Kids and advertising

A great lesson about advertisers’ efforts to get us to part with our money.

The other day my husband, Geoff, was working online on our home computer when a banner ad popped up with a flashing warning: YOUR COMPUTER IS ABOUT TO CRASH! CLICK HERE NOW!

Adam, who is prone to overreaction, happened to see the message and started freaking out. “What?! Something bad is going to happen to the computer?! Click the button! CLICK IT!!!!” After calming him down, Geoff explained that the computer was fine and that it was just a company (aggressively) trying to sell us some kind of anti-virus software. Since we already have virus protection on our computer we could ignore the ad.

That didn’t sit well with Adam. He thought it wasn’t fair that a company tried to “trick” us into buying something we didn’t’ need. It was a great lesson about advertisers’ efforts to get us to part with our money.

Adam and I have talked about advertising before. A couple of years ago, for example, he saw a TV commercial for a breakfast cereal that he wanted to try. When I finally relented and bought it, he was surprised that the squares inside the box were much smaller than the squares pictured on the box— and, of course, they looked absolutely nothing like the cartoon characters depicted in the ad. That’s marketing, I explained. The cereal company tries to appeal to kids because it wants them to bug their parents to buy lots of cereal so it can make more money. The commercial he saw on TV was part of that.

Adam was pretty young at the time so I’m not sure he completely understood, but he did learn that what looks super cool in an ad isn’t necessarily cool at all in real life. (I know some adults who haven’t figured this one out yet!)
Since then, we’ve gotten rid of our cable, and most of the shows Adam watches are on commercial-free public television. The station does, however, air spots asking viewers to make donations to support the programming. To help Adam connect the dots, I explained that the advertisers on other channels pay to put their ads on TV, and that’s how private stations make money for their programming.

After contemplating this for a while, Adam said he wanted to make a donation to the public broadcaster to make sure they can afford to keep putting on the shows he likes (especially Wild Kratts). Even when we told him that we already donate as a family, he insisted he wanted to make his own contribution. He took $10 that he’d saved from his allowance, wrote a short note and mailed it in.

I’d say that’s money well spent.

Have your kids been swayed or misled by ads? How did you handle it?

About the Author

Tamar Satov

Managing Editor, CPA magazine
Tamar is a journalist specializing in business, parenting and personal finance. She blogs regularly in this space with advice and anecdotes on her efforts to raise a money-smart kid.