Sun, 27 Feb 2000

Celeb kids in ads, big headache for parents

Turning on the television or radio today can be a dangerous undertaking for those of us who cringe at the sight of pint-size performers. In a wave of cuteness led by the ubiquitous Joshua, they have saturated the entertainment and advertising industry. The Jakarta Post's Rita A. Widiadana, Bruce Emond, Gedsiri Suhartono and Endi Aras look at the big business of little stars. Related stories on Pages 5 and 9.

JAKARTA (JP): He is the star of his own TV series, host of a quiz show and has a slew of lucrative endorsements under his belt. His cassettes fly off the shelves, his songs picked up as anthems for the country's political maneuvering.

He has it all, he is all of seven years old and he is Joshua Suherman, a hot "commodity" for advertisers and organizers of the world of showbiz.

His cute and youthful face appears almost every 10 minutes on television screens selling products from candy, shoes, vitamins, powdered milk, to computer printers.

And Joshua is an effective marketing tool. Says Ani, a three- year-old preschooler, "I want to buy Joshua's vitamin and his millennium shoes."

Her mother can do nothing but agree to her daughter's demands. "She keeps nagging until I finally buy her one," said Diana, a secretary at a private bank.

Novel Ali, a communications expert at Diponegoro University in Semarang, Central Java, said children were now seen by advertisers as the target with the most potential.

"Times have changed. In this information age, children are more audio-visually literate than any previous generation," he said.

Television plays the greatest role in shaping this new age, reaching such a large and varied audience with vivid images. It comes right into the home, where parents, grandparents and young children may be watching together.

In this setting, advertises know they can easily persuade and bombard this young audience.

"Parents, especially in dual-income families, find it hard to turn down their kids' demands. Because of their feelings of guilt, they compensate with consumer goods," Novel said.

Television is still considered the best medium to sell products because it is visual and accessible.

A recent survey by the Indonesian Consumer Foundation revealed that almost 50 percent of TV programs for children were filled with commercials, especially popular children's shows like Power Rangers, Dragon Ball and Sailor Moon.

With the increasing number of children watching TV and children's programs on the airwaves, advertisers need child stars to appear in their commercials, especially popular figure like Joshua, Dea Ananda and Geofanny.

"Children feel close to stars like Joshua and they imitate the fashions of their idols. They will likely buy everything Joshua promotes," said Novel.

Novel said the Central Java Consumers Foundation conducted a survey involving hundreds of parents in the province. The survey revealed that more than 90 percent of the parents knew who Joshua was and had purchased one or two products that Joshua promoted in commercials.

"This is not only about Joshua and other kid stars, but also about the change of mass behavior toward consumerism as well as the exploitation of children as consumers and stars," Novel said.

The success of Joshua has drawn other children to attempt to follow in his footsteps. Ambitious parents know if their children become stars, the door to fame and money will open for them.

Joshua and other child stars are now showered with money and popularity. Joshua receives at least Rp 30 million per commercial, and according to a magazine he earns around Rp 2 billion per year.

Educators, psychologists and children activists have complained about the excessive use of child stars in ads and the targeting of children by advertisers.

"This excessive attention poses a very devastating effect to children's development. Among their peers, the presence of a well-known child performer may very well breed envy among other children who will nag their parents to make them as famous as the their celebrity classmates," said Yaumil Agoes Achir, professor of psychology at the University of Indonesia.

The great number of children appearing in advertising, according to Tini Hadad of the Indonesian Consumers Foundation, is partially due to a lack of regulations to monitor how children are depicted in advertising, be it content, manner of presentation or type of goods advertised.

In fact, regulations concerning children in advertising do exist.

Dr. Sampurno, director general of drugs and food at the Ministry of Health, said the ministry has issued decrees preventing drug, food and beverage companies from using children to advertise their products.

More specifically, in l999 the government issued a decree prohibiting the use of children under five years of age in food advertisements, except in health magazines or journals.

"It is dangerous to use children to promote drugs for adults or food inappropriate for their consumption. I have seen some (such advertisements) on the television," he said.

The ministry has reprimanded companies and advertising companies which inappropriately use children in their advertisements, but no follow-up action has been taken.

Enforcement of the regulations has so far been lenient compared to other countries.

Countries such as Norway and Sweden have in place tough laws regarding the use of children in commercials. These two countries do not allow companies to make advertisements targeting children under 12 years of age. Also, the use of junior models is prohibited.

In Belgium, advertisements for candy must be followed by a message urging children to brush their teeth.

Yusca Ismail, a member of the National Advertising Supervisory Board, admitted that some violations occurred, but said the board could only reprimand its members to abide by the regulations.

"Some of the 'naughty' companies do not belong to the Advertising Association. Therefore, it is hard for us to impose any sanctions against them," said Yusca.

Novel insisted parents, companies, experts, consumer lobbyists and the government must address this problem.

"Children are not commodities or cash cows for parents or companies," Novel said. (team)