Whose minds are messed up? A response to Nairn and Fine

Tim Ambler
London Business School

INTRODUCTION

Nairn and Fine (2008) have claimed that the advertising industry is, or might be, behaving unethically with regard specifically to children. They suggest that advertisers are deliberately manipulating the minds of young children and that ways should be found, perhaps through regulation, to prevent this. Their point is that children differ from older age groups and therefore special codes should be enforced to protect them. This paper examines whether Nairn and Fine present a credible case or whether they have confounded their concern for children with their antipathy for certain types of advertising for all age groups. Nairn and Fine may also be confusing changes in advertising theory with changes in advertising practice. The relatively recent recognition of 'implicit' (i.e. non-conscious) processing of advertising does not imply that the advertising industry has only recently employed implicit appeals any more than the universe has started to behave differently since Einstein discovered relativity. The question is whose minds are messed up.