U.K. Probes Marketing of 'Sexualized' Products to Pre-Teens

PM Cameron Shocked at Lolita Beds for 6-Year-Olds, Calls Marketers Irresponsible

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- British retailers could be banned from selling "sexualized" products aimed at children following a government inquiry into "age appropriate" marketing. The review, started this week, is looking at whether new rules are needed to prevent the marketing of items such as "porn star" T-shirts, pole-dancing kits, Playboy pencil cases and padded bras to pre-teens.

Mumsnet's 'Let Girls Be Girls' campaign aimed at curbing the premature sexualization of children by asking retailers not to sell products that 'play upon, emphasize or exploit their sexuality.'
Mumsnet's 'Let Girls Be Girls' campaign aimed at curbing the premature sexualization of children by asking retailers not to sell products that 'play upon, emphasize or exploit their sexuality.'
British Prime Minister David Cameron recently labeled marketers "irresponsible" and said he was shocked to find models of beds named "Lolita" targeted at 6-year-olds. One of the government's pledges when it came to power in May was to take action to protect children from what it referred to as "premature sexualization."

Reg Bailey, CEO of the Mothers' Union, an international Christian family-welfare organization, has been appointed to lead the inquiry. The inquiry will have a free hand to make recommendations, which could include restrictions on sales, a watchdog, or a government-funded website for worried parents.

Mr. Bailey called on parents to send him examples of products that concerned them. "It's all about the tone and the style of the way things are marketed to children," he said. "When you are so bombarded by marketing and sexualized imagery, it almost becomes wallpaper."

In a pre-emptive strike to tackle the same problem, the Advertising Association recently launched the Children's Ethical Communications Kit in partnership with Turner Media Innovations, to help companies target only responsible products and campaigns to children.

Check, which will be regularly updated, brings together all the existing regulations around marketing to children, with the aim of bringing clarity to what can and can't be done, and where.

Ed Vaizey, culture minister, said in a statement, "Childhood should be free of excessive commercialization and inappropriate content. Check will play an important role in ensuring advertisers and marketers continue to act responsibly when communicating with children."

Ian Barber, the Advertising Association's director of communications, said, "Nobody gains from irresponsible marketing where children are concerned. It's damaging for client relationships, for brands, for the industry's reputation and for the person that gets it wrong. Marketing and children is a hot topic and it's good to see the industry keeping one step ahead."

In April, cut-price clothes retailer Primark pulled a range of bikinis for 7-year-old girls featuring padded tops from its stores, following a barrage of criticism. Primark apologized to customers and said it would donate any profits it had made to child-welfare organizations. In June, Walmart-owned Asda bowed to pressure and stopped stocking padded bras for pre-teens. The retailer also asked influential online forum Mumsnet to approve its kids' clothing ranges.

Mumsnet has launched the "Let Girls Be Girls" campaign, aimed at curbing the premature sexualization of children by asking retailers not to sell products that "play upon, emphasize or exploit their sexuality." The campaign is backed by stores including Tesco, Zara, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer, according to the campaign's website. The website also calls out retailers who either declined to participate, or didn't respond, including H&M, Gap, Claire's Accessories and padded bikini-purveyor Primark.

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