When we were visiting my older sister recently, Captain Jelly Belly happened to catch a show his teenaged cousins were watching on YTV called In Real Life. It’s a Canadian game show for 12-14 year olds, in which they try their hand at various occupations, with the lowest performing team of two being eliminated each week. For example, one week they were “firemen” and had to put on gear, drive the truck, and fight a fire (with help). Another week they were “circus performers” and had to put together a trampoline routine, walk a tightrope, and ride a teeny tiny bike.
The show is pretty good family fare and it’s right up the Captain’s alley. He’s been looking for some new, big-boy shows to replace Dora and The Backyardigans in his repertoire, and we liked that this show was fun and interesting and showcased different jobs. So now we record it every week, and he watches each episode approximately 100 times before the next week’s new episode comes around. It’s nice he has a new passion.
One thing, though. There are commercials.
My kids watch a fair bit of TV, but it’s always Treehouse, Disney Family, or CBC Kids — all sources of completely commercial-free preschool fare. For a long time, they didn’t know that commercials existed. Then, on occasion, they’d catch some weekend sports with Sir Monkeypants or an episode of So You Think You Can Dance with me, and they’d see these weird sort of breaks during the show. We talked about ads, and what they were there for, and what they mean.
But at the same time, we always skipped right over them (long live the PVR!). So although they grew aware that these things called “commercials” existed, they rarely actually saw one. Thus, they became this kind of holy grail, this kind of semi-forbidden form of entertainment that they were highly interested in at all times.
If they happened to be around while we were watching some Boring Parent Show, they’d play in the TV room, just in the hopes of grabbing a peek at the commercials. When the ad break started, all preschooler eyes were suddenly glued to the tube.
For a while I would sit and watch In Real Life with the Captain and Gal Smiley so I could skip the commercials. Then I taught Gal Smiley how to work the remote so she could skip them herself, freeing me to work in the kitchen, keeping an eye on them from across the room.
But soon, things degraded so that I’d leave the room from time to time to tend to Little Miss Sunshine, or take out some garbage, or put away some laundry. And during these times…there was some pretty intense commercial viewing.
The funny thing is that In Real Life, while being a show aimed at teens on YTV, shows mostly adult-focused ads. There are ads for hair colour, room fresheners, and cell phones (the Telus ones with animals in them are a big hit).
The kids called me, very excitedly, when they saw their first commercial for “Mommy’s diapers.” AWKWARD.
One commercial in particular is Gal Smiley’s favourite. It’s for Charmin toilet paper and features an animated bear.
Last time we were at the Superstore I was amazed and appalled at how she has taken this commercial completely to heart. When we entered the toilet paper aisle she got VERY excited. She squealed to Captain Jelly Belly, “Look for the RED PACKAGE!!!” and then ran down the row until she’d found the Charmin. Then she said, “Mommy, we have to get THIS KIND.”
I explained that we would be buying our usual brand instead, and the Captain pouted, “But this one is STRONGER! They said it on TV!” The Gal nodded vigorously. They were both extremely disappointed when I refused to buy the Charmin.
I can’t believe that they totally got the message of the ad, actually remembered the brand name and look of the package, and worst of all, absolutely believed that everything said in the ad was completely true.
Next thing you know, they’ll be believing stuff they read on the internet!
I think it’s time for a little sit down to talk about marketing, and what it all means. About how commercials do their best to put their product in the best possible light, but that the things they say, while not exactly lies, are not always pure truth. About how companies want you to pick their product, but it isn’t always the best price, or the best value. About how things you see on TV are not automatically cooler just for having been on TV.
I think this will be a lesson that takes quite a while to learn.