I recently read this interesting article about how advertising is effective. To summarize it targets our deepest insecurities, and then tells us that having such and such product can solve our problem. By pinching where it hurts most, it makes us worry or feel bad about our selves, and then capitalizes on our desperation or misery.
Tobacco companies capitalised on the insecurities of women during the feminist movement to convince many to smoke. Obviously being conscientious is not a consideration when it comes to marketing or advertising. Over the years masculinity has been targeted to sell trucks and a woman's body image, to sell make up, diet pills etc.
But today it is parental love. Parents today want the best for their children and are proactive about it. How do I give my kid the right stimulation to nurture his or her innate talents? How can I help maximize his or her intelligence? Should I read to the foetus? Should I play classical music or read Shakespeare out loud for my 5 month old baby?
Of course advertisers have noticed our rising enthusiasm when it comes to parenting and they are not above preying on it.
There are tons of after school programs and workshops that supposedly stimulate the brain and create baby geniuses in a few weeks. A favourite catch phrase is 95% of all brain development happens by age 5, so cash in on it. I am sceptical.
Our bodies are very complex systems that even today medical science does not fully understand. Yes medicine can cure or prevent many specific conditions and tremendous advances have been made in medicine over the last century. But medical science still does not understand numerous details about the functioning of the body.
Correlation studies are the best we have and they are not ideal for isolating cause and effect cleanly. Every few years, what correlation studies say is good for the heart and cholesterol and what is bad, changes. And this is the heart we are talking about. The brain is far less understood.
So though it is true that over 90% of the adult brain weight is reached by age 5, one must remember that brain development is not merely about brain weight. Plenty of brain development, neural connection and white matter development happens in the teenage years, so much so that mental abilities like IQ can either improve or decline in adolescence. But suppose we are focussed only on increasing brain weight and optimising it. I am sceptical, that any one really knows how to make the most of this to enhance intelligence and innate talents, and what the long term effects of various methods tried out today are.
Even some drink mixes and milk additives for children use this to advertise their product. This article is not to pass judgement on weather or not these classes, workshops or products actually deliver as promised. I do not have sufficient knowledge to do so.
But I do know that advertising of this form, has been used to take advantage of people and convince them to do/buy things that are possibly useless or even harmful (cigarettes). Exploiting parental love seems shameful but that is not the worst of it. A parent may be able to see through the advertising, but a 6 year old kids exposed to the ad might wonder why their parents don’t love them enough, to provide the advertised product that will help them be smarter.
Ads are rampant through bill boards, TV, and the inetrnet. So one needs to make a conscious effort not to be blindly influenced by the studies mentioned by advertisers but delve in to what they actually mean. Today science is trusted and pseudo-scientific and statistical statements sell. Advertisers use them liberally to prod our insecurities.
So when an advertisement mentions a scientific study, ask questions like: Who conducted the study? Is it authentic and reliable? What was the sample size? What is the confidence interval of the study? What other possible explanations were considered? How were they eliminated? Are there studies supporting counter claims?
For example when they say 95% of the child’s brain develops by age 5 what exactly do they mean and what is its significance? Is it something amazing, or is it just made to sound so? Children do learn the most difficult things like leaning to walk and talk and recognize simple patterns by age two and acquire some social skills by age 3. What fraction of the brain development is that?
As parents we do want the best for our children. And it is right to seek information on what parenting methods and resources will best help our child, and we should introspect on our approaches.
But when advertisements for workshops, classes or products make us feel guilty or bad about ourselves it is best to ignore them and seek knowledge about the subject as objectively as possible and not let desperate tactics of profit seeking sellers exploit our parental love or dictate out parenting methods.