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Selling with Shrink Think


Sean Gonsalves

Life

is good. Psychologists are supposed to make it better, or at least help

individuals reach a certain level of maturity.

Much

has been written about psychology and much of that is simply verbose

foolishness. I’m especially turned off by those pop psychology self-help books

that come a dime a dozen and are about as penetrating as a Jerry Springer show.

If

you want to read some interesting stuff, check out "Man’s Search for

Meaning" by Viktor Frankl" or "People of the Lie" by M.

Scott Peck (the guy who wrote "The Road Less Traveled"). These books

were first recommended to me by a philosophy professor and friend whom I greatly

admire.

At

its best, psychology can help us see the truth within. Being the master

psychologist that he was, Jesus proclaimed: "The truth shall set you

free." And there’s a variation on that theme by a prominent black

psychologist named Bobby Wright: If you free your mind, your behind will follow.

But

what stands the little tiny hairs on the back of my neck is when psychology

ventures into the arena of mere mind control; it’s true vocation lost.

Dostoyevski cautions: "Profound as psychology is, it’s a knife that cuts

both ways."

Ever

heard of the Golden Marble Awards? It’s a celebration of "excellence"

in advertising to children – a $12.7 billion annual industry. Two weeks ago, it

held the Golden Marble Awards at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City. Inside,

the awards were given during a conference billed as: "Advertising &

Promoting to Kids: the third annual conference about breakthrough marketing to

kids."

But

outside the hotel was a group of esteemed mental health professionals, educators

and doctors from across the nation. They were protesting – holding signs, giving

speeches, handing out leaflets, right there on 42nd Street. Among them were

Diane Levin, professor of education at Wheelock College in Boston; Dr. Allen

Kanner of the Wright Institute in Berkeley, Calif.; Susan Linn and Dr. Alvin

Poussaint, both from Harvard Medical School.

"We

represent a group of health care professionals and educators who are alarmed

about the recent escalation of corporate marketing directed at children.

Children influence $500 billion in spending per year. As a result, they are

bombarded with commercials for products, including violent toys and junk

food," Levin sent me in an e-mail memo.

What

does this have to do with psychology? Advertisers hire psychologists to teach

them how to penetrate the psyche of children for profit. I called up Kanner the

other day.

"Beyond

whether a product is good or bad, the enormous volume of advertising convinces

children to see themselves and others in terms of what they have and what they

can buy," he said. "I call this the commercialization of

childhood."

About

10 years ago, Kanner explained, economists convinced ad execs that children

influence their parents, spending far more than advertisers had believed. It was

this new understanding that triggered the explosion in advertising to kids.

"The

purpose of psychology is to help people. The purpose of advertising is to sell a

product for profit. Advertising manipulates children and it’s unethical for

psychologists to participate in such manipulations," he said.

Kanner,

Poussaint, Linn and Levin are calling on their colleagues to remember they are

psychologists for people and not propagandists for profit.

Here

are several recommendations they are calling for:

1.)

The White House should convene a conference on corporate marketing and its

effects on children and families, which will serve as a springboard for

national dialogue and lay the groundwork for policy creation.

2.)

Marketing to children, including all toy-based media programs, should be

subject to comprehensive federal regulation.

3.)

Schools should be advertising-free zones.

4.)

Market research with children should be held to the same standards as academic

research on human subjects.

"The

advertisers say that children are savvy. That’s why they need to come at them

this way. But research indicates that the advertising is working. Besides,

advertising works on an emotional level, not on a cognitive level, which is also

the reason why it works on adults. The belief that it doesn’t work is part of

its power. No one wants to think that they’re influenced, but it works,"

Kanner said.

Movie

industry mogul Samuel Goldwyn once said that anybody who goes to see a shrink

ought to have his head examined. That’s an exaggeration. But Kanner looks

forward to the day when his colleagues and the American Psychological

Association tell advertisers a different Goldwyn oxymoron: "Include me

out."

Parents:

defend the minds of your children. Intellectual self-defense is just what the

doctor ordered.

 

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