Social media advertising fuelling teenagers’ unused ‘trainer mountain’

Charity Global Action Plan (GAP) has found that UK teenagers own 58 million trainers, almost 30% of which remain unused, with a new study claiming that purchasing habits are a symptom of targeted digital and social media advertising.

Social media advertising fuelling teenagers’ unused ‘trainer mountain’

GAP claims that social media advertising is pressurising teenagers to buy more than they otherwise would

GAP’s study revealed that UK teenagers are faced with a barrage of online ads designed to make them buy products such as trainers, to the point where many remain unused after purchase.

The charity’s survey found that 5.2 million teenagers in the UK owned the equivalent of 29 million pairs of trainers, with an average of six pairs of trainers each. Some respondents owned up to 20 pairs of trainers.

GAP claims that digital advertising targeted at teenagers goes largely unchecked, unlike on television, meaning that parents may be unaware of the pressure to purchase, or how exposed teenagers are to adverts.

In 2017, for example, the overall spend of online advertising reached almost £12bn. In contrast, £4.8bn was spent on television advertising. Data analytics company Nielsen has since reported that digital spend on trainers alone, in the UK, surpassed £10m. Less than £2m was spent on television equivalents. ASOS, for example, has more than 1,200 white trainers for sale.

Social media management platform Sprout Social has claimed that the average Instagram user will see one ad in every three to four posts. These numbers can increase if “paid for posts” from influencers are included. Almost three-quarters of the global teenage population uses Instagram, meaning they face content from more than two million advertisers on a monthly basis. In fact, GAP’s study found that 78% of teenagers listed social media as one of the top three places they see adverts.

As well as promoting a linear economy model for the fashion industry, the pressurised hoarding of trainers has an environmental downside too. GAP claims that the CO2e emissions produced to create 58 million trainers are more 409 Million kgs CO2e – the equivalent of circumnavigating the globe in a medium-sized car almost 50 thousand times. 

Trainer response

With many chains releasing new lines, not every season, but every week, the global fashion sector is currently churning out more than 100 billion garments and 20 billion pairs of shoes annually, for a population of around 7.7 billion. This process generates around 10% of the world’s carbon emissions and accounts for 5% of humanity’s water use.

In response, GAP is launching its #Idontbuyit campaign, aimed at raising the issue to parents as well as providing them with the knowledge to support teenagers.

GAP’s head of wellbeing and consumerism, Natasha Parker, said: “Digital and social media adverts are much less visible to parents than TV advertising. This is why we are launching our #Idontbuyit campaign, to raise awareness of the potential impact that digital advertising is having on teenagers and draw parents’ attention to the sheer volume of advertising which young people are exposed to.”

GAP is also calling for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to commence a review on online advertising and for it to consider the impact on young people’s wellbeing and on the planet’s natural resources.

Matt Mace

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