'Buy Me That' examines ads for kids


December 04, 1991|By Steve McKerrow

Anyone who watches kids watching television knows that, at a relatively young age, they become pretty savvy about the techniques of advertising. Yet just as with adults, the blandishments work.

"It's like they hypnotize you or something," says one young girl early on in "Buy Me That Too! A Kid's Survival Guide to TV Advertising." A second collaboration between HBO and Consumer Reports, the special debuts at 8 tonight on the premium cable service.

As in the first survival guide seen in 1989 (which earned an Emmy nomination), host Jim Fyfe takes viewers through a rigorous exploration of misleading, exaggerated and outrageous advertising aimed at kids.

For example, we see the $120 Typhoon II, a remote-control hovering craft seen in commercials as skimming over land and water. But it actually sinks every time youthful testers try to duplicate the spot.

In a visit to a commercial studio, we hear how sound effects are used to enhance the appeal of products, such as plastic wrestling dolls. In reality they make no noise, but the commercial sound track was produced by a man punching a defrosted whole turkey.

Especially illuminating is a segment on "product placement," in which agencies vie to get their clients' brand names into movies and even video games.

And the use of athletes or pop music stars to pitch products is deflated neatly -- first by an actual jump-and-run test of various brands of sneakers and second by short clips of singer Paula Abdul, pushing Reeboks last year but this year signed on with L.A. Gear.

"What will she be selling next year?" wonders Fyfe.

Perhaps what is best about this show, however, is the several segments titled "Kids Talk," in which youngsters address the manipulation aimed at them.

"It works with me a lot . . . that's how I got a lot of toys," confesses one girl.

And a boy acknowledges the disappointment of finding a toy doesn't perform as advertised by asserting, "That's why you have receipts" (so you can take it back).



* Speaking of sales pitches, Maryland Public Television is into its winter weeping-for-dollars pledge period, which runs through Dec. 15. Will the 10:35 p.m. screening of "It's A Wonderful Life" soften you up?

* If you can get past the casual treatment of cold, calculated murder, a new USA movie, "Dead in the Water," has a quirky, '40s feel that rises above this basic network's usual overly violent original film fare.

Australian actor Bryan Brown is a plotter whose plans do not exactly work out. And give actress Anne DeSalvo a bravery medal for consenting to wide angle camera shots that portray her as an awful shrew.

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