Monday, February 2, 2009

"Ad-Speak" for Parents

Since becoming a parent, I’ve learned to interpret many common marketing phrases with a precision that could bring even the largest advertising agencies to their knees. Remember Dudley Moore’s character in the 1990 movie, Crazy People? Sickened by the deception of the ad world, he designed a campaign built on transparency and truth. (“Metamucil. It helps you go to the toilet!”)

With our economy’s recent turn for the worse, consumers – especially those with families – can’t be too cautious when it comes to spending money. I used to get suckered by glitzy advertising jargon, but no more. No longer am I a starry-eyed, naïve consumer, ready to hand over her dough to anyone who simply promises more value, faster results, less stress and higher quality of life. You can declare you consumer savvy, too! All it takes is a discerning mind and what I call my “mental thesaurus,” which translates marketing phrases into real-life terms, as they relate to raising a family.

For example, in the housing industry, whether you are looking to buy or rent, you will probably see clichéd descriptions like “cottage-style living,” which applies to homes too small for families with more than a kid or two. “Picture windows” are merely showcases for jelly-embossed fingerprints, and “freshly painted” provides a clean canvas for permanent markers. “Lots of storage” assures the consumer that the possibilities for clutter collection are abundant, and “kitchen island” is a code, reminding you to make sure your medical insurance is up to date, because active children plus sharp edges equal emergency room visits.

My personal favorite housing term is “perfect for a large family,” which means the paint and carpets are already pretty much destroyed, so my curtain-climbers can’t do much more damage. Another thing to keep in mind is that “great for entertaining” refers to cocktail parties, not children’s birthday parties.

Train yourself to examine the care labels on clothing before purchasing. That tiny print holds a wealth of information. “Reversible” means the baby can spit up on you twice before you have to change. “Dry clean only” is a term that, in my opinion, should always be written in capital letters and perhaps have an accompanying warning siren. In any event, it should not be welcomed into the wardrobe of any parents who actually let their children touch them. “Machine washable” is a dandy term which invites the consumer to run the shirt through the washer as many times as desired in a vain attempt to remove the spaghetti sauce stain, which will never, ever, disappear.

The ambiguous labeling gimmicks found in grocery store aisles these days could fill an encyclopedia, but I’ll outline a few basics to get you started. First of all, “family-sized” portions are not actually intended to satisfy families with more than two children, unless that family-sized product also boasts a “reduced fat” label, which ensures that children will not eat it. “Now with more taste!” usually means that the ingredients have been changed and will, invariably, include some new substance that your child is allergic to. I, for one, am trying to figure out how to harness the sure-fire, kid-pleasing label “pizza flavored” for the greater nutritional good. Pizza-flavored brown rice! Pizza-flavored tofu! I know my kids would eat those, and never suspect I snuck protein and vitamins to them.

Opportunities for truth in advertising abound for the astute parent. It’s all a matter of keeping a cool head and applying what you know about your family – and yourself – before buying. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to set up my amazing, easy-to-use, portable fat-blasting device that will help me drop a dress size in two weeks… in just minutes a day!


  1. Too true! We must always keep in mind what these things mean when we have children! I love your column!

  2. Awww... Thanks for your support!

    Stay tuned... next up - "What Generation Gap?"

  3. What is this, "dry clean only," thing you speak of??


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