A Powerful Influence
He walked up to the podium, smiled at the crowd and leaned into the microphone, saying: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Vote Tim Sheer for V.P.” Then he jabbed left and right and sat down.
That was it. That was all it took for Tim to win the election during my 9th grade year. The use of a good slogan borrowed from Mohammad Ali showed he was cool like Ali. Tim probably didn’t know that Mohammad Ali had spent years cultivating a brand. That brand had power.
A few light years later and kids are now exposed to many more subtle, funny and truly ingenious slogans and ads. Per Common Sense Media, kids see more than 25,600 ads a year and as the markets expand that number will increase. Brands and their influence are everywhere – and they absolutely have power. So how can we harness that power for the benefit of our children?
Education Is Power
Kids should be taught to recognize an advertisement at an early age. I spent six years as an elementary school technology teacher and when we ventured onto the internet, it was inevitable that we would see advertisements. Most of the older students were savvy enough to distinguish between an ad and real-life, but the younger students struggled with the concept. In either case, I would spend a few minutes discussing some of the ads they encountered. These are some of the things I would point out:
- Companies pay money to have their products/services promoted – this is an advertisement.
- Many free websites depend on the money from advertisers.
- Companies usually want you to buy a product or service. Can you identify the product?
- Don’t click on an ad without permission from an adult.
- Advertisers are trying to get your attention. Did it work? How?
With the older students, I could expand the discussion in include:
- What is your favorite and why?
- What makes a good ad?
- Do ads make you want to buy things? Is that O.K.?
- Are some ads informative?
- What is a brand and what makes it memorable?
There are many more approaches to this discussion, but the important thing is that kids can and should become educated consumers. An open dialog about what they are seeing online, in apps, on TV or on billboards will give them the tools they need in an ad-saturated world.
Using Consumer Power
By understanding the role of marketing and advertising at a young age, children can drive the content and demand more creativity and truthfulness. They can learn to appreciate the beauty of a well-executed marketing campaign or a well-designed ad, and they can know when a brand is worth supporting – or quoting.
Let’s teach our kids the fancy footwork that will allow them to dance, dodge, duck and weave around the world of advertising. As educated consumers, they can positively influence the future of advertising – and that can be truly powerful.