Stupid Crusade Watch: The Kids are Fine
By Ken Magill
Alex Bogusky—founding partner of ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky—over the summer published a much-gushed-over and downright ludicrous essay calling for an end to advertising aimed at children.
The essay utterly abdicated the parental responsibility necessary in a healthy, market-driven economy. (Yeah, yeah, I know. Healthy right now, not so much.)
“Advertising to adults is not without controversy,” he wrote. “And although I’m concerned about consuming for consumption’s sake, I am able to see the role advertising plays in moving our economy forward and the benefit to society that can be created. However, when it comes to advertising to children, it’s much more difficult to find any redeeming value created by the activity. In fact, to the contrary, it is easy to see how destructive the process is to most of us.”
First, even if one were to agree with Bogusky’s wrongheaded idea that all ads aimed at kids should be banned, how would we define such advertising in a way that would not create havoc?
Would we ban any ads pitching any product that kids can reasonably be expected to want or use that isn’t a necessity? Would the ban only apply to TV, or would it apply to all forms of advertising? If it would apply to all forms of advertising, would GameStop have to cease promoting new titles in its windows? Would producers of sugary cereals have to dispatch their cartoon-character mascots? Even from their boxes?
No more going cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.
Oh, and: “Silly rabbit! Trix are for … well … we’re not allowed to tell you. And actually we can’t even call them Trix anymore. We have to call them a ‘Cornstarch-Based, Crunchy, Fructose-Ball Breakfast Food Whose Nutritional Value Doesn’t Remotely Outweigh the Hazards its High Sugar Content Poses to Your Child’s Health.’ Try putting that on the brown cardboard boxes that have been mandated as the only acceptable packaging for sugary cereals and making the product appealing. Oh, right. That was the point. Oh well. But thank goodness for that ad ban! Otherwise, our jingle writers would have all died of aneurisms by now.”
Proposed bans on ads aimed at kids always rest on the fact that children can’t make reasonable decisions. Well, no kidding. This is why when we ask our kids to make decisions, we only give them two alternatives—“Do you want to wear the blue shorts or the green ones?”—either of which is acceptable to us, giving them the illusion of making their own decisions.
Bogusky took the kids-aren’t-rational argument a step further and discussed what he believes would be a positive change in relationships between parents and their children.
“Without the messages suggesting to kids that they eat differently than how mom and dad would like them to eat, trips to the grocery store and meals at home would almost certainly contain dramatically less complete and total meltdowns,” Bogusky wrote. “Imagine a relationship with kids where moms and dads aren’t caving in to the constant pressure their kids apply to get what they want. Helping to create this pressure is why companies advertise to a group of people who have neither jobs nor income. And it is working. More than 10 percent of 12- to 13-year-olds admitted to asking their parents more than 50 times for products they have seen advertised.”
Here’s a novel solution: It’s called parenting. I have a seven-year-old son. My wife and I learned very early on that whenever we let Max win a test of wills, down the road we will pay … oh, will we pay.
As a result, we don’t let Max win tests of will. If he asks for something we don’t want him to have 50 times—as he did with chips the night before this was written—the answer is “no” 50 times, or 60, or 100 with a long timeout if that’s what it takes.
Whenever Max digs in his heels, we marvel at how headstrong he can be. We also see it as an opportunity to assert parental authority. So, without hitting or verbally abusing him, we mercilessly crush him, making sure he’s a sniveling, sobbing pile of quivering snot before we’re done.
We do this by simply outlasting him and taking away privileges and toys if we must—something Bogusky apparently wants to save us the hassle of doing. A favorite video game taken for a day or two is the nuclear option in our household. We’ve had to employ it maybe three times. When we threaten, he knows we mean it.
Oh, and for the record: He is worshipped and knows it.
Children are born barbarians. It’s our job to civilize them. Civilizing them is hard work. But those agonizing sessions where we have to get a spine and force ourselves not to bend to our little barbarians’ wills is where the real parenting takes place.
With that idea in mind, advertising doesn’t remotely harm the parent-child relationship. Rather, it offers opportunities to actually be a parent.
For example, ads offer mom and dad the opportunity to show kids the benefit of becoming productive members of the household by doing chores until they earn enough money to buy the thing advertised that they want so badly.
Moreover, it’s a bonus if the thing they worked their little butts off to buy doesn’t turn out to be quite as advertised. The experience will help shape them into wary little consumers—you know, by actually helping them learn to make more rational decisions in the future?
That lesson came to me 40 some odd years ago in the form of sea monkeys bought with my own money from the back of a comic book. They weren’t monkeys. They didn’t do tricks. I was pissed. But I also resolved not to be tricked like that again—though I do have a vague memory of buying a cardboard submarine that wasn’t remotely seaworthy.
In any case, last I checked every TV has an “off” switch and there are rules governing Internet advertising to kids.
As for the Magill household and many like it, we’re big fans of Nickelodeon—especially iCarly and Spongebob Squarepants. We would really appreciate it if anti-advertising nags would keep their nannying mitts off the system that results in primetime programming where people aren’t hacked to death in new and inventive ways every week and the jokes don’t force us into uncomfortable discussions with our kids that neither they or we are ready to have—all because some parents don’t want to have to grow a pair and say “no.”