Monday, January 14, 2013

Advertising Attack

When I was a child, it was common for parents to tell their kids that they could not afford something.  Families went on vacation once a year.  People drove cars until they looked old and outdated.  Parents taught their children the value of a dollar.

I don't see that as much today.  Parents are afraid of their children being left out or feeling bad if they don't have something their friends have - a vicious cycle.  I know families who go on elaborate vacations many times a year and then complain that they have nothing saved for retirement.  I knew a family who went to buy the mom a car and came home with a new car for mom and a new truck for dad and a story about how the finance guy at the dealership added some zeros to their income so they could qualify.
No wonder our society is in the financial mess it is in!

Clothing, television shows, accessories, music...are all marketed to children in a way that they were not a generation ago.  These marketers know that when Billy or Janey whine, mommy and daddy may give in to them.  They know that parents don't want their five year old to be the only one not wearing Uggs or the latest Justice fashion or the only one not at the latest girl or boy band concert.  Cha-ching!

I don't blame the advertisers or even the people coming up with products and TV shows for kids.  
They are making a living.  They are being innovative and creative.

But we need to be smart about our financial situation as well as understanding the difference between needs and wants, luxuries and necessities.  For me, this is one of the most important lessons I can drive home to my girls: SAVE YOUR MONEY.  Be a smart, savvy consumer.  Don't buy something just because everyone else has it.  You may think your life will change if you own those pajamas or that perfume or go to that show, but it won't.
"Our economy was based on selling people things they couldn't afford and may not have needed.  It was not sustainable financially or environmentally,"  Tony Wagner, Harvard Fellow.
I had been searching for years for a children's book that explains how advertising works.  Last fall, I met with a representative of Capstone Press to purchase some materials for the library and I came across this gem: Advertising Attack.  It's part of a Mastering Media series.  You can purchase them on Amazon, but they are a library binding and rather pricey, so I recommend asking your library to purchase them.  As a librarian, I can tell you that we welcome suggestions from patrons and nine times out of ten, we will buy the books suggested.

I want my girls to see that people in advertising and marketing use psychology to try to make you think their product will change your life--it may be subtle, like just showing a popular person with the product, looking all-put-together and surrounded by beautiful people and then you subconsciously think: if I buy this, I will be like that person--all put-together and popular and cool.  Advertising Attack wastes no time and spares no language when explaining just this.  Not only do they explain it, but they give several pages of images and ask: what do you think they are advertising?  what is your impression of the person?  of the product?  At the end of each chapter there are exercises, for this particular chapter there were products and my girls had to come up with ways to advertise them--a briefcase, my girls decided should be advertised on a commuter train and show a well-dressed, successful looking gentleman; some snazzy clothes, maybe a young girl having fun with a lot of friends, surrounded by gorgeous guys at a hip club...that kind of thing.  Not only did Advertising Attack explain the concept, there were also exercises to make sure that the reader understood the concept.

We learned a lot about the influence advertising has over our society.  Did you know that until the late 1940's it was not a tradition for a man to give his fiance an engagement ring?  In fact, most people never even expected to own a diamond!  In 1947, De Beers diamond company launched a campaign "A diamond is forever" and convinced young girls that if a man was serious and a good catch, he would spend a month's salary on a diamond for her and thus, the expectation of a diamond engagement ring took hold.

Kodak had a big impact on our lives as we began taking pictures of all of the precious moments we never want to forget.  The girls and I had a lengthy discussion on all of the ways that one advertising campaign changed our lives...blogging, scrapbooking, photo books, photo editing...etc.  Kodak's primary focus was just to convince people to spend more money on film and film developing, but the influence that had has continued beyond Kodak and we feel, in positive ways.

Thankfully, tobacco advertising has changed, but when I grew up with Marlboro Man and Camel Joe, extolling the fun of cigarette smoking.  My girls, who grew up with cigarettes being linked to horrible diseases in advertisements, found this really fascinating.

We started wondering if advertising negative things (like smoking) would not be sustainable but advertising positive things (like capturing moments with a camera) would be sustainable.  We wondered if that was always the case and as we did so, I saw my girls start to understand why I felt understanding media and advertising was so important.

At the end of the book, my girls worked on independent projects.  They each came up with a product, a slogan, product description, color choices, where they would advertise it.  They drew storyboards for their product and came up with advertising campaigns for different media.