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Andres Aullet


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Should we teach our kids about how advertisement (public relationships, marketing) works?

Let's face it, advertisement works.

But let's also admit it, it is not as simple as a creative ad shown during the superbowl or a picture on a magazine that we find funny and incidentally reminds us of some particular brand of chips, or insurance company.

As far as i know (admittedly a much more thorough research can be done), advertisement works because it exploits a few flaws in the way our subconscious work:

- we remember things best when emotion is evoked while we learn them (fear, anger, excitement). And this is due to the chemical changes that these emotions induce in our brain.

- we decide mostly with emotions, and not with reason. This seems counter intuitive to most people

- we live with the ever present contradiction of trying to be unique and trying to be like others. We like to be singled out if we are wearing nice clothing, but we hate being singled out if our pants happen to rip.

- being rejected by our peers, or not being part of the in-group we admire, actually hurts, pretty much in the same way (neurologically) as a punch in the stomach hurts

- anything repeated frequently makes a stronger memory, easier to recall, and a memory that is easier to recall is trusted more (and feels more familiar) regardless of it's veracity

- novel experiences are considered riskier than familiar experiences, regardless of their real inherent risk

So all these factors are merged with a product and tweaked to make that product appealing and familiar to us, without us fully understanding why it feels appealing and familiar.

Now, recently the target of the advertising industry are increasingly younger kids. And I would venture to say that if many adults don't fully understand why advertisement works, then even less kids would be expected to know

Should we include in a kids education: at schools, in church sermons, at dinner table conversations, an explanation of what advertisement is and why it works? What would be an argument against teaching this?


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  • Nov 2 2012: From a very early age, I taught my kids what the motives behind advertising are. I feel that this empowers my kids to make decisions for themselves rather being told what to do from the media. My kids know that advertising dollars drive "free" tv and radio and that the motive is to try to sell products to people.
    I remember my own deprogramming from decades of media exposure and I feel it's the right thing to do for the kids.
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      Nov 2 2012: Hi Dan,

      Couldn't agree more, I was lucky enough to grow up playing more soccer in the streets than watching tv. But even if we try to keep them active and minimize their tv time, our kids are bombarded with advertisement much more than we were.

      Yes, I also told my kids that it is advertising that pays for TV, but that it is not the only way to pay for TV, we can also pay and get ad-free tv. I guess it goes hand in hand with teaching them that in the world of entertainment (as in many other areas) there is no such a thing as a free lunch

      I like your concept of deprogramming, and yes i have done something similar in the past. However, i remember learning something a few years back that i found a little troubling. It is called IAT (Implicit Association Tests). Basically, by measuring how quickly you can answer to associating of pairs of concepts, they can tell what biases are already engrained in your brain through repetition. (if you want to check it out here is some info: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/)

      So far, even when one can find out about our own biases, and try to consciously go against them, since they are committed to long term neural connections, it is hard to "deprogram" them.

      You can then imagine that if you bombard a kids brain with associations between a particular brand and a particular good feeling, it takes a great effort to grow out of that bias. That is why i am an advocate of protecting the kids brains in the first place

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        Nov 2 2012: You said you found the IAT methodology "troubling". Why is that?
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          Nov 2 2012: Not the methodology, i found the results troubling..

          Because it is only with effort that we can go against an unconscious bias, yet we use our unconscious biases for decision making most of the time without stopping to think about it twice

          And even when trying to work against a cognitive bias (that can be created by simple repetition through media consumption), it does not dissapear

          I guess that is what i found a bit troubling
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        Nov 2 2012: I had not heard of IAT and clicked through to the link you provided (thank you), taking the "Presidents" test once there. I think but am not sure I understand the methodology on a very superficial level but even then not to any great degree.

        I wouldn't say I was "troubled" by my result (a "slight" preference for Clinton over Obama), but it certainly didn't fit with what I thought the test would indicate given how I think I responded to the questions. Because of that I am left wondering A. When it comes to Clinton and Obama, do I not really know what I think?, B. Was the methodology crap?, or C. Some combination of the two. Given my uncertainty there is no way I'm taking the sexual preference test.
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          Nov 2 2012: Ha ha ha, thanks for a good laugh! Yes some of those tests are better left untouched

          It is indeed surprising Bill.

          Keep in mind that one of the important things being tested is not just your responses, but the speed with which you respond, and that speed is not something you can consciously control, that is how they get a glimpse at the subconscious "opinions"

          I think what the test results say is that we can consciously have a preference and keep our own arguments supporting our preference, however, there are unconscious factors that play a role, and we need to weed them out.

          Some people is not aware of this fact, and hence is more prone to decide based on the unconscious biases rather than through a more thorough and conscious review

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          Nov 2 2012: If you ever find yourself with some free time, here is a link to a video (almost an hour long, i warn), that describes the test and concepts
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          Nov 6 2012: Not sure what happened to the link, but here it goes again



          I hope it stays this time


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