Saturday, June 30, 2007

PBS Versus Capitalism

Okay, I’m gonna rant. While doing some research on advertising, I stumbled across a PBS website created to teach kids that advertising is evil. One page is called “Advertising Tricks – Discover the Secrets of Selling.”


Why the negative approach? Advertising doesn’t trick people. It informs people about products and persuades them to buy. Out here in flyover country, we call that capitalism.

The “Food Advertising Tricks” page rails against “food stylists” who make sure the food looks representative even though it’s left under studio lights for hours during a shoot. Once people learn how food stylists work, promises PBS, you just might lose your appetite.

If PBS is going to take shots at food stylists for making food look good during photo shoots, maybe their on-air personalities should forego make-up when appearing on camera. Yech. Talk about losing your appetite.

To prove bargain brands are just as good as designer brand clothes, PBS has kids pick from two pictures, one with a child model in bargain clothes and the other with the same model in designer clothes. Apparently PBS isn’t above a little photographic trickery itself. The bargain priced clothes always appear better than the comparable designer clothes. The models even pose better when wearing the bargain clothes.

Look, I understand that kids are susceptible to ad messages. That’s why parents shouldn’t give kids their own debit cards. And I don't really care whether anyone buys designer clothes or not. I’m not exactly known for designer clothes, unless you consider Wranglers a designer brand. I do admit to wearing ballcaps with logos.

Frankly, PBS’ website seems far more deceptive than anything you’ll see in honest advertising. According to PBS, “Don't Buy It: Get Media Smart is a media literacy Web site for young people that encourages users to think critically about media and become smart consumers. Activities on the site are designed to provide users with some of the skills and knowledge needed to question, analyze, interpret and evaluate media messages.”

Then, the site instructs kids to complain about violence in video games. “Unhappy about violence in a video game?,” asks PBS, “Tell the people who made it.”

Wait. I thought the site was about honesty in advertising, not advocacy about video game violence. Who’s tricking who?

For cereal box designs, PBS says, “The superhero is a great choice because little kids prefer fantasy characters to pictures of real people.” Hmm, isn’t this the way PBS programming for kids works (e.g., Sesame Street)?

Presumably, the use of a cartoon character in packaging is bad (though parents might appreciate a cartoon image that helps encourage their child to eat the cereal the parents select). I guess cartoons characters are okay when PBS uses them to encourage kids to reject capitalism (see the image at the top).

There’s nothing wrong with showing kids how marketers persuade. There’s not anything wrong with a private business, group, organization, foundation, or individual painting business in general and advertising in specific as evil if it’s done with private funds. I personally don’t like it, but there’s nothing wrong with it.

There is something wrong about a government funded entity teaching children that business is out to trick people and that business is the enemy. Even worse, the site is designed to be a resource for teachers, so children can be fed anti-capitalist propoganda while they are captive audiences.

How would you like to come home from your job with a cereal manufacturer and be confronted by your son, who asks, “Daddy, why do you lie to people?”

PBS' hypocrisy is so think you would need a chain saw to cut through it. The network depends on corporate marketing budgets to supplement its government funding. Only PBS doesn’t call it advertising. When a company advertises on PBS, it’s called a “sponsorship.”

What’s the difference between a 15 second television ad and a 15 second sponsor credit? The former is honest advertising. The latter is PBS trickery. Even marketing to kids is okay when it helps support PBS [PDF]. Again, who’s tricking who?

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