Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Raised on commercials

When you have kids, it can be a little scary just how influential TV commercials can be to their growing minds. My five-year-old son, who loves the Discovery Channel, has suddenly started hounding his mother and me to buy everything — EVERYTHING — he sees advertised.

"You should get a Highlander. It's really powerful."
"Mom? You should buy this shampoo. It smells really good!"
"Dad, you would like to play poker. It's a man game."

And, despite every locavorous, artisinal, foodie meal we make him he sees one spot with beauty shots of kids piling into hotdogs with Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is" booming in the background, and:

"My favourite hotdogs are Maple Leaf."

Sigh. But I'm not going to take TV away from him. In my opinion, mass media are part of our modern consumer environment. Rather than censoring, I prefer to watch with him, do my best to counteract the pitches, and use my insider knowledge to give him age-appropriate media awareness education.

But despite the short-term brainwashing, I also wonder if the long-term effects of this exposure will really be all that negative. I turned 40 today, so I guess I'm in kind of a nostalgic mood, but I also consider my Gen-X childhood spent in front of the electronic babysitter part of what made me what I am today.

For example, much of our PSA work here at Acart, as well as the campaigns I cover on this blog and at Osocio, has to do with road safety. And what was an early influence?

Seems negative, but we actually based a two-year Transport Canada safety campaign on toys called "Safety is No Game". Look familiar?

This next commercial is just a reminder of how far we have come in child safety. Check out these kids doing bootlegger turns, helmet free, on these awesome death cycles. My friend Keith had one of these. I think I still have a piece of gravel in my elbow from a wipeout when I tried to emulate the stunt kids:

The biggest influences on us as kids, though, were the consumer jingles and slogans that we sang in the schoolyard every day. Remember any of these?

Sometimes, it was jingles for the "adult" products that didn't target us whatsoever that really stuck in our heads:

But it wasn't all consumerism. The '70s was the golden age of PSAs. Many of them seem awkward and clunky today, but if you're of a certain age, Iron Eyes Cody's "crying Indian" pollution spot is iconic:

Who cares if the actor was really Sicilian? There really used to be that much garbage lying around — especially in the U.S. I believe that a whole generation of environmentalists was influenced by the "noble savage" myth of this ad.

And for Canadian kids, another big environmental icon was Hinterland Who's Who:

These ads gave me my lifelong love of nature. It outlasted all the toys, and all the fast food cravings, that I ever had as a kid.

Now my son is the nature freak, feeding off of the endless varieties of documentary available on cable and DVD. So perhaps he'll turn out okay too.

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