#3. 1-900 Santa Scam
As we saw in the Freddy Bed Time Stories, most 900 numbers make the product something so incredibly ridiculous that the kids wouldn't dare actually ask before calling. But how do you steal money from parents with kids who are not only too young to make responsible buying decisions, but too young to know how to dial the phone?
Well, thanks to 1980s technology, you could tell children to hold the telephone receiver up to their television speaker, and play the 900 number's touch tones for you, causing their phone to actually dial the number! Which is exactly what happened in Seattle in 1989, when an infomercial encouraged kids to use this method to call Santa's 900 number.
Complaints lead to the infomercial being pulled after about ten minutes on the air, so fortunately for Santa, the ad never made it to YouTube. Unfortunately for parents, other Santas continue to charge children willing to spend Mom and Dad's money on something they could get free at any mall:
#2. Children's Breakfast Cereals
Since the dawn of television, corporate America has been vying for the all important Saturday morning cartoon audience, in particular trying to get children to choose the latest cereal they could pass off as "Part of a complete breakfast!"
The "complete breakfast" often resembles a $30 room service tray from the nearest Westin, and almost always included orange juice, toast, and an entire pitcher of milk. Why so much milk? Probably to keep kids from going into diabetic shock from the cereal in their bowl.
Here's an ad for Nerds cereal, which constitutes the rock candy part of the complete breakfast.
So why is this more shady than any other toy marketed to children? Well, a recent study at Yale revealed that breakfast cereals marketed most aggressively to children also have the lowest nutritional quality.
The corporations knew that parents weren't going to voluntarily buy cereals with names like Kellogg's Mini Swirlz Crisp Fudge Ripple Cereal and Peanut Butter Cookie Crisp Cereal ("It smells like peanut butter cookies... but it's a breakfast cereal!). But they also know that for many Americans, parenting is just another word for "get the kid to stop shrieking." And fortunately for cereal companies, they don't sell Rozerem in the cereal aisle.
#1. Partnership for a Drug Free America - Your Brain on Drugs
In contrast to ads that convince kids to buy things they shouldn't are ads that don't do the greatest job convincing them not to buy things they shouldn't. The Partnership for a Drug Free America was responsible for the ubiquitous 1980s fried egg commercial:
Apparently, the ad left some kids with questions, because 20 years later, they were still doing drugs just as much as they were back before they knew how similar their brain was to an empty frying pan. Maybe kids realized a frying pan with a delicious egg in it is better than one without.
At this point, you might have expected the partnership to look back at the ad and feel embarrassed that they had tried to cure the drug problem with such an insultingly retarded metaphor. Maybe you're imagining someone raising their hand at the meeting and saying, "Wasn't that ad basically the equivalent of a WWF wrestler pointing at his opponent and then crushing something in his hand?"
Instead, they decided that the previous metaphor was entirely too subtle, and hired Rachel Leigh Cook to beat the living shit out of an entire kitchen:
Thus teaching children the important lesson that despite your parents' flaws, you're lucky Rachel Leigh Cook is not your mom, because she makes the worst fried eggs in town.
Learn Why Cops Shouldn't be Allowed on MySpace. Or for more of the shittiest PSAs of all time check out The 5 Most Ineffective Anti-Drug PSAs of All Time.