Playboy can’t quite seduce the Institute of Marketing

Valerie Wickes (Voxpop 25 August) makes some telling points while ignoring the key message of The Chartered Institute of Marketing’s letter in response to The Guardian article. The Chartered Institute of Marketing most certainly does not think it’s okay to seduce young girls into buying into an adult porn brand. That, however, was not the message in the letter.

The letter refers only to the actions of WH Smith. Our view is that WH Smith has been seduced by the ubiquity of the bunny brand. It is guilty, as pointed out in the original letter, of not thinking its actions through. In Wickes’ world, thoughtlessness and a lack of application to the science of branding may qualify as morally loathsome. We prefer to save our moral outrage for genuinely immoral behaviour.

Playboy is most certainly guilty of taking a brand built on sexual licentiousness and sybaritic lifestyles and using it to entrap, as consumers, girls who have no idea what that brand is or what it stands for historically. The Playboy Corporation has a clearly articulated, well-planned brand extension strategy going for it and it plainly does not care who it captures with its branding or what messages that sends out. This, to most of us, would count as morally loathsome.

It is the planned strategy of deliberately targeting this young and naïve consumer group that evokes the moral dimension. In the absence of firm evidence of a deliberate disregard for normal moral standards of behaviour on the part of WH Smith in this affair, we are inclined to give them the benefit of a doubt that Playboy cannot shelter behind.

WH Smith should have known better, certainly, but does this make it any more morally deficient than the numerous parents who have clearly sanctioned the sale of bunny-branded products to their offspring?

David Thorp, The Chartered Institute of Marketing, by e-mail

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