Yesterday’s Washington Post had an article on the front page of the business section about advertising aimed at children, and the not terribly effective group that monitors it.  It’s an interesting article, and made me once again grateful that we have TiVo and can fast-forward through all the commercials.

Unfortunately, the article was illustrated with big color pictures of several products that have children’s tv and movie characters prominently featured on them. 

So D took one look at the paper, pointed at the box of poptarts with Mr. Incredible on them, and said "I’d like those."

"Do you know what they are?"

"No.  What are they?"

"Why do you think you’d like them?"

"I just do."

"If I put a sticker of Mr. Incredible on these" — point at the bottle of children’s vitamins that I’ve been trying to convince him to eat — " would you eat them?"


"So why do you think you’d like those?  Just because they have Mr. Incredible on them doesn’t mean they’re good."

"I would like them."

I go into the kitchen and pull out a box of macaroni and cheese with Blue on it from the cupboard.  "Do you remember this?  You really wanted us to get this, because it had Blue on it?  When we made it, did you like it?"


He returns to the table and the newspaper.  "But I’d like this.  We can go to the store and buy some."

I sigh.  My husband says to me: "This is going right into your blog, isn’t it?"

D’s a very bright 4-year old.  But he’s simply not able to make the logical leaps that I was leading him towards.

10 Responses to “Advertising”

  1. U.S. Food Policy Says:

    Advertising to Children

    Half Changed World notices the same Post article and, in a brief conversation with her 4-year-old, captures the lunacy of pretending that children can skeptically protect themselves from advertising.

  2. Laura Says:

    He will be able to soon though. My 9-year old regularly does the critiquing himself because we were doing with him at 4 what you are doing with your son. It will come, I promise. Now, I’m off to read the article. Thanks for posting this.

  3. Jody Says:

    I’d say 50% of my decisions these days revolve around keeping the kids away from advertising and marketing, and only about 10% of that works. I swear all three kids can spy a cartoon character on a snack box the size of a grapefruit from 100 yards. And they don’t watch cartoons! They saw Shrek on a box of cereal, didn’t even KNOW who Shrek was, and suddenly, wanted EVERYTHING that Shrek shows up on. We never even bought the darn cereal.
    It’s insidious. I’m hoping that we can make the leap to rational thought and logic before my head explodes from all the patient “no, that isn’t something on our list” chants I resort to now. (They’ve just tipped over past the point where they’re content just to wave hello and keep walking. Damn.)

  4. Suzanne Says:

    I am not looking forward to this at all. Jody’s right—it is insidious, and the pervasive ability of advertisers to capitalize on kids’ gullibility and innocence infuriates me.
    Even “commercial-free” PBS precedes its kids shows by sponsorship spots. They don’t show the actual products, but they still serve to plant the image of a logo that I’m sure the sponsors hope will translate into a purchase somewhere down the line.
    I’ve been meaning to read Juliet Schorr’s new book on this topic; I think your post has just encouraged me to go to the library today!

  5. Angry Pregnant Lawyer Says:

    I read that article on Sunday a.m. My 18-month-old, who doesn’t watch cartoons, was intrigued by the pictures accompanying the article. It’s like he knew they were geared toward him since they were cartoons. He pointed back and forth to Shrek and to Donkey, looking up at me each time, as if to say, “Mommy, who are these people? I feel like I need to know this!” Luckily, I was eventually able to distract him with all the grizzly bear pictures on the Mini-Pages.
    Thank goodness for Tivo, indeed.

  6. Mieke Says:

    Just walking through the grocery store is maddening, all the cereal, snacks, juice boxes with the cute pictures on them calling out to Jonas as we make our way through the store. Sugar, sugar, sugar. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

  7. V.H. Says:

    I’m not looking forward to this either. My daughter is 18 months old so she is still young enough to go crazy in the cheese section instead of the cereal aisle.
    The product placement within the schools is what really gets me. My 9 year old niece goes to school in PA and her school lunch menu will have things like “Trix lunch day,” where lunch consists of a Trix yogurt, a Trix cereal bowl, some canned fruit and a milk.

  8. Phantom Scribbler Says:

    Keep at it with your son. It’s something we really, really work on with our 3-year-old — my husband studies the effects of cigarette advertising on kids, so it feels like a life-and-death issue to us. Some things that have worked for us: we call all forms of advertising and product placement by a single name (“commercials”), which seems to have simplified the concept for him, and made him better able to recognize the genre. And we explain to him that “commercials” are trying to get him to give them his money. No self-respecting preschooler wants to be “gotten” to do anything, so he instinctively resists the message.
    He’s still vulnerable, but we hope that his awareness at this age will inoculate him later, when we’re less able to mediate between him and the world.

  9. Elizabeth Says:

    Thanks for the comments. Laura, it’s really encouraging to hear that in a few years, he’ll have more of an ability to read commercials critically.
    I sometimes wonder whether we’re doing him a favor by censoring all the commercials via TiVo. It definitely makes our parental lives easier, but I wonder if he’s more vulnerable to the commercials that he does see because he hasn’t seen 100s.
    At some point, I want to give D an allowance and start letting him buy things with his own money, so he can decide whether they’re as good as he expected. I still remember how disappointed I was in the Betsy Wetsy doll I got as a kid after begging for it. But I don’t think he’s quite ready for that lesson yet.
    Via US Food Policy ( — the blog in the trackback ping above), I found the following proposal for a “Parents Bill of Rights” with respect to advertising to kids. It’s interesting.

  10. DadTalk Says:

    Here’s More Evidence
    TV Ads Bad for Kids

    I make no bones about it: I hate TV and magazine food commercials. And because they are bright, fun and creative, I hate them even more. And I really hate how food advertisers glom onto every book, movie and TV

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