“Love Island” And Responsibility

I have not seen a second of Love Island. I can’t say the same about many of the people I follow on Twitter, who seem to be split into two groups: those that are watching Love Island and those that can’t believe how many people on Twitter are watching Love Island. You could not get me to watch a program about, *Googles*, people having to couple up to win money?!

No. I’m not writing about that programme today. Instead, I want to focus on what happens in the advertising breaks.

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When I was younger, my older sister and I would play “The Advert Game”. It was really simple: an advert would come on and the first of us to identify it would shout it out and win a point. I looked forward to the adverts more than the programs. We would also do that thing whereby we pretended we had the products that were being sold, whether peanut butter or perfume. I consume many of the same products today. Advertising has a power. I’m a brand loyalist, often going back to the same brands over and over again because they have always served me well.

Advertisers know this. The Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB) notes that “each year, £7.5 billion is spent by broadcasters and advertisers on the production and distribution of programme and commercial content.” They are not doing that without an expectation of a significant return on investment.

Love Island features beautiful young men and women. The promotional posters for it are reality warping – you don’t see groups of people like this outside of music videos and movie sets – and cosmetic surgery businesses know that the placement of an advert when the audience have seen these men and women walking around with minimal clothing is likely to be effective.

So what? It’s 2018 and people are free to have cosmetic surgery if that’s what they want. Sure, that’s true. But a breakdown of viewing figures from BARB shows that 175,000 of Love Island’s viewers are under 15 and 22,000 of those are under 7.

Ah. But kids that young shouldn’t be watching that. I blame the parents! It’s another sign of how the culture is going down the toilet! That argument would be easier to buy if attracting young people wasn’t baked into the show’s DNA. Writing for BARB, Neil Mortenson, Director of Audience for ITV said:

At the beginning, our network wanted a new reality show for ITV2, so we held brainstorms to stimulate ideas. We pulled huge stacks of BARB data together, mapping the gaps in the market and sprinkling on qualitative insights from our youth panel. 

I’ve added the emphasis in that quote. Youth is described as the age between childhood and adulthood, and unless R Kelly now works for ITV, I think we can all agree that is too young to have a show like Love Island that targets them. Mortenson’s words are impossible to reconcile with those of Mya, one of the cosmetic surgery companies that have been featured during the ad breaks, who, through a spokesperson, said:

“We see Love Island as an adult-focused show with adult content.”

No, you don’t. Neither does the spokesperson for ITV who said:

“ITV takes its responsibility to viewers very seriously and ensures adverts broadcast during our programmes adhere to the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising’s rules on the content and scheduling of advertising.”

There is a massive game of nudge-nudge, wink-wink happening here. A long time ago, I taught a little bit on media studies and one of the oldest advertising tricks when marketing to children was to use actors slightly older than your target audience. You want to advertise a toy designed for 4-5 year olds? Use 8-9 year olds in your advert. Want to advertise to the youth? Have the average age of contestant on your dating show be 23.

Another trick is to make your product seem slightly taboo. Put Love Island on past the watershed and it is now an act of rebellion for young people to watch it (Wait, we still have a watershed? Somebody should tell the television stations! – Ed). The timing of the show allows ITV to raise it’s hands in the air and say “Look. We adhere to the rules. If teenagers and young children are watching our programme that’s not our fault…” Nudge-nudge, wink-wink.

The Mental Health Foundation tweeted this out:

It seems that the nudges and winks are not washing for a foundation that has found that 47% of 18-24 year olds have felt so stressed by their body image and appearance that they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. Looking at the picture used in that tweet,  it is easy to see why.

I’m not going to moralise about a programme I haven’t seen. I am going to say that content providers have responsibilities. The showrunners of Love Island know that their programme reaches young people and that the young today spend a lot of money. They should also know that the rates of teen anxiety, depression and suicide are too damn high. Placing an advert like this, with its glossy finish, slow motion shots and link between happiness and body shape, into the ad space between your programme, is to be ok with being complicit in those rate rises. But if money is being made and advertisers are happy, I guess it is like having to break a few eggs (children and young people) in order to make an omelette (money).




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