Commercials Have Gone Undercover
I recently read an article from The Atlantic about a change in the way companies market to kids. When I was growing up, a hundred years ago, kids watched cartoons on TV. Every few minutes there would be an interruption in the program. This break from the animated story I’d been watching was filled with videos showing toys, food, and places that kids simply HAD to buy, eat, and visit! These videos are called commercials.
Commercials were made by companies that wanted to sell something. They were designed to convince kids that it was worth spending money on what they had to offer. How did they do this?
When I was around 12 years old, I bought a Pogoball. I used money that I had earned on my own, delivering newspapers, to buy this toy. Even over 30 years after this experience, I can still remember the feeling of I have to get one of those Pogoballs! I don’t think anyone would have been able to persuade me that it wasn’t a good idea. I learned a valuable lesson the day I handed my hard-earned cash over to purchase this person-propelling bounce toy: “Don’t believe everything you see on TV.”
I got the Pogoball toy home and used an air pump to blow up the ball that fitted inside a hard plastic ring. I stepped on the ring, squeezing the top of the ball with my feet. I leaned forward and jumped… The Pogoball stayed tucked between my feet. I landed, the bottom of the Pogoball squishing on my driveway, and the air pressure within the flexible plastic pushed me up… A precious-little-bit.
I was successfully bouncing, jumping, and… NOT having fun. Rather than propelling me into the air, the toy just squished and pushed. In order to get into the air, I had to jump up. The higher I jumped, the more the Pogoball squished, but it never pushed enough to be considered helpful. After a disappointing afternoon of trying many experiments on various surfaces, jumping styles, and tricks, I placed the Pogoball in the garage, never to be touched again. The money I spent on that toy was gone and hadn’t bought me anything beyond the lesson, don’t be fooled by jingles, acting, and repetition.
Jingles are catchy short songs that stick in your head. Commercials in the olden days depended on these to mesmerize people. You’d find yourself humming a jingle when riding your bike. You might mention this to a friend, and then the both of you would sing the song together, laughing at how corny it sounded. Later that same day, the both of you would be munching on whatever that jingle was advertising! It is like you were hypnotized into spending money on that product.
One of the reasons jingles get stuck in your head is that you hear them so often. Companies make sure that kids see and hear commercials many times. I remember complaining about seeing the same commercial every single commercial break when I was a kid, only to then go out and buy the very thing advertised in that annoying announcement! Did I spend money on the product in hopes to stop the commercials? If so, it didn’t work!
Commercials from long ago were recorded in studios with elaborate sets, lights, and high-paid actors. These short videos cost companies tons of money to make. But, the price was an investment, because the better the commercial, the more influential the message, the more products would be sold. In other words, although a company would spend a lot to make a commercial, if it were good enough, the business would reep a lot of sales that would produce a great deal of revenue or profit.
The actors who were featured in the Pogoball commercial had me completely fooled. When I saw the smiles on their faces and all of the many places Pogoballs could be used, I thought that this must be an amazing toy with limitless possibilities for fun. This was a lie. Once I got the Pogoball home and working, I saw that it was actually boring. The actors were paid to pretend that using a Pogoball was mind-blowing fun.
Nowadays, many families have quit cable. Kids don’t have to look at the clock to see when their favorite shows are on. They can login to Amazon, Disney Plus, and Youtube to watch their shows whenever they want. No more commercials… Right? Sort of.
According to the article, “Toy Commercials Are Being Replaced By Something More Nefarious (sneaky, evil, criminal),” the persuasive marketing to children has morphed from a jingle-ridden, actor-driven, hypnosis-inducing commercial aired during breaks in a child’s program, to the program itself (Fetters, 2020). Companies that sell stuffed animals stopped making commercials and began making whole shows. When I read this, I remembered the tons of PJ Mask toys my wife and I bought for our daughter. Scarlet didn’t see one commercial for these toys.
The article mentions one other way that kids are targeted by companies: YouTubers. How many kids nowadays say that they want to be a YouTuber when they grow up? What is this? Who is a YouTuber? One of many answers is that a YouTuber is someone who makes videos that are published on YouTube for profit. The important idea here is that the people videotaping themselves opening toys and products in their bedrooms and homes are getting paid. They are not “high-paid” celebrity actors, like in olden days, but they are actors, nonetheless. They have an incentive to persuade you to buy the product that they are pushing.
In other words, companies are convincing regular, everyday consumers to act like they are providing an honest review of a product. These Youtubers seem like they are truthfully sharing what they have personally experienced, but they don’t tell the viewer that they were paid to do this. It is a sneaky way to make commercials; Make them seem like they are not commercials at all… No more jingles, No big-name actors, No fancy sets or elaborate narratives… Just regular Joes sharing their honest opinion, right?
Don’t be fooled! Trust the advice, opinions, and stories of people you know over watching a YouTube video. Go ahead and watch your favorite shows on your convenient streaming apps, but know that these are working at getting you to buy stuffed animals, toys, apparel, and more. Commercials used to be convincing. They worked at persuading a specific audience to spend money. Today’s marketing is more covert than compelling.
One of the many cartoons that I enjoyed watching when I was a kid was “G.I. Joe.” (I’m sure that this show was geared towards helping sell the action figures by the same name… I had spent lots of money on those!) At the end of every episode there was a little lesson, teaching smart behavior to kids. After the moral was explained, a catch phrase was used: “Knowing is half the battle.”
While the new ways businesses market to people may not be criminal, it is good to at least know what is going on. Then you can make wise decisions with your funds. A show is not just a show if it is trying to get you to buy stuff. And, now that you know that, half the battle is won; The battle for your bank account. Good luck.
Fetters, A. (2020, February 2). Toy Commercials Are Being Replaced by Something More Nefarious. Retrieved December 04, 2020, from https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/02/how-toys-are-marketed-kids-without-cable-tv/605920/