For Every Screen, A Commercial

Jan 18

When I hear one of my kids singing a commercial jingle, I cringe.¬† It’s not that I don’t enjoy their high pitched, bouncy voices; but rather, I resent the ease with which a giant corporation can brand their unblemished minds with a typically useless product.¬† As many parents can attest, a catchy tune and a few special effects is all it takes for a child to turn their glazed eyes toward Mom and Dad to plead, “Can I have it?”¬† Until the multi-million dollar marketing campaigns shift their power of persuasion to benefit, rather than burden, parents, the desire to shelter kids from advertising will persist.¬† In today’s age of the glowing screen, however, that effort is bound to grow more challenging.

Mobile phones have become the latest vehicle for product promotions

When my kids were toddlers, their TV viewing was limited to commercial-free stations, like TVO Kids, where advertisements are limited to a quick thank you to their sponsors.¬† As they’ve drifted away from The Wiggles and toward SpongeBob, the ban on ads is gone and kids are exposed to a slew of new toys and sugary cereals that they’d otherwise never know about.¬† Parents may take some solace in their children’s replacement of television with video games which have fewer, if any, commercial interruptions; however, advertisers have crept into those forums, as well.¬† In fact, the smallest, most personal screens – mobile phones – have become the latest vehicle for product promotions.¬†

According to a recent article in Advertising Age, companies like Kraft and Nike are offering interactive applications, such as dinner menu planning or ski reports, on mobile devices to better engage consumers with their top brands.¬† Rather than force-feed their audience an ad, they provide free online (logo-heavy) programs that conveniently integrate into recipients’ daily lives.¬† It’s an interesting concept and even die-hard anti-corporate crusaders will be hard pressed not to use a product if it makes their life easier. Parents should be concerned, however, that as more children join the population of mobile device owners, companies that sell children’s products will be salivating at the prospect of reaching them through those mini screens.¬† ¬†¬†

Advertisers are also likely to engage in tactics that are more intrusive and less welcome than the voluntary downloadable programs.¬† Last week, AT&T sent a large portion of their 75 million customers a text message promoting the season premier of the reality show, American Idol.¬† It’s sort of like having a telemarketer join your phone conversation with your spouse to let you know of a sale on ventilation cleaning.¬† It’s no wonder the backlash by its customers was swift and fierce.¬† However, this experimental effort by AT&T to promote its offerings via texting will likely become a regular occurrence as more companies discover the ease with which they can capture the eyes of millions of consumers.¬†

It’s a shame there are no profits to be earned by encouraging children to be more obliging of their parents’ requests.¬† Every kid in North America would be getting a mobile device for his next birthday if that were the case.¬† But that’s the stuff of fairytales.¬† In reality, parents who want to limit the forces competing for their children’s hearts and minds may want to dim some of the screens in their lives.¬† One added benefit?¬† Fewer targets on your wallet.

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