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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 3 2012: I would be against any required public education designed to help children understand how advertisement works, or for that matter on how religion works.

    Advertisers should be regulated as tightly as the law and reason permits. Obviously advertisers are trying to sell stuff and will go to incredible creative lengths and legal limits which are smart financially.

    Being a good parent is demanding at best and there are no guarantees on outcome. I think serving as a role model you wish to promote is essential. Kids especially as they get a little older need more guidance as they become more and more exposed to other influences such as advertisers. I do think its smart to help your kids see through some of the advertising baloney, but remember as adults we are on display too. This can become tricky landscape -- "com' on dad look at you," is what your child may be thinking even if they're not saying so.

    Best way to help your growing kids IMO is to encourage and recognize their achievements as students. Online learning it seems to me could also help out parents in certain topics such as the one at hand, but parents should be the ones offering videos, etc., selections which could be discussed and serve to help them see things more objectively and truthfully.
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      Nov 6 2012: Hi Dan,

      Thanks for your comment... I understood that you are against requiring this as mandatory in schools, but i was a bit confused as to whether you completely oppose teaching it in schools. would you care to clarify if you have a chance? By the way, i am not sure I would consider religion and advertisement in the same category (interesting side topic, for sure),

      But just like I am ok with kids being taught arithmetic or chemistry, i would be ok with kids being taught what we know about psychology

      Now, you bring up a very important topic, and I entirely concur with you: teaching kids that there is baloney in advertisement can open the door for them to question more than just advertisement. Some parents will not find this prospect appealing. In my case, though, I think that it is essential. Maybe because I value critical thinking much more highly than i value blind obedience, I decided to accept the risk of opening that door, so my kids to challenge my ideas as well (which does not mean that they will be right in their challenge, and most of the times i can convince them with deeper explanations, but at least they do not feel guilty of challenging authority, and they learn to accept when their challenges do not stand scrutiny)

      Online learning, as you mention is gaining a serious place in formal education, and it has tremendous potential. One can only imagine what schools will look like 50 years from now. And yes, us parents should do our homework and sort through the sea of information in order to show our kids what we think will give them tools for their personal growth

      • Nov 6 2012: Hi Andres,

        My comments were perhaps a bit disjointed.

        Let me back up. Your opening comment - "Lets, face it advertisement works"

        Let's face something else, our school systems don't work so well for too many kids. Check out the percentages of those dropping out of high school and those after high school considered functionally illiterate in studies of the general population. These numbers are truly a reality check that needs more attention.

        My outlook is public schools need to concentrate on student learning of the basics and that discipline will help them better understand how we are all subject to being manipulated by a host of things including advertisement.

        Schools don't work alone that's why I suggest the best thing we can do as parents for our kids is to encourage them to be better students by doing their homework and getting good grades. Life can be hectic, but kids need a parent's engagement.

        Being able to read, write and listen is something that draws many of us to TED. This is the bread and butter to what allows this enterprise specializing in communication to excel. I think as kids get older this venue may offer a positive way for them to explore different thoughtful views and ideas expressed in talks and conversation about a variety of subjects including advertising which bombards our lives.

        Anyway - interesting topic and lots of good comments.
        • Nov 14 2012: Just because students are dropping out of high school doesn't mean education doesn't work. As an educator in a community that has low graduation rates, teaching subjects that aren't relevant to students makes them want to drop out. I can totally understand that. teaching something such as advertisement at the high school level allow students to see how math, reading, technology and art are all related. It might even invoke a passion or interest. If we don't show a little bit of this and that at the high school level then they won't see the purpose of education. Educator is no longer just math,reading, writing it's about relating what they know to the real world.
    • Nov 6 2012: I think Daf has a great point, how would it be possible to differentiate between advertising and religion. After all advertising is asking us to take a view on blind faith that our very needs and wants will be satisfied both as an individual and as a member of a clique, if only we subscribe to the "buy" this new product or process.

      So what is the difference between that and religion exactly?

      Don't get me wrong, I buy into the whole god thing, it is just religion looks so like advertising if we allowed our children to see how fake advertising is how will they stay in contact with religion?

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