How (not) to advertise baby videos

One thing you'll never see on the website for a baby video company? A picture of a baby watching a video. Instead, you'll see kids petting farm animals, playing in the sun, and reading books—everything but sitting glassy-eyed in front of the tube.

I realized this when I went to look for an image for my earlier post. Figures. In the same way that cigarette ads portray active, healthy people out sailing and riding horses; and SUV ads show thriving green mountains and forests, advertising is most effective when it conceals the true nature of the product.

Fortunately, there's always flickr.

Babywatchingtv

Posted by carrie on August 7, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Official Whiny Blog Post of New York

I heard a radio commercial this morning that concluded with, "That's why, in our opinion, Subaru is the official car of New York." Corporations routinely pay huge sums to be recognized as the official so-and-so of whatever. A very quick Web search of the New York Yankees finds they have an official airline; an official athletic apparel and footwear company; an official printer, copier, and SLR camera provider; an official amino-acid sports supplement drink; and the list goes on and on. But apparently Subaru believes if you toss in an IMHO, you can circumvent those pesky contracts and fees.

Now, you might be thinking, "Jack, lighten up, you take commercials too seriously and as a result seem humorless." Hey, I'd let it slide if it was totally innocuous like "the official super-fun vacation getaway of summer!" But New York City actually has a rapidly growing number of official designations, from an official flag and an official journal, to more modern products. So I just think Subaru should keep their eyes on their rearview mirror—New York City's legal eagles may soon be after you. As for me, I'm still working on the paperwork to become the official so-and-so of whatever.

Posted by Jack Silbert on July 25, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Land Rover: A Legend in its Marketing

Land_rover According to Brandweek, Land Rover's new marketing strategy is to show the car as a "hero" by rushing cars to the sites of natural disasters:

When a natural disaster strikes, [Director Scott Duncan] and his crew go on location to capture footage. For example, when floods hit Levasy, Mo., last month, Duncan's crew swooped in like a SWAT team to film the LR3 in action. Turpin said the first spot, breaking next week, would show the LR3 using its hydraulic lift and sealed undercarriage to navigate flooded streets strewn with disabled cars. ...

To ensure that the brand isn't seen as exploiting disaster, Land Rover will offer the use of its vehicles to emergency personnel or, alternatively, make donations to relief organizations.

So Land Rover doesn't want to be seen as exploiting natural disasters and have concluded that throwing money around won't seem explotaitive at all.

Alas, this is the essence of corporate charity: the giving isn't to help, it is for the purpose of saying that you gave, like when Philip Morris well spent over $1,000,000 to brag that it donated $125,000 worth of macaroni and cheese. Remember, its the thought that counts - and that thought is "this will pay off in the end, right?"

(Via Consumerist)

Posted by Charles Star on June 26, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Uh, Cartoon Network…You're Supposed to Pay for Advertising.

Did Cartoon Network's marketing team learn nothing from their Aqua Teen Hunger Force Boston bomb scare debacle? The one that resulted in $2 million in fines and the resignation of the network's general manager? (Not to mention that the eventual ATHF movie was a bigger bomb than any device planted in Beantown.)

And now they're resorting to splog. This week, I checked in on the messageboard for the band the db's, where I had once before uncovered corporate comment spam. There was now another very random posting which asked:

Does anyone watch Storm Hawks? It’s on Mondays on CN… does anyone remember if it’s the cute girl Piper who rides the heliscooter or if it’s the big strong guy, Junko? My friends and I all watched the first episode, but no one can agree.

I poked around on the Internet and found the same sentences posted on several other sites. Digging deeper, I found dozens of web pages with this alternate text:

Did anyone catch Storm Hawks on Cartoon Network? I watched it, and I was impressed by the way it looked! The animation was really smooth, but it looked like they used CGI too to make it look more realistic. What did anyone else think?

And who knows which other variations are out there. Listen, Cartoon Network, I know it's hard to grab the kids' attention these days. I know you have to think "outside the box." And I know you probably have a $2 million hole in your marketing budget. But show an ounce of class and try to play by the rules. Or else you're going to spend a lot more time in court, and attorney-at-law Harvey Birdman won't be able to help you.

Posted by Jack Silbert on June 17, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (7)

Pharma Fond of Fraud-Committing Physicians

Sunday's New York Times had a mindbending article about the way drugs are tested in this country. Apparently, doctors who have been disciplined for fraud are finding second careers running clinical trials for drug companies. One such doctor, before being hired directly by drug companies, was cited by the FDA for violating protocol in every study he managed! When a suicidal patient refused to be enrolled in one of his trials, he discharged the patient from his hospital—and the patient committed suicide shortly thereafter. It's as if facility with fraud is a bona fide occupational qualification for running a pharma trial.

Meanwhile, take a wild guess what many of the other doctors hired to run drug trials were disciplined for... if you said "overprescribing," you win!

Gene Carbona, who left Merck on good terms in 2001 as a regional sales manager after 12 years in drug sales, said the only thing the company considered when hiring doctors to give marketing lectures was “the volume or potential volume of prescribing that doctor could do.” ... Mr. Carbona, now executive director of sales for The Medical Letter, which reviews drugs, said that had he known that a doctor had a disciplinary record for excessive prescribing, “I would have been more inclined to use them as a speaker.”

Posted by Charles Star on June 7, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Wall Street Journal on Planned Obsolescence (2002)

Commenters have raised some good questions about the veracity of author Giles Slade's claims, so I thought I'd post this 2002 article on planned obsolescence from those radical rabble-rousers at the Wall Street Journal.

As of Tuesday, July 16, 2002                      

Companies Slash Warranties, Rendering Gadgets Disposable

By JANE SPENCER
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

A combination of shorter warranties and design changes means that
buyers of even relatively expensive gadgets now have little choice
but to throw them in the trash if anything breaks.

In the past year Dell Computer has slashed warranty periods from
three years to one. Apple Computer's hot iPod digital-music player
comes with only a 90-day warranty. And Sony requires purchasers to
register to get a full year of support on a Clie organizer --
otherwise, they, too, get 90 days. In addition, many contracts on new
consumer electronics are riddled with strict conditions: The one-year
warranty on RCA digital camcorders, for example, covers only labor
costs for 90 days.

Even if people want to pay for repairs out of their own pockets, some
gadget makers are cutting off that option as well. Many hand-held
organizers from companies such as Handspring, Palm and
Hewlett-Packard have built-in rechargeable batteries that generally
can't be replaced without sending the entire unit back to the
company. (Typical cost: $120.) Two earlier Palm models, the V and Vx,
were actually glued shut; the heat required to open them risks
damaging the unit. Some Qualcomm cellphones also have batteries that
are sealed inside the unit. But sealed units aren't limited to the
small portable realm. VCRs throughout the '80s were built with a
removable bottom plate. Now, they are typically made out of one
plastic shell that is tricky to open even for a professional.

"We joke that we design landfills," says Darren Blum, a senior
industrial engineer at Pentagram Design, which builds portable
devices and computers for companies like H-P.

It's the latest chapter in the story of planned obsolescence, the
term coined to describe the trend of building things not to last. As
tech companies focus on pumping out new models, they aren't doing as
much to help customers retain their current ones. They spend less
time on product testing, and offer customers less help when the
products break or malfunction. The result: Many cellphones, PDAs and
other gadgets are essentially becoming disposable devices.

The pace of new-product development plays a big role. Palm, for
example, introduced just six new PDA models from 1996 to 1999. Since
then, it has come out with 16 new models. As the time allotted to
designing electronics has dropped from years to weeks, testing
cycles, too, have been compressed. "No one that I know exhaustively
tests anything that's built," says Prabha Gopinath, executive vice
president at TestQuest, which creates testing software used by
Handspring, Palm, Motorola and Nokia. "That goes for PDAs,
cellphones, any software that's out there."

Manufacturers say they do extensive testing and add that prices on
gadgets have dropped so much that it's cheaper to buy new than pay
for repairs. Between 1990 and 2001, average cellphone prices dropped
from $600 to $162. The average price of a CD player fell from $220 to
$85 over the same period.

But the newer the product, the shorter the life span: A
black-and-white TV sold in 1979 lasted for about 12 years; today, a
cutting-edge LCD-screen TV is replaced after five. Laptop computers
need to be fixed every 16 months on average, while hand-held
organizers last an estimated two years.

Faster than Peanut Butter

Kareem Shehata, an engineering student from Ontario, Canada, goes
through Palm organizers faster than he goes through jars of peanut
butter. He has had seven Palms in the past three years. One was
"flaky," he says, and worked only if he shook it. Several developed
"this digitizer schizophrenia thing" where the screen wouldn't
register his stylus taps. Mr. Shehata opened up his seventh Palm and
temporarily fixed a loose component with a piece of Scotch tape, but
eventually, that one choked too. Palm replaced six of his broken
hand-helds with refurbished units, since the failures began under
warranty .

Warranty lengths tend to be standard within product categories. But
some lesser-known companies are offering longer warranties to ease
concerns about the reliability of their products. Budget PC maker
Atlas Micro offers a three-year warranty on most parts, and a
lifetime guarantee on labor. On the flip side, established companies
may try to leverage their brand image to get away with unusually
short warranties . Apple's iPod digital-music player offers just 90
days -- against a full year for many lesser-known MP3 makers.

Sony adds extra hurdles, requiring some hand-held customers to jump
online and click through a battery of questions about their
electronics-buying habits in order to get a full year of support.

Tech companies have taken the area of product support, once a
standard service, and turned it into something customers have to pay
extra for. The result is the current boom in the extended-warranty
industry, with profits going to tech companies and the retailers that
administer these programs.

High Repair Costs

Another way tech companies encourage upgrades is by setting repair
costs prohibitively high. At Palm, getting a replacement for a
cracked screen costs $125 -- even though Web-based repair companies
like GetHighTech.com manage to fix them for closer to $50. The site
also offers videos and guides to help users make basic repairs on
their units. STNECorp.com, another Web outfit, offers life-extending
repairs for Palms like button replacements.

But few customers know about these sites. In the end, many simply
decide it's easier to buy a newer-model gadget than run the service
gauntlet thrown down by the tech companies.

Updated July 16, 2002

Posted by carrie on April 8, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Are consumer products made to break? An interview with author Giles Slade

The following interview is part one of a two-part series on planned obsolescence. The second -- about housing construction -- will be posted next week is now online here.

Madetobreak Last year my sweetie and I inherited a microwave from the previous owners of our new (old) house. The microwave looked like a serious piece of equipment, not a cheap plastic number, but wouldn't power on. For months, we let it sit in the kitchen. When we finally managed to deal with it, our first instinct was, naturally, to toss it and buy a new one.

Sure, why not: we could buy a new oven for the same price as fixing the old. Though the new one was perhaps even more likely to break quickly, we could at least leave the old one on the curb, rather than lugging it to the repair shop. When the new one broke we could always, you know, buy yet another.

As it happens, I was internally debating this when I picked up Giles Slade's illuminating history Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America. Within the first two pages, Slade makes it very clear that microwave ovens are only the the tip of the iceberg when it comes to electronics that common sense tells us to discard. And discard, we do. From cell phones to PCs to computer monitors and televisions, every year sees an exponential rise in the number of machines tossed into landfills. In 2003, over 63 million working PCs were trashed, In 2004, that number jumped to 315 million. The same trend holds over a wide array of consumer electronics.

The reasons behind this are many and complex, but Slade hones in on one: companies profit more when products have shorter lifespans - because they sell more products that way. This is no conspiracy theory but, rather, simple economics. Small wonder, then, that product lifespans are shrinking across the board. In 1997, a PC was expected to last 4 or 5 years; by 2003, only two years, and today the life expectancy is even less. ; today, average life expectancy is two or three years.

As Made to Break documents, planned obsolescence is neither theoretical nor new. In fact, throughout the early half of the 20th century, business leaders openly promoted planned obsolescence in one form or another, calling it "creative destruction," "progressive obsolescence" or "adulteration."

To find out more, I tracked down Slade and talked to him by phone in late 2006.

STAY FREE!: How did book come about?

GILES SLADE: I came back to North America from teaching in the Arab Emirates after 9/11, and every interaction I had in public was very curt, very rude. I wondered where that shortness developed and ultimately became convinced that it has to do with our attitudes toward material culture.

STAY FREE!: Business people in the 1920s and up through the 1950s talked openly about planned obsolescence in trade publications. Are they less likely to talk about it now?

GILES SLADE: They call it different things now: "death dating" or "product lifespan." It's an established strategy. When a junior industrial designer is assigned to a work site and tasked with designing a product, one of the first questions is: How long is this thing going to last? How long does the competition last? How long is the warranty? This kind of planning is common knowledge among     design teams.

STAY FREE!: Yeah, I noticed when web surfing that a business school included "product obsolescence" in a course description. One of your critics on the internet, though, wrote, "I'm an industrial designer and I've never heard this!" What do you make of that?

GILES SLADE: The British designer known for creating the iPod, Jonathan Ive, probably didn't have anything to do with the battery inside the iPod. His job was to make the iPod beautiful. But Tony Fadell, the guy in charge of the engineering team and a top executive of Apple, knew very well that the battery would fail after 11 months; it would've been his decision to put it inside, where it couldn't be replaced. On large projects, tasks can be very specialized. But Steve Jobs clearly knows about this. He said in an interview that people should buy a new iPod every year. The old ones scratch very easily, so they don't look as nice after use.

STAY FREE!: Do you have proof that it's intentional?

GILES SLADE: No, but there's currently a class-action lawsuit against Apple in California, focused on the video screens being so easily scratched. The same group filed a lawsuit about the battery life and won a huge settlement from Apple.

STAY FREE!: You discussed Levittown‚ the pioneering housing development on Long Island‚ and how home builders began applying mass production techniques to real estate development in the 1940s. Could you talk a bit about that?

GILES SLADE: William Jaird Levitt said Levittown was just like a Ford Motor plant, except the stationary line was spread across a subdivision. Everything that wasn't immediately cost-effective was eliminated: porches, basements, even sidewalks. In order to sell these houses, they filled them full of brand new appliances—washers and dryers, new refrigerators and stoves. They built the houses to last 20 years, but after 5 years or so, the appliances would break down. Still, the houses were built very well. And many of the buyers were first-time home owners, so they put a lot of sweat equity into them. They added value to houses in a way that defeats obsolescence. The carports were not garages, so they'd wall them in and make it a real garage. They would put in fireplaces or...

STAY FREE!: Add a porch?

GILES SLADE: Sure, add a porch. Build up the roof. Those places go for a lot of money now.

STAY FREE!: Forgive my ignorance, but what does removing the basement do structurally to a house?

GILES SLADE: Frank Lloyd Wright hated basements because they weren't cost-effective. He said they don't do anything, they're just negative storage space. So [in Levittown] they poured a concrete step and added copper coil piping into the concrete; instead of radiators they had radiant heat.

STAY FREE!: How does that effect the longevity of the house?

GILES SLADE: It makes the copper coil unserviceable. Once it corrodes, fills up with sludge, or springs a leak, there's not much you can do about it.

STAY FREE!: Has there been much of a debate among contemporary designers and engineers about the lifespans of products they create?

GILES SLADE: Electronics engineers at IEEE conferences frequently present papers about designing for disassembly, making products reusable and less poisonous. Many of those people are at odds with their industry.

STAY FREE!: Even Martha Stewart has complained about planned obsolescence—about the number of cords and chargers required for digital devices. Here in the States, there's no standard for those things. Have other countries tackled this problem?

GILES SLADE: In Germany, there's something called the Institute for NORML that standardizes electronic devices. I think there's something similar in Japan.

STAY FREE!: Have you looked at consumer warranties at all? They seem to be shrinking. I saw some headphones the other day that had a 30-day guarantee!

GILES SLADE: Ha! All I know is that I went to the industrial standards board in Washington and they told me that the standard for durable goods was fixed at three years around the beginning of WWI. I guess that three years came from the three-year product cycle of General Motors. They figured a new GM car would come out every three years, so a car only needed to last three years. The funny thing is that three years now sounds like a long time. The average cell phone lasts only 18 months in North America and maybe 8 months in Japan, Finland, and Norway.

STAY FREE!: Lately I've noticed that inside the box of new electronic products, there's a note saying DO NOT return this item to store; instead, return it directly to manufacturer. I wonder if that is a way discouraging people from returning things in general; the more confusing the process, the less likely people are to do anything about it.

GILES SLADE: There was a watch—"the "Yankee"—called "the watch that made the dollar famous." It was stamped out of steel and came with a lifetime guarantee. All you had to do when the watch stopped was mail it back to the company and it would send you another one free. But because the watch only cost a dollar, only 3 percent of consumers ever took advantage of that offer. I think Apple has the same thing in mind with its takeback program. Most customers would have to write to them, box up the equipment, and pay to ship it. Statistically, very few people take advantage of that.

STAY FREE!: Also, Apple doesn't promote takeback at all. You have to dig for it on their website. Have you looked at repair services and how those have changed?

GILES SLADE: No, but that's an another interesting question. I do know that there is a booming aftermarket industry that has grown up around the iPod. IPods break so often and, after the warranty period, you can't get them serviced from Apple, but you can trade them in. They're very small, so it's easy to chuck them. They are designed to work only for a specified amount of time, which an Apple rep initially said was four years, but then she was challenged on that and said she meant "for years."

STAY FREE!: On Mac blogs, everyone took Apple at its word and published that as a correction. . . . I recently bought a Patagonia coat because it has a lifetime warranty.

GILES SLADE: They say that for Sears' Craftsman tools also. I haven't had a problem with Sears' tools, but I have a Kenmore dryer and it burst into flames! It was still under warranty—it was less than two years old—Sears came and repaired it, but now I'm afraid to use it. I thought Kenmore was a respectable brand but it's just some cheap model that Sears buys in lots and slaps its name on.

STAY FREE!: I have a conspiracy theory. Sometimes I think stores have intentionally bad customer service because it encourages people to buy something new rather than dealing with customer service for a return.

GILES SLADE: I think that's certainly the case with rebate programs. They make it very difficult to actually collect the rebate.

STAY FREE!: When you talk to people about your book, do you notice a generational divide in how older people and younger people feel about these issues?

GILES SLADE: Yes, younger people don't want to hear anything negative about the iPod. I might as well put a turban on and grow a long beard. It comes down to the social value of consumer goods as icons. If I'm saying something negative about your tribe's icon, it's as if I'm attacking you personally. Also, younger people have much less sense that things should last. I find that really disturbing.

STAY FREE!: It makes sense, though. If you're born into a world where things aren't made to last, naturally you won't expect them to.

GILES SLADE: Sure, but then things less than 20 years old become what we think of as antiques. So your sense of duration, of history, of culture has collapsed and evaporated. If your favorite toys are constantly updated and replaced, how is that going to effect your relationships with people? I think you're less likely to have lasting commitments to people, to family, to a country, even. There's a well-known book called Bowling Alone, and I think this is where it comes from. We've become so accustomed to things only lasting for a few years we don't invest in them anymore. We don't see beautiful things like paintings and rugs as lasting.

STAY FREE!: James Twitchell, an historian of advertising, has said that the problem with Americans is not that we're materialistic, but that we're not materialistic enough. We don't genuinely love our things; what we love is exchanging them for newer things.

You write that the rise of computers has led to the rise of information obsolescence. Could you give an example?

GILES SLADE: One way to make electronic products obsolete is to design them to not be backward compatible. Apple changed the operating system on the Nano about a year ago, and it requires an advanced physics degree to put the new operating system on the old Nano, so you can't use iTunes anymore if you have an older model.

STAY FREE!: You've gotten a lot of criticism on the web. Any thoughts on that?

GILES SLADE: I remember being called a "conspiracy theorist" in the Times Literary Supplement and puzzling over it because there's not much that is "theoretical" about my book. It has all been substantiated by people other than me. Online, a particular group of critics started to lump me in with environmentalists, and I started getting a lot of criticism on right-wing blogs. When I started talking about the iPod, technology blogs started going. Apple has an extensive informal network of pro-Apple blogs . . .

STAY FREE!: True, but there are thousands of diehard Mac fans that have no actual connection to the company.

GILES SLADE: Yes, but let me give you an example. There was a leak about conditions at an iPod factory in China. In the week following the leak, reports appeared all over the web saying that a crack investigative team looked into it and found that the rumors weren't true; there was no injustice. Well, a week or so later, all of these claims are in fact confirmed: the workers can't leave the iPod factory, they're working long hours for sweatshop wages. Apple is the champion of creating a spin cycle before anyone knows what's going on. I think they're smarter and more successful than the CIA. I can get the CIA to talk to me but I can't get Apple to.

Posted by carrie on April 4, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (32)

ECKO...Ecko...ecko....

A couple of months back, I received in the mail a shrink-wrapped issue of Complex. I was unfamiliar with the magazine, which described itself as "A Marc Ecko Production" and "The Men's Guide to Consuming Culture." One of the mailing lists I'm on probably decided I was in the correct demographic for this publication. A sheet visible within the packaging offered me some sort of free subscription if I would just mail back the attached card. I don't know the exact details because I never quite got around to opening the shrink-wrap.

Don't get me wrong, I like magazines. I love them, in fact, and make my living from them. And I like free stuff. But, I don't know, I didn't open it. Maybe I wanted to stay faithful to the magazines I already read. Maybe I'm not that interested in gadgets and extreme sports. Perhaps I don't actually know who Marc Ecko is. (Was he the bad guy in Wall Street?) Still, I figured I'd at least rip open that plastic and flip through it. Skim, if you will. But other mail got piled on top, and it just never happened.

Last weekend I was doing a little cleaning in anticipation of a rare visitor to Casa del Silbert. I finally tossed out that still-wrapped issue of Complex. I brought the trash to the curb. The local sanitation crew picked it up and took it away.

Tonight, I arrived home, only to find in my mailbox…the hot-off-the-presses February/March issue of Complex.

I can't eckscape.

Posted by Jack Silbert on February 14, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (17)

Open Letter to my Dear Friend Generosa Pratts

Hi Generosa!

Just wanted to drop you a line to say that I received your letter of January 19. You know, the one that began…

Dear Jack Silbert:

As an owner at Westgate Resorts, I'm entitled to reward a friend with a special offer to visit a 5-star Westgate Resort in Orlando, FL and I chose you!

What a lovely surprise to hear from you! And so refreshing to receive an actual letter instead of one of these new-fangled e-mails that the young people are so taken with. I would've written back to you in "snail mail" form but you forgot to put a return address on the envelope. Oh well!

Now, you said something about a 4-day/3-night something-or-other, and that is all very generous of you. (Your mama knew what she was doing when she dubbed you "Generosa"!) But Generosa dear, all that means nothing to me when I have the chance to reconnect with you—my good friend!

The thing is, Generosa, and I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I can't seem to place how we know each other. I have looked in my Fave Five, my list of myspace friends, Friendster friends (you're not one of those Eastern Bloc girls, are you?), Netflix friends, Facebook, Hi5, LinkedIn, Plaxo, that stupid new one with the American Idol-style book writing competition, my college alumni directory, high-school yearbook, junior-high yearbook, local phone book, Google, Wikipedia…I can't find you anywhere, you minx! There is a "Generosa Pratts" listed on peoplefinders.com—a 48-year-old who lives either in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Ridgewood, NY, or Jersey City. Still not ringing a bell, though! You don't, by any chance, work in a paper-bag manufacturing plant?

Well, no matter, we've got the rest of our lives to connect the dots and catch up. There is so much I want to tell you, Generosa! Here I've been sitting home alone watching commercials, just wishing and hoping a friend like you would come along. Someone to bring me soup when I'm feeling icky. Someone to give me a ride when my car is in the shop. Someone to pet-sit my Boston terrier, Oreo. (What a scamp!) Are you my missing link to Kevin Bacon? Can I put you down as a reference? Any single friends you could introduce me to? Will you help me move? Can I borrow a few bucks, just till payday? I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. Here, put this Ziploc bag in your carry-on luggage, and act like everything's cool.

Will you comment on my blog posts?

I know this must be just as overwhelming for you, Generosa, so I'll stop there for now. Keep smilin', keep shinin', and know that you can always count on me, for sure!

Love,
Jack

p.s. Write back soon!

Posted by Jack Silbert on January 29, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (8)

Study: Verb campaign pleases media industry

Verbvideo File this one under News of the Weird:

Health Journal: Hip government exercise campaign looks for its next move

The story is about the apparent success of the Center for Disease Control's "verb" ad campaign -- designed to fight obesity among children and teens. A recent study in the journal Pediatrics found that kids who had seen the Verb campaign "reported one-third more physical activity during their free time than kids who hadn't."

Funny. When I showed a couple of Verb commercials (including this one) to high school students a few years ago, all of them recognized the spots -- but not a single one of them had any clue what they meant. The commercials were inscrutable. Of course they were. Verb is an anti-obesity campaign that conceals the primary causes of obesity practically by necessity. Why? Because Verb's partners are a veritable who's who of the "obesity lobby" -- AOL Time Warner, Viacom, Primedia, and the ad agency Frankel, which also does work for McDonald's.

But back to the article at hand. As part of the campaign, Verb people have been distributing yellow balls to kids and asking them to log into Verb's "tween" website to discuss what they did with it.

One of the bloggers is 9-year-old Drew from Monroe Township, N.J. "I shot the ball in the basket, got the rebound and threw it to my mom."

Ten-year-old Peyton from Poland Spring, Maine, got his yellow ball from a brother, who had received it from a friend. "I have had a lot of fun playing with it in my front yard," wrote Peyton. "One day I was practicing my soccer skills with it and the next day I had it in the pool with me. I am now going to pass my yellow ball on to my other brother. This has been fun."

Really? I can't imagine real kids saying the above unless they either suffered from Down's Syndrome, were in a hostage situation, or were required to write about Verb for school.

The proof, however, is in the pudding. Do we want kids out playing ball, shooting hoops, and running around -- or sitting at a computer discussing it?

Posted by carrie on September 9, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (2)