When in doubt, blame advertising.

Rhonda from the AMMI ads goes to Bali





Here’s a tip: if you work in advertising, never, ever mention it to a cab driver. Apparently ad people rank lower than politicians and marginally above journalists in the cabbies’ esteem-o-meter.

I spent twenty-something years in ad agencies. It wasn’t quite Mad Men, but there were days and weeks that were very mad.

Still, I worked with interesting, clever people. And a bunch of plonkers too – in that respect it was like any other business. We did mostly good work, coming up with ideas that sold stuff for our clients and hopefully didn’t piss too many people off.


For some reason though, advertising is surrounded by an air of evil mystery – there’s a perception that advertising agency staff spend their days plotting devious tricks to sell unwanted things to vulnerable people – with children particularly in our sights.

Kids are getting too fat, kids are getting to skinny, kids are turning into horrible brats wielding ‘pester power’ like the light sabers they pestered their parents into buying. And it’s ALL ADVERTISING’S FAULT.

Really, parents should love advertising! It shifts the blame from our overburdened shoulders and plonks it directly onto unshaven, overpaid teenagers lounging about in creative departments. Gotta love a whipping boy in a $200 t-shirt.

I don’t believe advertising is inherently bad. There are bad products – and there have been accounts I’ve refused to work on, but basically, if it’s legal to make and sell something I reckon you should be allowed to promote it.

If you’ve ever sold a car in the Trading Post, YOU’VE DONE ADVERTISING. And you no doubt made your message as appealing as possible, leaving out the part about the dicky air conditioner.

Because of a couple of books I’ve written, and an appearance on The Gruen Transfer, I’m regularly invited to schools to talk about advertising. The way I see it, we can either teach our kids how to decode advertising – how not to be suckered into buying stuff they don’t need and can’t afford. Or, we can keep advertising from them and them from advertising. I’m not sure that’s possible, and if it is, it’s no fun for anyone.

I don’t understand people who say, ‘Let’s at least keep the junk food ads off children’s television.’

But does ‘children’s television,’ even exist any more? When I was growing up in the seventies we watched The Brady Bunch, Glligan’s Island and Happy Days in the afternoons and then Dad came in and said, ‘Turn that rubbish off, the news is on.’ And that was it.

Kids today are watching Masterchef and Real Housewives Of Everywhere. Your kids might not watch such programs, but heaps do. And believe me, if burger ads are taken off telly, fast food companies will be doing giveaways at Under 6 soccer matches and sponsoring council libraries. It’s already happening and it’s much sneakier, subversive and trickier to explain. ‘No darling, you may not have that FREE cheeseburger because it’s part of a multinational campaign to give you Type 2 diabetes.’

Of course that’s not true. No one sets out to make kids sick. Manufacturers want to sell stuff, to make money. I’d like to suggest concerned parents counter ‘pester power’ with some parental backbone. When kids nag you for ‘Krispy Krunchy Choc Buds,’ for breakfast, say, ‘No’.

If they point out 9 out of 10 Olympians eat it, simply respond, “Excellent. When you can swim 100 meters in under a minute five seconds, I’ll buy a jumbo-sized box. We’ll scoff it as a family after the medal ceremony.’

When I watch TV with my kids, I ask them what a particular ad might be about. When a sugary cereal one comes on I say, ‘What does, ‘Packed with energy,’ really mean?’ They know to swap the word ‘energy’ with ‘sugar.’ My son knows international cricketers don’t really chow down on KFC and my girls know 100% fat free means a lot of sugar and salt is there instead of the fat.

Why not credit kids with some intelligence and savvy? Let’s tell them what’s what and back our own parenting. Odd it’s often the parents of ‘exceptional’ and ‘gifted’ children who are most outraged by media manipulation. Surely if the kids are that brilliant, they can see through a dodgy ad.

It’s a pain we have to have to stress about ads as well as everything else, but it’s part of a parent’s lot in 2012 and it’s a whole heap easier in many ways than it was in the seventies when ads for ciggies and Cinzano came on straight after Little House On The Prairie. When it all becomes too much, turn off the TV and shut down the broadband for a bit.

We’re all advertisers at some point. It’s been a year or two since I penned a TV ad, but only last week I sold a fridge on eBay. I gave the listing a stonking headline, chose the most complementary pictures … and left out the bit about the crack in the butter compartment. Someone should tell the government.

What’s your favourite ad of all time? Which ads have worked for you?


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