Leading Artcle: Who's the real bully over the cornflakes?

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
KELLOGG'S, THE breakfast cereal company, may be feeling hard done by. It has been told off by the Advertising Standards Authority and the children's charity, Kidscape, for an advertisement it ran earlier this year which featured the issue of bullying. The Kellogg's ad used a plump schoolboy and a quote: "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names could really hurt me". Beneath was the claim that "One of the most common causes of bullying in school is being fat... Of course, a cereal breakfast like Kellogg's can't solve complex weight problems but in its own small way it can really help."

Harmless enough? Not really. Bullying is a serious problem. Up to half a million of the nation's school kids are victims of physical, emotional or verbal abuse. Twelve of them commit suicide each year because of it, and many more do badly in their studies or grow up with low self-esteem. Using these kids' fears to sell breakfast cereal was wrong.

So Kidscape and the ad watchdog were right to attack Kellogg's for its campaign. Now Kellogg's should apologise: first for a mistake on the causes of bullying, second for adding to children's unease.

Victims of bullies are not chosen just because they are fat or skinny or short, or because they have spots. Victims are chosen for many reasons: because they are different somehow, have low self-esteem, feel insecure or cannot stand up for themselves, whatever their shape or size.

Telling fat children to go on a diet to avoid bullies is not only crude, it also helps to form a culture in which the victim is blamed for the abuse. Judging by the 50 or so complaints that Kidscape and the ad watchdog received, Kellogg's may even have lowered the self-esteem of children whose looks aren't quite the norm. What if steroid manufacturers were to target skinny kids in the same fashion? Should makers of platform shoes tell short children that "getting tall" may help in its own small way?

Controversial advertisements, of course, get noticed. This one has now been scrapped. Kellogg's says it sought advice from an anti-bullying group, and that the ad followed in a tradition of Billy-Bunter-type characters. If so, that was the wrong tradition to follow. The ASA says the ad "simplified and trivialised bullying and the solutions to it" and so "exploited the insecurities of children and parents".

That sort of behaviour, picking on the victims, sounds all too familiar. Kellogg's itself seems to be the bully here.

Comments