Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Why is a leisure centre promoting gun culture for Kids?

I took my 4 year old to the Swansea Leisure Centre (LC) yesterday and was confronted by adverts of children holding guns like a gangster to promote the LC's new 'leisure' activity of laser battles.

I find it hard enough trying to educate my 4 year old about the problem with guns and find these posters unhelpful.

A spokesperson for LC Swansea replied to me saying;
'The last thing we want to do is cause offence to anyone, the LC is all about having fun with your family, so thanks for bringing this to our attention.

I find this is not enough and expect a better understanding of marketing and its effect on kids. A few years ago two posters for an Angelina Jolie film were criticised by advertising watchdogs for making guns attractive.The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled the 'Wanted' movie posters were not suitable to be seen by children. It added that the use of a glamorous actress, gun images and aspirational text "could glamorise violence".

I would argue that these posters at the LC are doing exactly the same thing. Their website has the same picture (below)

An LC spokesperson told a concerned customer   
'It wasn't our intention to cause offence and we're in the process of reviewing the marketing images we're using to promote Laser Tag.

'In the same week that I was confronted by these posters, I read that a young boy has shot dead his entire family. A report on the killing follows;

Marcelo had no history of violence, police say, but was obsessed with weapons and had a large collection of toy guns and a protective breastplate made of cardboard in his bedroom, police said.
Toy guns are becoming more lifelike each year and it is time to take notice of how society is normalising weapons amongst our children.

When I contacted Swansea council for their views, I was told that the LC is not owned by the council. I find it confusing as to why the council logo is prominately displayed on the LC website and the following text adds to my confusion
Bay Leisure Ltd is an independent not for profit company set up to manage the LC on behalf of the City and County of Swansea
So what is the councils involvement? At least they agreed with my opinion about the posters. I received an email from David Philips, Leader of Swansea council (who used to own the Leisure centre). He said;
I agree with you that these posters were not appropriate, as they were so clearly available to alternative readings.

On the LC Facebook page they are promoting their gun games with a toy turtle which led one local Ash Jenkins to write
Why, in this day and age, are you advertising and condoning the use of green reptiles harnessing semi automatic weapons? This is not the image The LC2 should be promoting to our children. What next, Laser IED's? Lizards with petrol bombs? This has gone too far.
Just a few days after I contacted LC to complain, all photos of the child with the gun have been deleted from their website. That is at least a result. Let's hope that they think first next time. Now it is time to ask why are they encouraging kids to run around with guns shooting each other? It is a leisure centre- not a killing centre!

Today, August 10th the Evening Post published that the LC will not use the gangster photos again. A spokeswoman for the LC said:
"The last thing we would want to do is cause offence to any of our customers.
"In light of some of the responses to an image we have used to promote our summer Laser Tag activity, we have decided to remove it from all our marketing materials."
This is a good result and the most sensible option. A month after I contacted the Advertising Standards Authority for their opinion on the adverts, they wrote to me stating;
The ASA contacted the advertiser and was informed that the posters were shown within the premises of LC Swansea, including the poster shown on the footpath, which fell within the sphere of their premises. Unfortunately, the Codes we administer do not apply to ads displayed within unpaid for advertising space, including an advertiser’s premises'
So basically there is no legal constraints on adverts like this. Without my actions in complaining,  the LC would be free to promote their Laser gun battles using adverts of children with guns. I am glad I took direct action and hopefully the LC will think more carefully next time on how they use children to promote their activities.

Undercurrents is an award winning alternative news service producing videos of people taking inspiring actions. http://www.undercurrents.org

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