Thought Food

In an article on his excellent website , Anup Shah writes about , and how marketers have increasingly targeted children to the point where $15-17 billion is spent each year on marketing to kids, who influence an estimated $130-670 billion a year worth of parental purchases each year in the US alone. In the UK, last the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has promoted several measures designed to restrict the content of junk food advertisements targeted at, or easily viewable by children, as well as proposing a ban on online junk food advertising targeting the same demographic. I must say, I’m sympathetic. In a previous post entitled, “Know your market and hook ‘em while their young” I described first hand how my kids started out playing a coloring game online and somehow stumbled upon a “game” that was little more than a giant cinnamon stick gobbling up Apple Jacks, and how the next day they ganged up on me to buy them a box - not an easy request to accommodate in Beijing at the time.

Mind you, I complain frequently to anyone who will tolerate it about the proliferation of flat screen advertisements in buses, trains, and now even elevators! Mostly people just look at me as though I’m some oddball kook, but I am all too aware of the effect that advertising has on me, who, despite the fact that I am vigilantly on guard against the direct to subconscious metaprogramming tactics employed by marketers, still fall prey to their never ending assault on my senses. (Especially when it comes to food.) What then of the impressionable minds of children?

Well, my approach is to minimize the inevitable exposure to mind controlling media in any way possible, the most obvious of which is to limit TV watching. Now, before you get on your high horse and ask me how I can deny the kids their cartoons etc., that is not the case at all. Fortunately, DVDs are widely available and cheap in China, and offer nearly any content you’re likely to wish to view… without commercials.

The Internet is proving to be a larger problem, and, as, over the course of the next few years, advertisers migrate the vast majority of their advertising budgets to direct marketing on mobile devices, I’m afraid it will tax all my resources to stay the onslaught. I suppose the best I can do is to teach my kids to be aware of efforts to manipulate them at all levels, not just advertising, but also to guard against meme viruses, both organically evolved and contrived, that are rampant in society, and which propagate through peer pressure to accept certain “facts” such as “fluoride is good for you” and “the World Trade Center towers collapsed due to airplanes crashing into them” as “reality”, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In my opinion, a healthy skepticism is the sign of a healthy mind. Of course, an obsession with conspiracy is a path to paranoia and social ostracism, so where to draw the line is critical to anyone’s development.

There are a lot of great research papers out there on the subject of advertising to kids. Here are a couple I enjoyed:

(pdf file)

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Happy Groundhog's Day!!
I’m not sure how many groundhogs there are in the Chinese capital, but they surely would have seen their shadow today and jumped back into their hole, and according to farmers in the US at least, that is a sign that we’re in for six more weeks of winter. Of course, the weather this year has been so mild, I’m still waiting for winter to arrive. It’s only really snowed once this year.Compounding this is the fact that “Spring Festival” is coming up in a few weeks, a surefire indicator that we are in for at least one more huge storm before things really start to warm up. The irony that “Spring Festival” seems to take place in the middle of winter seems lost on most people I talk to about it. I suppose it is indeed a lot like Groundhog’s Day. Both Spring Festival and Groundhog’s Day mark the point where things should start to warm up, rather than the point of crocuses springing forth and blossoms bursting out.So, even if we have to wait for six more weeks, at least the end of the winter is in sight! Reddit Slashdot Digg Facebook Technorati Google StumbleUpon Furl Yahoo Ask Mister Wong China Newsvine Simpy Spurl Wink Rawsugar Squidoo Fark

I took the kids to the park today. While they were playing, I sat near a small square pool full of goldfish. There were a few floaters but most of them seemed to be in reasonable health and several of them showed great spunk, rather zipping around the pond. This despite the fact that their sole purpose is to be caught by small children and taken home as pets. There weren’t any takers today, but I had observed upon occasion delighted children pluck fish from the water and hasten to place them in water filled bags, maneuvered by dutiful parents. What caught my eye today was a small worm floating above the surface.

It was hard at first to determine what exactly the worm was up to. It was furiously engaged in activity; to my eyes, engaged in an immense struggle. It seemed to me that it must sense it’s impending doom if it failed to reach solid ground. While admittedly somewhat curious to see what would happen if it fell into the pond, what sort of fight would ensue among the fish over this tasty morsel that just appeared out of nowhere, I found myself rooting for its survival.

I imagined myself hanging from a silk thread, feverishly pulling in slack as the wind blew, curling myself up to minimize the exposure. Then I imagined the rope coming out of one of my orifices and I elected to return to my role as observer. There was safety to be had on the other side of the pool. The wind would occasionally cause the worm to drift over the edge. If the worm would let out enough silk at the opportune moment, it would swing into the outer side of the pool and avoid a watery death.

The worm was very hard at work, twisting, grabbing and winding, putting all of its weight into these maneuvers. How long could it hold out? A big bee blundered into its path, nearly clipping the fragile lifeline. What if some carefree little boy comes running up with a fishing pole? What then little worm?

I realized then that the worm was going about this all wrong. There went another missed opportunity. Why didn’t it let out more thread? That was certainly the time to do it. It didn’t seem to care at all about its own safety. Unless, of course, I had completely misread the worms motives. The worm seemingly acknowledged this by commencing a slow climb back up its line.

When we observe others, what do really know about their motives? True, as fellow humans, we likely share a more common experience, but that doesn’t guarantee any greater insight into what they’re up to.

Thanks, worm! Reddit Slashdot Digg Facebook Technorati Google StumbleUpon Furl Yahoo Ask Mister Wong China Newsvine Simpy Spurl Wink Rawsugar Squidoo Fark

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