On kids, pets and advertising.
So here he is, the four-foot frontman for a local advertiser, leering at you from your flatscreen while the sound track rolls, the graphics pop up, and you reach for your remote.
But wait! Here it is now, the payoff:
“Muhsthke chmegk and szhtpmph,” he sneers. “Khghk to shzthk!”
You have just suffered through the “Somebody’s Son Syndrome,” a term applied to any commercial whose premise is gratuitously built around a child. You can’t understand a word he’s saying, but hey . . . he’s Somebody’s Son!
The primal urge to feature kids, pets and other adorable creatures in advertising is one of those understandable, even endearing, quirks of human nature. Who doesn’t think their child or grandchild is the cutest in the world? And for those who also happen to be producing and airing television advertising, it’s but a short step to the slippery slope of kid-driven creative.
Kids and pets belong in a commercial when their presence is integral to its proposition, or they relate to the target market. If you’re selling toys or breakfast cereal, it’s a swell idea to show kids playing with toys or slurping down cereal. Life Cereal succeeded because, “Hey, Mikey likes it!” But if you’re selling Buicks to 55-year-olds your child may not be your best choice for spokesman. Even if he is the cutest kid in the world.
There are occasions when using a child to pitch a non-kid product works. There are three requisites to pulling this off:
-The premise is true to the advertiser’s core proposition
-The presence of the child is essential to the premise
-The child can articulate the premise
An example of this is the financial institution spot that features a cute little blond girl pondering, in her cute little blond girl way, all the life changes she will face. “Find a boy, get married, have babies . . .” She speaks to the core proposition, which is that life does change and sometimes one needs a little financial help to get through those changes. She’s essential to the premise, which is based on the point of view of a child looking forward to said life changes. And she pulls it off because she’s natural, she’s adorable and you can understand every word that comes out of her mouth.
Understand your proposition, examine your premise, craft a message that speaks to your target market, and deliver that message in a clear and memorable way. If it takes a kid to do it, go for it. If not, remember that there’s always a place for Somebody’s Son in your home movies.