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Choosy moms ignore ads that induce guilt


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 30, 2000

Maybe I gave the magazine ad an extra glance because I'm such a Rice Krispies treats fiend. The picture of the dessert made my mouth water, but then the message made my blood boil.

"She knows you could have just opened a box of cookies," read the headline. Then at the end: "Because that's the kind of mom you are."

A week or so later, I saw another ad: "They remember stuff like this." And again the kicker: "Because that's the kind of mom you are."

Give me a break. Home-baked goodies are not a measure for a proper "kind of mom," but Kellogg's wants us to believe those moms who "just open a box of cookies" are slackers, the "kind of mom" you don't want to be.

Now don't think I'm overly defensive. I probably bake for my family twice a month or so. But if I didn't, I hope I wouldn't be conned into thinking my worth is reliant on Rice Krispies treats.

Kellogg's certainly isn't the only company that employs such a pitch.

The evolution of antibacterial products, from wipes to soap to toys, allows advertisements to imply: If you don't buy this, your kids will contract the Ebola virus.

How many times have we seen babies who are plagued with painful diaper rash or can't get a good night's sleep because their mother doesn't love them enough to buy a more absorbent diaper?

During the beach season, there's the baby looking miserable with a soggy diaper because his mom didn't buy the water-resistant model for him. No doubt he's destined for a lifetime of counseling, while the happy boy in the brightly colored swim diaper is going to graduate first in his class from Yale.

"One of the things we know in our industry is that guilt can be an enormously powerful motivator," said Chris Harwell, chairman of Paradigm/Lord Lasker ad agency in Tampa. "It is a slippery slope when you use guilt in advertising because sometimes it works and sometimes it backfires on you."

So are parents an easy mark because advertisers know we strive to do the best we can for our kids?

Harwell said we can be a tough audience to reach because there is so much media aimed at parents that advertisers must think hard about where to spend their money. But we're easy because they know we are interested.

"Sometimes part of your advertising is alerting people they need to know this," he said. "That's not the case with parents because they are eager and interested in anything that has to do with kids."

Along with guilt ads there are other proven methods for motivating parents to buy a product, he said. Some advertisers show how wonderful a product is by letting viewers experience it through the child's eyes. McDonald's is famous for this.

Parents also seem to go for nostalgia ads that remind them of a great time from their childhood so they will want to recreate it for their own kids. Remember the Disney World commercials with 8mm footage of families there in the '70s?

And perhaps as annoying as the guilt trip is advertisers' tactic of talking straight to the kids, who then come begging for the $39.95 battery-operated toothbrush or the sugar-coated cereal with extra sugar on top.

We can't tune it all out, but I have decided that I at least can scoff in the face of guilt. I don't need their products to boost my ego.

I was reaching for peanut butter the other day and remembered that "Choosy Moms Choose Jif." I put it back down and went for the store brand.

-- Please contact Rookie Mom with questions or comments at (727) 822-7225 or

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