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Flipping through old comic books, amid the typical mail-order ads for the Secret Spy Scope or Make Money Fast schemes, I saw an ad for a realistic-looking rifle nestled in wrapping paper under a Christmas tree: A BB gun, reminiscent of...
September 1, 2000

Flipping through old comic books, amid the typical mail-order ads for the Secret Spy Scope or Make Money Fast schemes, I saw an ad for a realistic-looking rifle nestled in wrapping paper under a Christmas tree: A BB gun, reminiscent of the Genuine Red Ryder Carbine Action Two-Hundred-Shot Lightning Loader Range Model Air Rifle that was the lust object of the kid in the 1983 movie A Christmas Story. The copy read, `If you’re at least eight years old, you’re ready to own a Daisy BB gun. Have Dad take you to the store that sells BB guns.’

Gasp. Quickly I flipped to the date on this copy of Superman. This particular ad was from 1975 (and others for the Daisy, some featuring sports celebrities, were featured in subsequent years as well), though looking at it now, it seemed to belong more to the `40s, the era the film featuring tubby nine-year-old Ralphie was set in-and even then, everyone warned ‘you’ll only shoot your eye out.’

As we prep for this month’s Golden Marble Awards for the best in kids advertising and promotions, I can’t help but marvel at the extreme evolution that’s gone on in kids advertising. While the basic premise of eight being the age to brandish a weapon that shoots anything more than water was probably questionable even in the `70s, the whole approach to what is advertised-and how-has changed equally radically. While violent toys are still peddled (albeit weapons are more likely to be found in a video game), it’s with age-appropriate restrictions and disclaimers of `animated blood, animated violence.’ Advertisers adhere to such strict guidelines that most kids advertising would only prompt gasps of horror from parents if they find fart jokes and belching shocking (which they would be pretty well immune to if they had boys).

The real change is in the sophistication level of the advertising. Old-style, sales-driven, hit-them-over-the-head-with-it, say-the-product-name-a-few-dozen-times-real-loud (or better yet, sing it) formulaic advertising is conspicuous-thankfully, increasingly by its absence. You still see these spots (usually for local cut-rate appliance outlets), but less so for kids. Even though elements of it survive, in the face of classy commercial competitors like the Gap, they look and sound as hackneyed as, well, appliance ads.

I’ve heard the new Gap Kids ads (in which kids dance and lip synch just like pint-sized boy and girl bands) criticized as merely kid-versions of the adult ads. However, as any school talent show will painfully confirm, groups of girls doing dance routines to assorted pop divas is where kids are at. All the energy kid agencies spend gleaning how kids spend every waking moment-and who and what they like, and why-with an eye to precision predictions on what motivates (or demotivates) the various demographics is paying off. Especially for viewers. Ad & promo campaigns are multifaceted, and the messages reach kids in a lot of creative new ways. They add fun to kids’ (and some adults’) days. Many out-of-home meal plans revolve around which QSR has the best premiums. And there’s more respect. There are fewer campaigns that treat kids like dimwits, and more that acknowledge kids are only shorter-not necessarily less savvy-consumers.

I can attest, through personal wallet deflation, this approach also pays off for the clients. My son, target demo extraordinaire (it seems for just about every product out there), has never noticed where his clothes come from-before. Now he thinks Gap inline board pants are cool.

When the previous flights of Gap Kids ads introduced the clean white background to the kid spot arena, it was a look quickly picked up by numerous `homage’ commercials for assorted kid products, elevating the tone of many a spot. As more players pick up on the new ethos of edgy-yet-witty humor over loud slapstick, streamlined and sleek storyboarding over cluttered sensory-overload, it’s all good-though it cuts down on the heckling opps.

Innovators, like the recent Sugar Crisp letter-box format movie trailer spoof and the Cheerios Bee in his serial cereal-selling entries, or the Apple Jacks campaign that has put a kid creative team on the job, keep edging the bar up. And quite a few times lately, the Maddever livingroom focus-group members have preferred the spot over the show. And, in case you’re not sure, the right age to introduce your son to The Kinks? Eight. Cheers, MM

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