Kids and Commercials

Anna McAlister and Bettina Cornwell's study, "Children's Understanding of Brand Symbolism" has created quite a stir in parenting circles, but it doesn't really tell us anything new. The first thing that sprang to mind as I read it was "Operator! There's a man in my bathroom!"

I know I'm dating myself with that reference, but the eponymous line from that genre-making Mr. Bubbles commercial still pleases me to this day. The first time I saw the kid in the tub scaring his grandma, I burst into laughter. Finally, a product that understood kids. I wanted to support the brand, quite passionately, but my mother insisted on the cheapo bubble bath, which in 1963 consisted entirely of dish detergent. Nowadays, that would not be recommended, according to product labeling.

The study, heralding the discovery that pre K kids are brand conscious seems to be about 50 years behind the times. Any parent since the dawn of television can tell you how hard it is to lure your kids toward healthy, inexpensive products once they've been bitten by the brand name bug. McAlister and Cornwell seem to think they're breaking new ground, but this is age-old wisdom in ad agencies, where the motto is get em while they're young. Brand loyalty can be lifelong, so many agencies compete to capture that loyalty as early as possible. Soap commercials during children's programming may seem logical because Mom may be watching, but the fact is, so are the kids. The first brand request I made of my mother besides a toy, was some dishwashing liquid, which prompted our first discussion on the relative merits of disbelieving most of what you're told by voiceovers.

I may not remember that brand (although I'd guess it was Ivory), but I still remember the image of the soap bottle on our tv, and where my mother and I were when I asked, and I couldn't have been older than four. As for Mr. Bubble, who came in around the same time (62-63), I remember that better because it spoke to me, the little girl with the hefty imagination and sense of humor. I felt such kinship with the little kid in the bubble beard saying, "how do you doooo Madame!" to a scandalized Grandma that to this day, the interchange pops into mind when, as at this very minute 45 years later there is in fact a man in my bathroom, painting the ceiling, but still. I had to chuckle.

My mother's ultimate solution to the Mr Bubble quandary became her MO for all such requests. We got to try it once, and compare it to the bargain brand. Of course we couldn't tell the difference, and that gave Dad an opportunity to chide us for being fooled by the colorful box and smooth talk. Common sense can be applied to almost any parenting struggle, to create a learning situation, and a lifelong lesson.

Engaged parents, happy babies

Engaged parents, happy babies