Thursday, May 04, 2006

Reverse psychology

Every once in a while, parents groups, "watchdog" organizations, and other well-meaning busybodies make a concerted effort to derail advertisers, especially on children's programs:

The Center tells us that in addition to trying to addict children to food that will shorten their lives, sicken and kill them, Kellogg is actively dissuading children from eating healthy food: "In a Kellogg advertising campaign for Apple Jacks cereal, the commercial features a conflict between Bad Apple, who is described as grouchy and mischievous, and Sweet Cinna Mon, who supposedly gives Apple Jacks their sweet taste. It is bad enough that Kellogg sells a cereal that has more sugar and more salt than it has apples. However, it is unconscionable to disparage apples when kids need to be encouraged to eat more apples and other fruits and vegetables. On an average day, only 45 percent of American children eat any fruit."

The author who quoted this went off on Senators striking poses because it's easier to take action; he apparently fails to notice that the parents involved in these movements are doing exactly the same - it's easier to whine in the media about what tubby tummies your kids have than to turn off the TV and toss them outdoors for some exercise. And how many ads do they see when they're planted in front of their Game Stations for five hours a day?

In any case, it's astounding that anyone would blame ad hawkers for instilling the kids with such insatiable needs when a lot of modern advertising seems to accomplish the opposite. Both Axe and Tag product spots make me want to bury the television out in the Pine Barrens. "An American Haunting" promises the story of supernatural events "that have never been explained." A mystery that has baffled for a century can only be resolved by a horror film! That explains DaVinci Code as well, though it's only a thriller. Billboards try to insult me into listening to a radio shock-jock (presumably, it's practice for being a regular listener). The list goes on - food spots that nauseate, game ads that annoy, ubiquitous swooshes, pointless noise... half the time one can't even tell quite what's for sale.

All of this does show that the watchdogs have the merest sliver of a point - ads DO influence behavior. That isn't a shock. The real shock is that the kids are expected to be able to discern like adults when the adults in their lives demonstrate no discernment themselves - either in dealing with the ads or with the kids. Reverse psychology is not supposed to work that way.

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