Superbowl commercial bingo – a critical thinking game

SuperbowlBingo_featuredimageThis Sunday, make watching the big game a teachable moment for your kids. Encourage them to watch the commercials more closely and critically than they usually do, and to identify ways that the advertisers try to get their attention.

Download this free 4-pack of bingo cards. Each card has a unique mix of 25 squares, which are individual elements they might see in a commercial. Two examples are: “Features a celebrity” and “Makes unbelievable claims about a product.” They’re parent-approved as appropriate for kids age 10 and older.

As they watch the game, kids can draw an X over a square when they see a commercial that matches the element in it. Prizes can be given for a row and/or a ‘blackout’ when the entire card is filled in. Parents or teachers can use this game as a conversation starter to get kids talking about what they saw in the commercials. For suggestions, download the Parent/Educator Guide.




Athletes hawk junk food, and teens are listening

Do your kids like Peyton Manning and LeBron James? If they’re fans, chances are they pay close attention to the commercials the stars appear in. And the foods they advertise? They’re not ideal fuel for aspiring athletes.

Still from McDonalds ad featuring NBA star LeBron JamesAccording to a study just published in the journal Pediatrics, Manning and James are just the tip of the iceberg of endorsements by pro athletes of nutrient-poor, calorie-dense food. Manning has contracts with Papa John’s and Gatorade. James (right) and fellow NBA star Kobe Bryant endorse McDonalds. Shaquille O’Neal and Serena and Venus Williams were involved in a Double Stuf Oreo “lick-off” competition sponsored by Kraft in 2009. Food endorsements are second only to sporting goods in these athletes’ contracts.

It’s no secret professional athletes are role models to many adolescents and, according to the study, kids age 12 – 17 are the ones who see their food commercials most often. If your kids seem influenced by these marketing messages, encourage them to think critically about why these celebrities are endorsing such products. A few conversation starters:

“Why do you think he/she agreed to advertise that?” Not all kids realize that celebrities get paid a ton of money to endorse products. Generally they have to at least like the product itself, but most celebrities won’t put their stamp of approval on anything without a sizable paycheck.

“If I give you five bucks, will you say this is your favorite food?” A hypothetical situation can help younger kids understand how endorsements work. It’s especially effective if it’s a food they sort of like but do not love.

“Is it a good idea for an athlete to eat/drink that all the time?” This can be a tough point to make with sports drinks like Gatorade, which are marketed so effectively but aren’t much better than water for youth athletic activities. But kids can probably guess that Peyton Manning doesn’t eat pizza every day, and that a pile of Oreos would slow down the Venus sisters on the tennis court.

The key is to encourage kids to think critically about the purpose of such advertising, and to wonder what the athletes actually eat every day to fuel their extraordinary bodies.



How to watch a food commercial with your child

How to watch a food commercial with your childChildren ages 2 – 7 see an average of 12 food ads per day, or 4,400 in a year. Older children (8 – 12) see almost double that amount. Nearly half of all ads shown during children’s programming are for food. These are figures from a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which reports that “34% [of these ads] are for candy and snacks, 28% are for cereal, and 10% are for fast food.”

As parents already know, these ads work. Children request advertised food more often, and they even preferred the taste of branded food in an experiment that used identical foods, one sample with a fast food label and one without.

Even with the most rigorous monitoring of media content, kids are bound to see food ads sooner or later. How can parents help their children view these ads critically?

Watch the ads together, and talk about them. The simple act of ‘co-viewing’ and talking about the ads encourages children to engage with the ads rather than passively ‘consume’ them. So what should you say? Here are some suggestions to get a conversation started.

Ask how the ads make the food look appealing. Children might need some prompting on this question, depending on their age. If it’s an animated ad, a cereal might be made to look ‘magical,’ as it can fly or sparkle. In an ad for Lunchables, the child eating the product might be portrayed as especially popular among peers. In a fast food ad, everyone might be shown having a good time and laughing. Encourage children to identify ways the ads make the food look ‘cool.’

Ask how the food looks in real life. This is especially useful with regard to fast food ads, which feature styled food that is wearing a lot of ‘makeup.’ If the child has ever ordered that food in a restaurant, s/he can see that it doesn’t look the same as it does in the ad. Encourage children to compare the two, as it helps them recognize that commercials are not necessarily realistic.

Ask what’s in the food. This is an ongoing question, one that is best asked later on in the kitchen, or even the grocery store. Read nutrition labels for advertised foods with children, and help them understand what’s in it.

The key to watching food commercials with children is to encourage them to ask questions, rather than giving them a ‘lecture’ or telling them what’s good or bad. When you encourage them to view an ad critically, you’re helping them to develop a skill they can apply to other ads in the future.