Does anybody remember when you used to walk into a store and buy what was on your list with nobody but perhaps an overzealous new clerk trying to sell you anything else? Remember the days when the only extra "buy me" messages were on the labels or on slick cardboard cutouts at the ends of the aisles? Remember when the only television screens were the ones in electronics, aside from those demonstrating that, yes, your every move is on a security camera?
I dropped in for something I needed at a mega-discount store that wasn't in my hometown, and was awestruck with the flat-screen monitors airing continuous television commercials for specific products. On the ends of the aisles, where they easily caught my attention, I first saw a personable mother, friendly like myself, explaining on the video why she loved using scented garbage bags and spraying fresh smelling, antibacterial spray in her kitchen. I didn't need garbage bags, but I was drawn in to her easygoing message meant to convince me that my kitchen might smell and look as wonderful as hers if I just bought those products.
In another section of the store, a convincing video made me question why, since I'm such a good mother after all, I don't have a stylish, hands-free dispenser pumping out antibacterial soap for my children. What kind of mother am I, using yesterday's cheap plastic soap pump that, according to the video, might spread germs? I could have conveniently bought the hands-free dispenser and antibacterial soap that very instant.
Another end-cap display of cereal boxes was complete with its own flat-screen, too. The video on it celebrated the goodness of a new, chocolaty cereal. I couldn't help asking another mother of two what she thought of the TV commercials scattered all through the store. Turns out, this was her hometown store; but no, she hadn't even noticed them. I wonder if I was the only adult to notice the screens? Everyone else seemed to just go about their shopping without my sense of shock and awe. The one other person who did take notice was a small girl, stopped square in front of the chocolaty cereal TV commercial, mesmerized, although her mother didn't seem to mind.
As parents of young children, we've learned from the experts to keep the television set turned off, then to allow limited screen time of appropriate programs after age 2. We know to start teaching early about the difference between needs and wants and to promote healthy foods with things like gardening. Some of us even prefer PBS over other children's programming because it avoids the most annoying commercials for sugary cereals and toys. But what's a parent to do when you can't bring your young children along on a shopping trip without their being exposed to more commercials? It takes a strong parent to say no to a kid who just saw the fun commercial and can immediately grab the box of cereal.
As for the products marketed to adults, I wonder how many of us are seeing those commercials as our one and only source of consumer information? If it's not your only source of, perhaps you already know there's been reason for concern about over the ingredients in common household cleaning products and soaps. You might already have the tools to decide whether you need everything you see advertised or if a simpler approach might be better. Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families
and the huge consumer coalition it represents offers lots of free information to help us make informed decisions.
Happy shopping and good luck avoiding toddler tantrums near the cereal aisle!