The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mischievous marketing to children.

A few days ago, my son Fintan, 8, asked a question that made me wonder at the deviousness of marketers.

Do Smarties make you smarter?”, he asked, most innocently. He seemed quite prepared to believe that they did.

“No, Fintan, it is just a name.”

He didn’t seem entirely satisfied with that. I intuited his unspoken thoughts as being along the lines of: “If they don’t make you smarter, why call them that, then?”

This little exchange drove me to ponder the freedoms we give marketers: they are allowed to call their products anything at all – yet, sometimes, they don’t seem to use this freedom honestly. Fintan was right. There IS the suggestion in the name “Smarties”, that the product is connected, somehow, to smartness. It IS a fair and quite reasonable step to infer, as Fintan had, that the product must be so called, because, somehow, it induced “smartness”. Indeed, perhaps that is exactly the reason they were named “Smarties” in the first place. Perhaps, they wanted children, all over the world, to associate their product with smartness and consume them, therefore, in increased numbers, motivated by the illusion that they were going to enjoy positive cognitive change.

Children and unintelligent adults are susceptible to manipulation through the naming and marketing of products. It would seem wise, to me, to place safeguards on the naming of products so that false associations and inferences are not attached to products, for the purpose of increasing sales to vulnerable groups. Fintan is a bright child. He is socially very switched on. Yet, his conclusion when faced with a product named: “Smarties”, is that they must induce smartness – for why else call them that? How many other children, around the world have the same, perhaps unvoiced thought? How many of them UNCONSCIOUSLY make that link and are motivated to buy them? It is a somewhat disturbing thought. In a way, there is something unethical about naming a product with a reference to a property it doesn’t have, creating an association it cannot fulfil. Smarties don’t make you smart – but they might make you fat, or your teeth rot, if overly consumed. That would be a fair set of truer associations to link to the product, than “they make you smart”.

The funny thing is, that, until Fintan pointed it out, I had never reflected on the implications of the name “Smarties”. Sometimes, children are quicker to see the broader truths of things, in their world, than we are. Perhaps that is because they are thinking about them for the first time, and trying to find meaning in them – whereas adults, in some ways, have lost that habit, to some extent.

Thank you, Fintan, for your question. Smarties won’t make you smarter – but perhaps thinking about them will.

Posted by Valentine Cawley

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 9:42 PM 


Blogger Cass said...

There are all kinds of nasty marketing ploys aimed at children. Not only with names but photographs too.

I remember reading about a little girl whose summer was ruined because of a really tricky ad. She had bought an inflatable pool with a water slide. The box had a photo that showed about 3 or 4 children comfortably sitting in the pool and another child going down the slide, but the real product barely reached the knees of the little girl.

I know their job is to sell products, but these are children we are talking about! They get them all happy and excited about something and then disappoint them. I could never do that.

8:39 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

The example you give, Cass, is even more disturbing, since, clearly, the pool and slide pictured were NOT the same one, as that in the box. That is most probably an actionable offence of some kind. I wonder if your friend could make a pretty penny out of a lawsuit?

Marketers are probably more evil when marketing to children - because children don't have the experience to see through their ruses, so they are probably more likely to use ploys that would be unacceptable (because unaccepted) by adults.

The funny thing is, these marketers don't seem to realize that integrity and honesty have long-term value for a brand. If I learn that a brand is ALWAYS honest in its marketing, I am more inclined to buy its products. The corrollary applies, too. I would tend to steer away from brands that have tricked me in the past. So, in a way, all this evil "cleverness" on the part of marketers, is long term dumbness.

Thanks for your comment Cass.

1:21 PM  

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