Sunday, May 4, 2008

About 5000 Messages a DAY Trying to Sell You Something

Guess what Mac Daddy, Bird, and Deal are doing right now? I will bet you all the lovely, strappy, citrus hued shoes in the Nordstrom's shoe department that you won't guess correctly.

Spending quality time with Moose A. Moose?
Making pink pancakes?
Cleaning up pee from the floor?
Beating each other with helium balloons?

Nope. Not that they haven't already done all those things this morning.

Mac Daddy, Bird, and Deal are watching American Idol. David Archuleta has entranced them at the moment. Deal does not even like television, yet the magic of American Idol has its glitzy showbiz grip on my son. My 2 1/2-year old son. You know what he just said? "I wish I could be that boy." Gulp. Do I have a Clay Aiken on my hands? Should I get him an agent so he can dazzle audiences on the Mickey Mouse Club? What the #@*!

So from where did this stem? This American Idol curiosity. Oddity, even.

McDonald's. As in the hamburger joint. You know the one. Of Happy Meal fame.

The boys got American Idol toys in their Happy Meals recently. Oh, please. Like you don't indulge your kids with crap to stuff their little faces with from time to time. The innocent Hershey's Kiss doled out to pottying toddlers or a Cinnabon to give in to the senses at the mall? Don't judge me for patronizing McDonald's. It's not like my guys eat fries and drink Dr. Pepper. They get the apples (no caramel dip) and milk (white). Trust me, the kids at Dirt & Noise eat quite well, even for grown up standards.

Bird and Deal were rockin' out to the American Idol happy meal dudes they scored. They made a pretend stage and had a rock concert. Then the questions started. All from a logo. Preschoolers know what logos are! Granted, their mother (that would be me, and I enjoy referring to myself in the third person time to time) works as a marketing consultant. Words and concepts like logo, brand, and consumer are already implanted into my children's psyche.

Sidebar: I'm willing to bet that Bird and Deal understand branding better than most adults who think a brand is simply a logo. Maddening, it is! I suppose all the banter about end caps, shelf talkers, and EDLP in the grocery aisles is paying off.

Bird and Deal wanted to know all about American Idol, which of course included wanting to watch it. Since they go to bed at 7:15 it was out of the question. "What about DVR"" asked Bird. OMG. The things they learn and know at this age astound me. And so here we are watching American Idol on a Sunday morning. And here are my boys latching on to David Archuleta. Perhaps because they can sense he is a youngin to whom they can relate.

And this brings me (finally!) to the issue at hand - marketing to children. McDonald's usually has Happy Meal toys that advertise movies that the Happy Meal Set cannot even watch. I'm pretty sure that rated PG kids aren't satiated by one meager burger and apples. Pirates of the Caribbean for three-year olds. Really? Spiderwick Chronicles for America's four-year olds? What, do we want to invite nightmares into our late night slumber? Why promote movies that are inappropriate to the audience? It sure makes life harder for us parents. I love the grocery check out lines that are labeled "No candy." As if teaching graciousness and thankfulness isn't difficult enough.

Bird and Deal mostly watch commercial-free television, but that doesn't mean they aren't subjected to and exposed to other forms of advertising. Now remember, planting messages into people's heads is my livelihood. The irony is that I want to protect my children from it. Selling high fructose corn syrup snacks (especially under the guise of being GOOD FOR YOU!) and skater dude video games to little kids is not OK. I know that kids influence many, many purchasing decisions in the household. And many, many parents succumb. I just wish that everyone, people like me included, would think about the bigger picture and promote positive images and products to our youth.

I'm not suggesting that parents are to be absolved of responsibility or that we should not indulge our children. Could we just be more mindful of the effects of what we are selling to our children? Little girls don't need Bratz dolls. They will face a long road of body image and confidence struggles without those hoochie dolls sexing them up at a tender age. Boys don't need to develop skater dude too-cool-for-school attitudes in preschool. Once lost, innocence cannot be found. Unlike happiness, innocence is a destination. Once you've been there you cannot leave, and it follows you everywhere.

Let us diminish the ill effects of marketing to kids and replace those messages with positive ones. American Idol is innocent enough. Rated G merchandising is innocent enough. I don't have a problem with the likes of Nemo or Curious George making their way into our toy boxes. I can even handle American Idol. There's a clear demarcation in my household because Mac Daddy and I drew the line.

Must I remind you of Joe Camel?
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