Life Under my Rock – “Ad? What Ad?”

By , January 30, 2008 9:39 pm

For those of you who have not been keeping up with the blogs Shaping Youth or Corporate Babysitter (aka. Parents for Ethical Marketing), there has been a HUGE debate raging over a certain Target print ad. The debate even made it into a New York Times article! Since I have been away on another planet for the past two months (between the holidays and blog moving), I only just discovered this controversy last night as I tried to play a little catch-up with my Blogroll.

There has been enough said on all sides of this debate, so my two-cents on the intention or appropriateness of the photo would really be overkill at this point in the process. Besides, any intelligent remark would only be drowned by the endless sea of flaming comments that are bombarding these two unfortunate bloggers.

My point in bringing this up is not to stir up further controversy, but to mention my revelation when I first read about the Target ad: I must really be living under a rock to have not seen this ad that everyone else in the universe HAS seen!

Part of this ignorance or innocence (depending on your point of view) stems from the fact that I live in the boonies. The nearest Target is about 3 hours away so we don’t see billboard ads for anything much other than Cellular One and local businesses.

The other, and more major cause of my uninformed state, is obviously my lack of television. With TV, we would be exposed to far more marketing than we are now. This controversy made me think more about advertising and children.

Since the average child in the US is supposedly exposed to 40,000 TV-ads annually, it seems that parents ought to come up with some sort of strategy for dealing with this commercial barrage.

In my mind, there are three approaches to dealing with kids and TV commercials:

1) Don’t worry about the number of ads they see:

The easiest approach, but you still might want to read on. I have some suggestions further down for discussing ads with your kids and teaching them a bit about media manipulation.

2) Limit the number of ads that your children view:

Some practical suggestions for accomplishing this:

– Limit their network TV viewing time.

– Choose PBS over advertising channels. They’ll see some “brought to you by…” stuff, but that seems far less blatantly manipulative than mainstream ads.


3) Totally eliminate TV advertising from your children’s lives:

How to do it:

– Get rid of the TV (but this is awfully drastic and is not for everyone)

– Allow them to watch only PBS or any other commercial-free channels out there (won’t work if the “brought to you by…” bothers you too.)

– Have them watch only videos and DVDs.

– TIVO or videotape the kids’ programs minus the ads. Have them watch the recorded versions.

How to handle TV advertising and your children is a very individual choice and one approach does not work for all families. I am not preaching any particular philosophy here! Think about it, and decide for yourselves.

But whether your children see a lot of ads, or only a few, I think another important aspect of dealing with advertising and children is to talk to them about the ads that they see. Here are some suggestions:

For young children:

– Have them call out “Commercial!” whenever an ad comes on. Children under the age of 5 often have a hard time distinguishing between a program and a commercial.

– Have kids count the number of ads in one hour, or time the length of each commercial.

– Talk to children about what is being advertised and how it is made to seem appealing. Do they think that Barbie can really dance all by herself?

For grade-schoolers:

– Show kids that you are skeptical. Ask them who they think created the ad. What is the message? What information is missing from the ad? Do you believe what is being shown? Show them that many ads attempt to make the viewer feel that life would be better, or more comfortable, or “cooler” with the product in question.

For pre-teens:

– Mute the ad and have your child tell you what he or she thinks the ad is saying. Or have your child cover their eyes and then describe to you what they think the ad showed.

For better or for worse, ads are a part of our world and they aren’t going to go away anytime soon. So learning to deal with advertising and how it works seems to me to be an important life lesson, one that even TV-free kids will have to learn eventually.


Some of my suggestions came from PBS Parents: Children and Media

A related post of mine: Combating Commercials

Image thanks to Wikimedia Commons and photographer David Monniaux.

6 Responses to “Life Under my Rock – “Ad? What Ad?””

  1. Wishy says:

    Every time I see my daughter zoned out looking at a print ad or hearing a “cool” ad on the radio or (rarely, since we don’t have tv reception and only view DVDs occasionally) see a “cool” ad on TV, I repeat “They’re just trying to get us to buy stuff.” And we have a short conversation about the ad. But now, my 7-year-old will sometimes say “They’re just trying to get us to buy stuff” when she encounters a “cool” ad and she seems proud of herself for “getting” the joke or the “secret” of advertising!

  2. Hettie says:

    I didn’t even know about this… shows how in-the-loop I am! Em and Ro only watch Signing Time… prerecorded and doesn’t have commercials. Or, when Daddy is home, he lets them watch a bit more than I do, but always things we’re pre-approved (PBS usually) so they are not subjected to advertising.

    Did I tell you about the bed set my MIL gave Em for Xmas? It was this ultra bright “Go Diego Go” thing. I took one look and was like… “hmmm” but Em took the best approach. “I don’t watch this Oma!” in a DUH type voice. She forgets that we don’t watch TV much. I didn’t appreciate the tone he used very well, but the point got across to her from him better than in any way I’ve ever explained it about the TV situ at this home. Back it went for a non-branded set. My roundabout point is that we try not to be specifically branded around my house… he doesn’t watch it and he doesn’t ask for it if we see it in a store. We go for concepts rather than corporate logos.

  3. Nicole says:

    I have also been under a rock for about a month and I missed this altogether. Thank you so much for taking the time to point out this horror. I love the idea of having kids under 5 “catch the commercials.” As my husband and I dramatically reduce our TV time this has become less of a problem but here and there we watch a sports event or a cooking show (mostly we now rent our favorite shows from Netflix) and I worry about the commercials. I counted six brand acknowledges on PBS the other weekend leading into Curious George!! You know you are old when you hear yourself saying, “Remember when PBS was commerical free?” Anyhow, thanks again. I have to get back to the kiddos. They are in a high maitanence phase right now and they can sniff out the internet activation a mile away. :)

  4. Jenny says:

    If it makes you feel any better, I was completely unaware of this flap too. It does make you wonder who’s in charge at Target, doesn’t it?! So far, we’re doing just fine with only having CJ watch DVDs when she watches TV. I’m going to keep it that way for as long as I can, too!

  5. nina says:

    We rarely watch tv in our house, if we do its a dvd. we canceled cable a long time ago in an attempt to limit the effects of advertising on our children. But marketing to kids is everywhere! Someone bought my daughter a subscription to ‘national geographic kids’ and much to my surprise, it was loaded with ads. So we canceled it. As the girls get older I will do less censoring and more talking:) Very thoughtful post.

  6. Good advice on TV time.

    This stir over the Target ad is particularly hilarious since I have found out that the Target marketing department (as opposed to the PR department, which is who Amy called) is actively working on a blogger outreach program…talk about the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing!

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