A couple of weeks ago, I was watching a television show, and a pharmaceutical commercial came on. It showed children playing happily in a park, running through sprinklers, radiating rosy-cheeked good health. Then the announcer ominously spoke:
"This is how [scary disease name] can look just 24 hours before it takes a child's life."
Was that really necessary, Giant Pharmaceutical Company? Did you think it was important to demonstrate visually the horror of a healthy child becoming sick very quickly? Are you hoping to scare me into considering your product?
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen such a thing. Many companies market in a way that preys on a mother’s fears. There’s the alarm company commercial that shows us what it would be like for an intruder to smash in the door when your teenage daughter is home alone. There’s the auto navigation system that re-enacts what it would feel like to be in an accident on a remote and dark road with your sleeping baby in the backseat.
Really, none of that is necessary. I am a mother, and as such, I’ve spent a significant portion of the last 12 years on hyper-alert for things that can go wrong. The moment that second pink line appeared on the pregnancy test, a very large portion of my heart roared awake. I have played out hypothetical horrible scenarios more times than I can count, at times crossing over to a place in my mind that is not healthy. Like most mothers, I’ve tweaked and re-tweaked my own thinking, learning how to walk the tightrope of reasonable caution, not wanting to tip too far into uninformed-ness (on one side of the rope), or paralyzed fear (on the other).
But I am increasingly frustrated at how often my efforts in this are sabotaged by marketing machines, that sell in a way that exploits something very sacred -- a mother’s natural protectiveness.
I’m not naïve. I understand that there is some manipulation inherent in advertising -- companies are, after all, attempting to convince us that we need a product we didn’t know we needed. Part of being a responsible consumer is listening to advertisements, discerning what is useful and truthful, and dismissing the rest. But trying to frighten me? Taking the worst scenarios I can imagine and playing them on my television screen, just so you can sell me a product? That’s not good marketing. It’s just plain seedy.
I truly appreciate companies that provide common-sense products to keep my children safe. Advertise them, by all means, and inform me, the consumer. But no more scare tactics, please. Moms deserve better than that.