TED’s Ads Worth Spreading Prove Commercials Can Inspire Goodness

Feb 28

TED just announced the 10 winners of the second Ads Worth Spreading challenge. The contest celebrates advertisements that “communicate ideas with consumers in the same way that TED wants to communicate with its audience.” In other words: Inspire positive change among individuals, communities, and eventually society. Based on these entries, the screen can, indeed, help make the world a better place for our kids and our families.

These two are among my favourites:

The first one is an ad for Chipotle. The message is rather Lorax-ish in nature. A pig farmer grows his business to industrial proportions only to realize he has made a grave mistake, and thankfully, mends his way by embracing a more ecological approach to living. Beautiful music and inspiring animation. This ad proves that a company can advertise effectively while still promoting a positive message for society.

This next ad, by Sharpie, is another favourite of mine. In our technologically-driven households and communities, this commercial celebrates the raw creative genius of one young man who illustrates beautiful works of art on coffee cups. I could have done without the focus on his plans to travel aimlessly across the world, but the ad’s ability to inspire us all to pursue our individuality through art is admirable.

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Commercials for Lucky Charms Right on Your Kitchen Table

Feb 28

I remember reading cereal boxes over and over as a child. I can’t recall any specific reason why I did it, other than it was sitting right in front of me as I slurped my milk-soaked Shreddies. Back then the boxes touted health benefits, which were apparently interesting enough for me to read over and over and over again. Today, I see my kids equally engaged with their cereal boxes. However, the backside is more likely to be illustrated with quizzes, mazes, and scrambled words than nutritional information.

The cereal box is, in fact, one of the most widely read mediums according to General Mills’ Chief Marketing Officer, Mark Addicks. The average person reviews his or her cereal box 12 times. Not surprisingly, the company plans to further take advantage of this branding opportunity by using the newest digital technologies available to create more interactivity. Very likely, this will be most appealing for the youngest marketing segment – kids.

According to a USA Today article, General Mills is considering the addition of QR (quick response) codes to cereal boxes, as well as creating apps for their top brands. With the use of an iPhone, cereal eaters may be able to point to a logo for some sort of entertainment. Needless to say, the motivation is to provide pure entertainment, not nutritional know-how (not particularly surprising since one of their top sellers is Lucky Charms, a food product that is clearly short on nutritional bragging rights). General Mills and Kellogg’s are eager to look beyond the traditional 30-second TV spots by providing videos and games that can be turned on only inches from your cereal-munching face.

What does this mean for parents? Here are a few of my predictions:

  1. Your kids will beg even harder for the “fun” boxes (think: unnaturally bright-coloured morsels of sugary shapes) as you peruse the grocery aisles.
  2. They will fight over who gets to use Mom’s iPhone to watch the game or video.
  3. New breakfast table entertainment will slow down the morning routine the way television programs have a tendency to do. “Wait – I’m almost done playing this game! One more minute.”
  4. Kids lose yet another opportunity for good old fashioned reading – even if it is back-of-the-box fluff, it’s a nice break from animation.
  5. The brands that health-conscious parents least want their kids to eat will be more enticing than ever to their young ones.
  6. More brand brainwashing for kids during a morning ritual that is typically a wonderful time to chat among the family.
  7. Parents will feel more urgency to teach their children to be critical of videos and games provided by brands.

Okay, clearly I’m not a fan of the interactive cereal box. When one considers the enormous potential of a medium that is read almost a dozen times, it’s hard to fathom that the best we can do is give kids more cartoons to encourage them to eat more sugar-laden cereal. I have an idea: how about an interactive box that encourages kids to study for school, listen to their parents, and eat their fruits and vegetables? Now, that’s a box I’d keep on my table all day long.

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Tip #7 – Take the Kids to the Library

Jun 13

Remember the days before mom & pop shops were replaced by big box stores like Wal-mart and Costco?  While we all visit the behemoth stores for their convenience and endless variety of storage containers it’s easy to lament the days when the customer greeter and salesperson and cashier were rolled together into one helpful human being.  Our communities have transformed to accommodate these new bastions of merchandise, yet thankfully, one gathering place has remained intact: the library.

The library is one of the few places where excess is a wondrous thing. When my kids beg to go to Toys R Us, I groan. Taking three boys to a massive display of toys and video games without a good portion of cash in my wallet always ends badly. A trip to the library, however, is a most welcome suggestion.  In fact, I’m delighted when they ask me to take them (and yes, they ask frequently).  They are free to roam the shelves and select those books most intriguing.  Other than suffering from a sore back, I’m more than happy to lug forty books home (our record for the largest amount of books we’ve borrowed in a single visit).

A librarian is always available to help us find a specific book or offer guidance on a good read.  I’ll run my fingers along the spines with one of my kids as we seek out a particular author and pull out the odd book to see its cover (yes, we do judge a book by its cover).  Another of my sons will peruse the pages of a picture book before deciding whether it’s worth borrowing.  When you think about it… libraries have to be one of the best inventions ever created for parents. They offer kids the opportunity to take whatever books they want, in any abundance – for free!

So, what has library visits got to do with tips on raising kids in the digital age?  The bricks and mortar libraries are under threat, thanks to the availability of electronic information.  Consider this: in the late 1990’s, 80% of Ontario elementary schools had a teacher-librarian. Today, only 56% do.  And, most recently, the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board announced it will shut all its school libraries.

Certainly online research is valuable for school projects, but despite it’s hype, Wikipedia ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.  A screen of black type listing every boring fact about Egyptian history cannot compete with a full-colour book written in kid-friendly language and organized with headings, photos, diagrams, and, well, real pages that can be referred to any time of day or night.  When my sons research for their school projects, they use kids’ books.  No matter how much time we spend looking for information online, it just does not compare to the valuable resources provided in books (from the library, might I add).

, the celebrated social media guru and bestselling business author recently published a stating “Wikipedia and the huge databanks of information have basically eliminated the library.” He continues, “Kids…need a library not at all.”  I looked into whether Seth has any kids.  He doesn’t.  If he did, he’d likely realize that Wikipedia is one of the worst resources for a ten-year-old trying to understand a subject.  He would probably understand that kids don’t need to be “coerced” to go to the library – they want to go.  Sadly, if this kind of thinking is behind the belief that libraries have lost their usefulness, parents and their kids are in big trouble.

Today, libraries are as essential as ever.  They offer our kids a quiet and reflective place to read, write, explore.  Surfing through a list of images on an e-reader, while convenient, does not compare to the hands-on experience of selecting a book and noting how many pages it is, what kind of pictures there are, reading the back cover.  Certainly, digital research and ebooks will replace some need for ‘real’ books, but not all.  Let’s not move forward so fast that we are suddenly back-pedalling to make up for hasty decisions.  Remember what happened to another important resource – known as trees and forests… I know of a few million people working to save what little is left.

My advice?  Take the kids to the library.  The more they connect with real books, the more likely they’ll want to use their digital tools for reading rather than YouTube and video gaming.  Yes, we all want our kids to know how to effectively use digital technology, but one of the best stepping stones to building that knowledge is through visiting a library.

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