Social Icons

Sunday, 23 September 2012


I've just read this opinion piece over at The Student Journals web site titled "Plain packaging on cigarettes won't help."  Written by Michael Allen, who is studying politics and international studies at Warwick, the article attempts to make the case against plain packs by asking whether we should allow a paternalistic government to intrude on our lifestyle choices and by drawing comparisons to fast food and alcohol ads.

While I am delighted that Mr Allen believes plain packaging "won't help" reduce smoking rates, and I am very pleased to see honest, factual statements such as "No one starts smoking because they like the look of a cigarette packet," some of the opinion piece irks me for regurgitating some of the Public Health religion's propaganda as though these were facts. They are not facts, although I understand the point Allen is making with the comparisons. I have no desire to make an issue out of the inaccuracies nor blame Allen for possibly believing in some of it. Nevertheless, I decided to blog about this when I read these lines near the end of the opinion:
Young people are becoming more and more savvy when it comes to advertising. They can see through the obvious marketing ploys that were effective on the generation before them. 
I know what he means to say: Kids aren't stupid, and we don't need to patronise them and assume they're easily swayed by marketing practices. We don't need to overprotect them. I just don't think he said it right.

Here's why: Young people of all generations have been able to see through obvious marketing ploys. My generation (which is Generation X) was equally savvy in our youth -- we were not fooled nor tricked by advertising and marketing techniques any more or less than Allen's generation is now. Perhaps some kids were deceived, just like some young kids today may be. My parents were Baby Boomers and they were no more susceptible than I or you.  Any assumption that a particular generation is somehow better able to see through advertising techniques is incorrect and misguided

Thank you, Bill. Well said. :)

Many teenagers and some young adults believe that older adults do not understand what it is like to be young. I may have believed this too, I suppose. It is the one of the great follies of youth to believe that you are somehow different than those who came before you and that nobody outside of your generation can possibly understand what it's like for you. Yet adults do understand exactly what it's like. They may not know (or care to know) what the latest popular teeny trends are, or who the coolest teeny bands are these days, but adults know what it's like to be a kid because they were once kids. I know, unbelievable.

When we were young, a lot of us thought we knew everything about everything. Our heads were filled with ideals about saving the world, fixing this national crisis or that international crisis, or becoming rich and famous actors or musicians. We went to schools, colleges or universities and we believed what our educators told us about the state of the world, only to find out later through hard-earned life experience that some of those educators deceived us. Truth be told, we didn't know squat about how the world really works, of course. We probably still don't know much more if we were being honest with ourselves. 

I suppose our only advantage is that the older we get, the more perspective we gain and the better able we are to make informed decisions. Well, some of us perhaps, and obviously not enough of us do. And yes there are some adults who think that kids today are somehow totally different than how we were like. They aren't. Not really. Kids will be kids. It is the great folly of adulthood to believe that each new generation is somehow less prepared for life.

Times change, attitudes change, marketing techniques change to suit current interests and demographic profiles, and technology certainly changes.  But the growing up part hasn't changed at all. We all went through it, and with luck some of us possibly learned a little along the way. 

We always knew that companies were trying to sell us their crappy products with their bullshit advertising. In reality, we ignored the ads (but we liked the funny ones because they made us laugh), for many of the kids of my day just wanted the same stuff that other kids had, particularly the popular kids. We rebelled and often disregarded the advice adults gave us, just like previous generations had done. We knew that smoking had risks. We knew that drinking had risks. We knew that drugs had risks. We certainly knew that fast food and fizzy drinks were not the healthiest food choices we could make. We did not care.

David Bowie explained it well enough in his song Changes way back in 1971, the year I was born:

And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what they're going through

Today's kids, they are products of the environment that adults create for them, for better or worse, and these kids are just as smart or dumb as we ever were.  I think it's a mistake to believe otherwise.