The 6 Creepiest Marketing Campaigns Aimed at Children
When you're a child, all of your income is disposable, and as far as you're concerned so is your parents'. That's why everyone from mega-corporations to school yard drug dealers crowd in to get a piece of the pie.
It's also why you get advertising campaigns so desperate they're downright creepy. Such as:
Abercrombie & Fitch's Thongs For Kids
Clothing retailers are no strangers to racy ads. For instance, American Apparel takes a lot of heat for their overtly pornographic ads featuring underage women engaged in what appears to be an especially naked form of yoga.
But American Apparel is predominantly worn by people over 18, so it's all adult fun, right?
The same cannot be said for Abercrombie, a company that produces clothing that is extremely cool to wear when you're in high school, and suddenly transforms into the official uniform for the varsity douchebag squad the day you get to college. Since high school students are the only people who can wear the brand without being called "bro" ironically, you might find it odd that minors aren't allowed to purchase Abercrombie's quarterly clothing catalog. But you'll probably find it less odd once you see that the catalog is mostly pictures of naked teenagers playing touch football in rustic locations, instead of, you know, clothing.
In 2002, Abercrombie decided to take it to a whole, new level of creepy when they unveiled thong underwear for 10 year old girls. Now, no doubt some have tried to rationalize away the unspeakably nasty implications here by saying maybe there must be some perfectly good reason for the design (comfort? Saving fabric?).
Just to make sure no one makes that mistake, Abercrombie & Fitch added skanky little captions to the underwear like "eye candy" and "wink wink." We want to ask who exactly is supposed to be the audience for a message printed across a little girl's crotch, but we're scared of the answer so we'll just move on.
From A&F's new Jailbait line, due out this September.
Freddy Krueger's Bed-Time Story 900 Line
This ad has the decency to encourage children to get their parents' permission before they dial the number for Freddy's "Dead Time" stories.
Notice the way the guy's voice swells with mocking laughter when he tells "children" to "ask your parents before calling?" If we didn't know any better, we'd think this ad was trying to send children an unspoken message, along the lines of:
"That's right kids, go ask your parents to spend $28.55 / hour so you can listen to stories told by the character who turned Johnny Depp's bed into a Bellagio fountain of blood!
Oh hey kid, wait a second! Back here. It's me, the subtext. I know that guy just said to ask your parents, but you're young enough to not be embarrassed by bed-time stories, so that makes you what, six or seven? Yeah, that's no good. Your parents are going to say no. Or they're going to say yes, which means you have terrible parents. So bad news either way.
Don't ask them kid, show them how tough you are. On the phone bill. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go talk to your dad about something called phone sex."
Rozerem - Back to School Sleeping Pills
Back to school, that special time when families everywhere head to Target to buy pencils, Hannah Montana lunchboxes and ... prescription sleeping pills. In 2006, a sleeping pill called Rozerem started running an ad that managed to be simple and direct and baffling at the same time.
According to the pharmaceutical website Pharmalot.com, the ad has someone reading the words "Rozerem would like to remind you that it's back to school season" over images of chalk boards, school books, a school bus, and kids with backpacks.
Simple enough. Thanks for the reminder Rozerem, but what the hell does that have to do with your product? Are you suggesting that parents use the pill as a weapon in the battle over bedtime? Or is it just that when you're Rozerem, ads don't have to make any sense? You might remember the other Rozerem campaign in which Abraham Lincoln talks to a beaver.
Nobody at the pharmaceutical company ever owned up to approving the back to school spot, so we'll never know if they were actively playing the drug dealer on the playground or just not even trying to put a coherent message together. The FDA really didn't give a shit either way since Rozerem hasn't been approved for children.
Sorry mom and dad. Looks like you're going to have to go back to shots of whiskey to get the kid to stop bitching about how Freddy's coming.
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:
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.
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.