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We Are Not Eating Ariel, and Other Tales of False Advertising

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A few years ago, we had tilapia filets for dinner. Joel, age four, remarked on the color of the meat. He wondered why fish is always white. My husband told him some fish, like salmon and tuna, are pinkish or orange.

Joel said, “I know what tuna is. It’s mermaid meat.”

The cans of tuna in the cupboard feature a smiling blonde mermaid on the label. It’s is false advertising when you are a four-year-old boy who judges the contents of the can by the label outside. Hopefully he doesn’t think the cans of O-shaped pasta in red sauce contain a little smiling Chef.

My pre-reading son goes through life bombarded by signs and symbols. Restaurants and junk foods have perfected this art. When my kids were mere toddlers, they could recognize the golden arches sign as the wellspring of french fries and deep-fried chicken chunks.

Savvy marketers trumpet a certain restaurant where a kid can be a kid. Judging by the imagery, a kid is a human who likes swimming in filthy ball pits under the watchful eye of a rodent, blasting things for tickets, then exchanging tickets for plastic choking hazards.

Commercials running on their favorite channels imply certain breakfast pastries are preferred by well-liked and highly skilled snowboarding pop stars with bling and straight As.

A universe of popularity, irresponsibility, mad skillz, free temporary tattoos, and parents who dole out cell phones like chewable vitamins is theirs for the begging.

Maybe I am naive, but I think kids can see when they are being manipulated. When my kids bite into a breakfast pastry, nothing extraordinary happens. Their tummies are filled and they go upstairs to make their beds and brush their teeth. Ho-hum.

With parental help, kids begin to understand the labels they see do not correspond with reality, and that commercials can be empty promises. The ability to think critically about products and services will be a huge gift in adulthood when advertisers promise younger looking skin, rapid weight loss, and lush hair growth in all the right places.

Many parents get upset by the fact their kids are marketed to relentlessly. Nothing has changed in the past thirty or more years. It’s been this way since the dawn of mass media, and it always will be this way. Rather than completely shielding kids, how about walking with them as they navigate the choppy seas of being in a coveted demographic?

I never truly believed the Koolaid man would bust through our kitchen wall shouting, “Oh, yeah!” as I swigged my sugared drink at lunch.

Did you?

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Comments
  • comment avatar Kagey May 13, 2008

    The first time my kids watched non-PBS tv, I remember saying as the commercials came on, “Oh, these are the people trying to sell us stuff we don’t need.”
    I said it every time the commercial break started. Now, my four yr old says it for me, and turns away from the tv. My 2 yr old is glued to the barbie doll ads.
    Yeah, kids know when they are being sold, from a very young age, with or without my commentary!

  • comment avatar Adventures In Babywearing May 13, 2008

    I think that it is up to us as parents to direct just how the advertising affects our children. If we just let them figure it out themselves then it could be negative. But if we talk with them and explain how things work, I think it makes them smart consumers. I have a different perspective as a writer married to a husband who provides for us thanks to ADVERTISING! : )

    http://www.adventuresinbabywearing.com/

    Steph

  • comment avatar Heth May 13, 2008

    You mean the Koolaid man never came to your house? The taste of Juicy Fruit never moved you? What about Tony the Tiger, you’ve got to admit, he’s GRRRREAT!

    I’m with ya Gretchen, teaching our kids how to handle it is the way to go.

  • comment avatar MileHiDad May 13, 2008

    Yo Mile High Mamas, nice to meet you ladies, MileHighDad here pleased to see other having a MileHighMadness.
    Nice Blog, mind if I add to to my BlogRoll?
    BTW, Talapia? Ewww… Orange Roughy rules!
    -MileHighDad
    http://www.milehighdad.com

  • comment avatar Alison Peace May 13, 2008

    Gleefully I brought home the coveted ‘Snoopy Snow Cone Machine’ for my then 5 year old. I was so excited to share with her a toy from ‘the olden daysâ€? as she calls it. I was so excited I could show her something from back when I was a kid. My excitement and the fun everyone was having on the box convinced her and she was ready for that snow cone! The snow cones on box looked HUGE, they were towering blue and red frozen, sugary treats. We put the snow cone maker together, retrieved ice from the fridge and began cranking away, and away, and away. Tiny, microscopic ice slivers slowwwwwly came out of the machine. This, was dreadful. We cranked away for about 15 minutes and only had about 2 Inches of ice which was melting. I decided to finish the job with my blender. It was so sad. My daughter said, “That picture is a liar!!!â€? And I sadly had to agree with her. I could tell she was really bothered by the whole experience. From that day forward she has ALWAYS been skeptical. For every advertisement on TV she says outloud, “yeah rightâ€? and doesn’t believe a word they say. I’m kind of glad that she is skeptical and doesn’t believe everything she sees and hears, but I’m sad too, I’m sad that she can’t trust what people say, that manufacturers are so greedy and cheap that they use the cheapest parts/materials possible which produce nothing but disappointment and distrust. I go out of my way sometimes to make comments like, “oh that works really well I’m really pleased about thatâ€? when something I buy surprisingly works out to try to show her that some things are quality, but sadly, it doesn’t happen very often.

  • comment avatar Anonymous May 13, 2008

    I remember the first time my kids got Airheads candy in their Halloween bag. My youngest, then about 3, was sorely disappointed that neither her nor her sister’s heads blew up into a fruit!! She seriously thought it would happen.

  • comment avatar Gem May 13, 2008

    Oops, that was me with the Airhead kids!

    http://www.mysocalled.homeschooljournal.net

  • comment avatar [email protected] May 13, 2008

    Definitely important to teach kids about what advertising is and how/why it works. In fact, I remember doing “units” on that in school . . .

    Anyway, Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser has some really interesting facts and statistics on the focused efforts of the fast food industry to target kids from toddlerhood. Good read!

  • comment avatar Minnesotamom May 13, 2008

    I hope Anja can see through all the filth as she gets older. I know I bought into certain marketing schemes at least until Jr. High, and the schemes are so much more cunning and the repercussions so much more volatile today…

    http://minnesotamom.wordpress.com

  • comment avatar Mitch McDad May 13, 2008

    This made me laugh about feeding my kids fish. We I referred to their Alaskan Pollack as “fish,” they freaked because they were into Nemo at the time. So I had to make sure never to say fish anymore.

  • comment avatar ann May 13, 2008

    I…uh…really believed the chuck wagon would fly by if we fed our dog that one dog food AND I was afraid of Mrs. Buttersworth every time I saw her bottles on the shelf with all the syrup. I was afraid she’d start talking. But then, when I was a kid, I thought my stuffed animals had feelings and were alive, even though they never talked to me…heehee!