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

  8. oooooo! We spoke of this at one time before, I believe it is how we actually “met,” Ameena, on your other blog, Mummy in Provence. (sp?)

    I knew, as I read your blog for the first time including the topic at hand, that I could be completely honest with you, and if I remember correctly…I was!

    I am so proud of you. (Do you know that?) YOU. To know you, learn from you, and watch..from so afar, but knowing I had and have found a real and true friend. I also know you take Business VERY seriously.

    THIS IS SHAMEFUL CRAP. It quite literally makes me sick. I have stated my stand online before and it is a deep, carved black line. Whether you have children or not, is not the point. Whether these children belong to you, physically or they are the same shades of color, THEY ARE OUR CHILDREN. Every single adult has a responsibility to stand for and protect our children. ugh.

  9. I don’t go out of my way to find these type of images, but when they turn up on my computer screen, I get infuriated. Here in Australia, we have had issues with 13 years olds being photographed in compromising positions. And one mother prosecuted for being a pimp for her 12 year old daughter!

    Young girls bodies are developing much earlier these days BUT this should mean they need to be MORE protected. But protected from who? Parents are happy to trade their daughter’s reputations, virtue and purity for filthy lucre.

    Until global laws are set in place, making this type of styled imagery, a form of child abuse, it will only get worse. But to do nothing, is to condone the practice. I am going to send you an online petition and hopefully it ‘will’ get back to Vogue and other child image abusers.

    • Thanks Sally, this is something that really infuriates me, actually it makes my blood boil. There need to be restrictions put in place but sadly the vast majority seem to think this is ok … off to break stuff.

  10. Actually, I wonder about who all these people are that see “sexy” and perversion in these photos. That seems more disturbing to me than a bunch of children in bathing suits. I also wonder does makeup portray maturity or sexuality in your minds? Because my daughters and friends played makeup all the time. Some see art, some see perversion. Who are the disturbed Puritans?

  11. Oh for goodness sakes! Get a life! Millions of children in bathing suites on the beach every year, what/ Should we ban them too? Little girls LOVE to dress up like this, psychologists will tell you that it is an IMPORTANT part of growing up!

Leave a reply

Captcha loading...