Authoritarianism in Commercials

If you’re the kind of parent who watches TV, well hop right on this here couch, because I’ve got an extra seat with your name on it. In my television travels, I’ve been struck by the juxtaposition among child-related commercials that pop up for me often. Have y’all seen these yet?

Potato Pay

Back in 2018, Ore-Ida came up with the concept of frynance. In other words, bribery. The idea is that parents should purchase Ore-Ida fries to use as rewards to compel their kids to eat green vegetables. It’s clearly supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, as seen in this intro piece:

However, frynance is built on something real. It draws from the idea that we have to force unwilling children to eat what we tell them to eat. It leaves no room for children to encounter new flavors in an unobtrusive, unfamiliar way. Frynance mocks both the development and autonomy of children. But, it’s just a joke right? Ok, sure. Somehow, we have made it ok to build a multi-million dollar ad campaign on ridiculing a marginalized group. It’s just not that funny to me.

Maybe y’all have seen this one too?

In this one, we see a Black mom chasing her child through the house demanding that they eat “one more bite.” The saddest part is that the latter half of the commercial actually demonstrates how we can give children power over what they put into their bodies. The Satter Institute provides guidance on how we can raise children who are a joy to feed. We should be offering kids foods they enjoy alongside foods they don’t yet know or don’t yet like. For a phenomenal strategy to help support our kids developing palates, check out Kids Eat in Color or Kids Eat in Color on Instagram.

How to DAD

In contrast to those childist commercials is a series featuring New Zealander parenting influencer, Jordan Watson of How to DAD. He was tapped for a series of commercials for Purex laundry detergent in which he can be seen playing with his children and having fun. The overall theme of these commercials is meeting children where they are and not letting a little mess get in the way of connection. They’re all done playfully with happy kids. For instance:

In many of the commercials, you can hear the kids giggling and laughing. My very favorite one (which I cannot find online) has Watson and one of his daughters in various scenes. The child asks to do one messy activity after another and Watson happily agrees each time.

My take-away is that we can be kind to children if we want to be, but sadly, it’s profitable not to be. In the case of the Purex commercials, I get the sense that they hired this wildly popular influencer who happened to be an invested and kind father and the result was a series of ads that weren’t cringey. Would Purex have come up with these scenarios in the absence of Jordan Watson? I’m not hopeful they would have. And, it’s a real problem because commercials are intended to key into our cultural values and reach us in a way that makes us more likely to spend money. Ore-Ida wouldn’t have kept their Potato Pay campaign running for several years straight if they weren’t also raking in cash as a result.

I’m curious what else y’all have noticed in commercials and on tv in terms of affirming childist values?

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