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The Drink Dope

 

A lawsuit has been filed against a manufacturer of ‘energy’ drinks. The suit is the result of injury (and death) of children after consuming the caffeine-laced beverage. It is logical to assume that this will be the start of regulation. To the average non-Red Bull, Cocaine(!),Monster, 5-Hour Energy, Rock Star, consumer this would seem pretty intuitive. Caffeine is a drug; a legal drug that has evaded regulation in this country. Nicotine used to enjoy that kind of status as well. Cigarettes were available for sale (or given away for free) any and everywhere. Cigarette machines eventually had little adhesive labels declaring cigarette sales being intended for people over age 18. What teenager doesn’t tremble and back away from an adhesive label? Cigarettes haven’t (slowly) shied from the teen market because of the hazards of the drug nicotine, but of the smoke inhalation. But it still makes for a plausible template.

A beverage whose very intention is to alter the body chemistry is not appropriate for children. On a good day most of us would concur with this. But we would also agree that regulating anything is just a giant pain in the behind. The beverage industry is no doubt gearing up for a fight as we speak. They will counter with examples of unregulated sources of caffeine. Charts and graphs will be exhibited declaring chocolate milk as laden with as much of the drug as a grande macchiato. Gatorade and vitamin-laced waters will enter into the arguments. Coffee carts will form a single-file demonstration. In short, a circus will ensue.

Let us assume (for the sake of all that’s decent) that parents are not purchasing caffeine-laced drinks for their children. What would be more effective (and less hair raising) than outlawing sales to children is to outlaw marketing of drug products to children. Children aren’t buying caffeine delivery beverages because they thought of it on their own. They buy them to look cool and be like their friends who buy them to look cool and be like the advertisement. Of course they’ll never admit this. Don’t believe me? Go to a school right now and ask the guzzlers why they’re guzzling. “Gotta wake up” “Gotta test” They believe they need the effects of the beverage. Do we really want our kids believing they need drugs to get through the day?

Death and serious illness/injury from caffeine is probably rare. But this lawsuit speaks to something more universal. There is no reason in the world to train children to use drugs to improve their performance. Their bodies and minds are still developing. Soon enough they will be fully grown and can make informed decisions.

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2012 in Childhood, Media/Marketing

 

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Skout: It’s Not For Boys & Girls

There is no ignoring a headline of 3 child rapes being linked to social apps.  Child rapists have successfully posed as teenagers on Skout and attacked children.  It’s awful, it’s disgusting, it’s devastating, but demonizing social media is shortsighted.

Perhaps I am too literal, but I’m not entirely comfortable categorizing software application whose sole purpose is to bring strangers together as “social” media.  It’s not just the semantics that trouble me, it’s that the category of social media or networking is far too large and vague now.  (As technology grows, our language needs to keep up.  It’s too tempting to make sweeping generalizations otherwise.)  Skout, to my understanding, is an app that children over the age of 13 can legally use to find strangers.  Why?  What could possibly be the reason for such a thing?  What corporate brain trust decided that the teen market was a must-have for this app?  Were the decision makers reassigned from the Joe Camel ad campaign?  Has the dream machine behind flavored vodkas and wine coolers moved on to software marketing?  Have we really in fact allowed corporations to now actively lure children into talking to strangers?

What kind of teenager do we think would be interested in meeting strangers on-line?  Would it be strong, stable children with solid social networks and adult relationships?  I’m guessing not.  Teenagers are nothing if not acutely socially aware.  They know who’s in and who’s out at any given moment.  The adolescent social world shuns strangers.  It is likely that a teen would only seek out strangers if he/she felt alienated by the real social world or had a propensity towards risky behavior.  So let’s make an app available for that!

I worry that this story will cause the villagers to take up arms.  Not against Skout, which seriously needs a trip to the woodshed, but against the bogeyman of social networking.  Should children have access to social networking sites (whose intention are to connect people to those they actually know?)  I’m not sure it’s necessary, but then again I don’t think children need to sport fake sleeve tattoos, so I might not be the best judge. What would be wonderful is if the news of these attacks on children prompts family conversations.  Strangers are people you do not know.  The fact that a friend knows them doesn’t make them less strange.  Someone you’ve heard of is not a friend (that’s why Beyonce isn’t returning your calls.)  I would go so far as to suggest that an adult is not a friend either.  An adult might be a teacher, coach, therapist, tutor or friend of a child’s parent, but not a friend of the child.  But then again, I think putting a toddler in high heels, a sequin dress and fake fur jacket is a slippery slope.

It’s always tempting to blame an outside force, particularly a consumer product.  In this case it actually is appropriate to enforce changes to the product.  But let’s resist the urge to demonize everything we find unfamiliar.  Let’s not run to blanket our airwaves with every child “expert” or media “expert” exposing catchy, yet utterly vague sound bites about children and social networking.  Let’s do our best to remember that technology isn’t the issue, human beings are the problem.  Child rapists by definition will seek out children.  Our job is not to hide our children; our job is to pay attention to who they are and what they need.  We need to know about their world and how they are living in it.  Unless they actually paid for their phone and monthly bills (insert; ‘ha ha ha’) parents have every right/obligation to access the phone on a regular basis.  A child who knows he/she is not living in a secret alternate world from their parents is more likely to make good decisions.  Part of what we teach our children is how to live in the world not how to hide from it.  There will always be dark and dangerous forces in the world.  Strong children with well honed coping tools grow into resilient and successful adults.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2012 in Childhood, Media/Marketing

 

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Always Be Selling

Are you tired, run down, listless? Do you poop out at parties? Are you unpopular?  Don’t reach for that bottle of vitametavegamin just yet.  It might not be vitamins, minerals and 23% alcohol that is lacking from your diet.  You may in fact be suffering from pitch overload.

Much is made of the unrelenting pressure and demands of sales.  Just look at those men in Glengarry Glen Ross or poor Willy Loman.  Selling can be exhausting and soul crushing.  But guess what? so is being sold to night and day, day and night.  From the moment we wake until we crumble into fitful sleep, we are bombarded.  The morning news is brought to you by…(even public broadcasting will read you corporate underwriter ads.)  The news (whether read, watched or heard) has to be weeded from the press releases and publicist’s coups.  Once out the door, wearing what was sold to you, you head for your commute.  At the bus shelter, or subway entrance, you will view at least 3 different rotating ads.  The subway car is plastered with ads (usually of a very depressing nature; lawsuits, questionable training institutes, and booze, lots of booze.)  One’s actual workday may be filled with more spin and sales, depending on one’s place and nature of work.  By the time we arrive back home, we have been pitched countless times.  It’s nothing we can’t handle.  We’re used to it.

It’s when the pitch tries to disguise itself, that things get a bit trying.  Back in olden times, when one had to get up from the recliner to turn the channel, to one of five stations; not everyone on television was selling something.  There was a format known as the talk show, where interesting people came to talk.  Some of these people were famous, sometimes not.  The reason that there were so many of these show is that they were interesting, and they were interesting because people weren’t being booked to sell a product.  Conversations were not being designed by publicists but by producers and hosts.  And I’m not just talking about Dick Cavett and Tom Snyder here; lots of hosts were creating great entertainment. Print media has become very similar to television in its mass marketed hermetically sealed value meals of stories.  Whether it’s an “expert” whose expertise is that they are selling their book, doling out a sound bite, or the hard hitting exposes about high end knock-offs periodically placed in fashion magazines, the audience struggles to discern; “is this real?”  When we add embedded advertising to the mix (shout out to General Mills for the television series Homeland!  Your Lucky Charms has never looked better in its FOUR close-ups!) it’s no wonder we’re feeling listless and pooped out at parties.

Embedding is not all that new.  Remember when Don Draper won the Clio for the Glo-Coat ad?  It wasn’t that the child as a prisoner (behind a kitchen chair) was so innovative, it’s that the commercial was filmed like a movie.  The viewer was lulled into the commercial because it felt like actual programming.  That is the point of embedded advertising.  We’re practically inured to traditional ads (unless it’s during the Super Bowl) and don’t even see the many pop-ups on our computer.  But when the ad seems like part of the narrative our brain needs a moment to register that we are being sold something.

The exhaustion comes from the fact that we have so many advertising delivery systems now.  What was the first logo apparel you owned?  Was it a T-shirt, a cap, or a cotton jacket festooned with a pattern of “Pepsi-Cola” emblazoned in red, white and blue (ahem, that was me.)  Please, that is so 1977.  There are companies who don’t even bother with design any longer, they just slap their brand/logo on the shoe, bag, shirt and call it a day.  You can’t even look at another person without seeing an ad (and I’m not just talking about people who copyright their baby’s name.)

At the end of the day, if we are surrounded by things (i.e., books, music, art) that we chose because they speak to some fiber of our being, we will rejuvenate (at least until the next day.)  But what if the book we fall asleep to is always a “bestseller” and doesn’t resonate at all?  What if at the end of the day we find ourselves surrounded by nothing more than what we’ve been sold?

 

 

 
4 Comments

Posted by on March 20, 2012 in Media/Marketing

 

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Only You Can Prevent Obesity

“This is drugs.  This is your brain on drugs.  Any questions?”  Derivatives of this have become part of our cultural punch lines, but there was a time the blurb itself carried quite a punch.  You may remember your own reaction the first few times you saw the advertisement.  It was jarring in its unblinking visuals and straightforward message.  The brilliance of the campaign was its unflinching honesty and shock value.  It was a message that was heard loud and clear.  If memory serves, the previous public service announcement with similar impact was the single tear of the actor playing a Native American.  Throwing trash out your car window wasn’t so tempting if you thought it would make that nice silent man cry.

It’s been quite a number of decades since both of those campaigns.  During that time we have almost all our vices banned or black boxed.  Warning labels are printed on any and everything that might someday be used in a manner that leads to litigation.  You’d be hard pressed to come up with anything left for which to promote consumer awareness.  Awareness is at an all time high.  There is a different colored ribbon for every day of the week, and a rubber bracelet to coordinate.

So what is a city to do when it decides to combat obesity with an awareness campaign?   How far is a city willing to go?  Obesity, unlike drug use or littering, is rife with sensitivity.  That frying egg was not aimed at drug addicts, it was intended as a preventative message.  Littering was never seen as a morality issue, it was just time to do something about the trend.  But obesity?!  First off, the public service announcements are not targeting people who may be considering a life of obesity; they are aimed at the overweight.   People know they are overweight, and have a whole host of feelings about it.  Showing images (photo-shopped or not) of overweight people with moderately small text warning of future medical issues is one big yawn.   There is nothing shocking or even helpful about that messaging.  But it is safe, isn’t it?  Who could you possibly offend?

If you consider the health implications of obesity to be serious enough to launch a campaign, you might just have to offend a bit (or break a few eggs as the case may be.)  Perhaps more effective than showing a larger sized woman climbing up subway steps, would be showing her trying to fit into a subway seat?  Maybe an image of her getting acrylic nails and the tag line “wouldn’t it be nice to have more fashion choices?” Sexist?  Probably.  Instead of manipulating an image of a portly man to indicate limb loss, how about a campaign about libido loss?  Disease is one thing, but impotency is quite another.

How do you do this without offending?  You probably don’t.  But if the point of the campaign is to change behavior, a little bluntness might be just the ticket.  There was a time when our whole country smoked: in elevators and in movie theatres!  It took years, but boy have times changed.  Nobody ever quit smoking due to an advert of a smoker with the message; “smoking leads to disease.”  Why not emulate the success of the No Smoking campaign?  Black box processed foods, eliminate junk food in the workplace, mandate all weight loss systems to include the following declaration; “this is not an education or behavior modification program, effective only while using our product.” and develop jarring public service adverts.

If you believe that body size is too personal to discuss in a blunt and in your face manner, maybe it is in fact personal.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on February 7, 2012 in Media/Marketing

 

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U.(nidentified)F.(acebook)O.(bjections)

How many times have you read “Facebook” and “privacy” in the same sentence?  It’s not just me, right?  So what exactly is stoking this anxiety?

For decades, I have been bristling (and acquiescing) to being asked for personal information at every turn.  Doctor’s offices, insurance companies, banks, jobs; you name it.  They all want one thing from me; my personal information.  Identifying numbers and dates have been flying around unprotected forever.  There was a time when college identification cards were emblazoned with the student’s social security number.  Personal checks often had the account holder’s driver’s license number printed on the front (to avoid that pesky step of a cashier copying down a customer’s most identifying number at each purchase.)  It was routine in many high schools and colleges to post test results in hallways with “only” the identifier of a social security number.

So what is it exactly that makes some people feel stalked by Facebook?  To establish an account you need to provide a name and an email.  That’s about it.  There’s no financial information and certainly no call for any identifying numbers.  You may choose to provide your birth date, but you needn’t.  I can only assume (and yes I am aware of how dangerous that can be) that the perceived invasion of privacy centers around the actual behavior while on Facebook.  All those “Like” buttons and photo sharing may result in some huge database of T.M.I.?  And then what?  Since data collection (of such mundane points) could only be useful from a marketing standpoint, is it a fear of adverts?  I don’t know about anyone else, but my (real) mailbox and email inbox have been brimming with adverts (tailored just for me!) for about twenty years.  My reactions range from annoyance, to hurt pride (“really, teeth whitening offers?”) to grabbing my coat and going shopping (hey, sometimes they do get it just right.)

To be clear, I am not a lover of pop-up ads or commercials (shout out for the DVR, you beautiful little genius, you!!) but like death and taxes, they’re going to happen no matter what.  Close the pop-up box, delete the message, avert your eyes.  Facebook is free, and free costs.  Think of the adverts as a pledge drive.

But then again, we know what happens when one assumes.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on February 5, 2012 in Media/Marketing

 

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