They need a voice, one that cries: “foul play”
Posted on 2016 Jan,16  | By Mark Dickinson

It’s a Thursday evening, it’s raining and we’re on the way home. We need cereals, cheese, yoghurt, and a whole list of things. The little boy on the back seat has just finished his Takewondo class and is full of adrenaline; he’s every mother’s nightmare.

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Parking at the supermarket is congested, the rain is pouring, the car behind is beeping (as usual), and general chaos ensues. Eventually we get into the supermarket and we have two trolleys, a smaller one for the boy, and one for the general shopping. Careening down the aisles, the little boy spots the cereals and lets out a shriek. Grabbing the box of Nestle Lion, he has a sudden unquenchable enthusiasm for a cereal that he has never heard of before. Mom tries to extract the box from his hands and return it to the shelf, but the little boy is not having any of it. The reason? There’s a picture of a Star Wars Stormtrooper on the box and next to it the words Free Digital Comics. And the back of the box is a comic strip about Star Wars. Nearby is a Kellogg’s Frosties box, and there printed boldly it says “Free Bowl”. And a battle ensues between Mom and son over which cereal box they will get. Childlike persistence, accompanied by tears (fake probably) and an impending meltdown lead to both boxes of cereals ending up in the shopping carts. 

So far, this is an advertisers delight. The marketing guys have succeeded in their noble task of promoting products to their target audience. And so far our target audience is really excited about his purchase.

Arriving home and getting into the kitchen is all hard work. Then the battle begins again over cereals. The little boy wants to get the free stuff out of the boxes and ‘play’ with them. Now.

Calamity! There is nothing in the box! 

Floods of tears. A very angry and unhappy boy said, “Mommy, why do they lie? I feel mad. Sad. Angry”. And that is a real quote. 

When you read the back of the back of the box there is a complex procedure.


Frosties first: 

1.  Buy three promotional boxes with the code inside.

2.  Go online and enter the three codes

3.  Pay £2/₠2 (There’s a lot of profit in this price considering that a similar dish on Alibaba costs just  £0.30)

4.  Choose bowl

5.  They will deliver - in up to 90 days

Believable? Really? Such an ill-conceived idea if ever there was one. The cereals were sold under a false promise. The target expected a free bowl and cannot understand this process, least of all in the middle of a crowded supermarket on a rainy Thursday evening. 




Nestle doesn’t fair much better. There’s no comic in the box. You have to go online and enter a code from inside the box to see them. There’s a welcome page where you must select a language, then to continue one must ‘Accept Cookies’ and then Agree to Legal Terms. Then you must enter a 12 digit code. First try? Invalid. Case sensitive! Try again. Come on! Seriously? It’s not the Central Bank. The cartoons online were ok, but had you already seen the movie, they were mediocre. Creating your own cartoon was fun and rewarding.

The original promise that the box was selling was fantastic; actually we could say, perfect. The idea that was sold was miserable. 

This is surely a case of false advertising. But of course the client is just a little fellow of no standing and cannot make his case to those who would be able to judge it. Neither has he the patience or the capacity to sustain his complaint. And he certainly cannot read the small print. If he could, he would be further disappointed to know that his bowl from Kellogg’s would only be available to him in the UK, Republic of Ireland, or Malta. 

If you or I saw on the window of a travel agency a picture of a beautiful island and a sign that read, “Free Business Class Upgrades to our Island Destinations”, what would it be reasonable to assume? That if one were to purchase a ticket to an island destination, one would be entitled to an upgrade to Business Class. But there would certainly be an asterisk or small star indicating a footnote, where it would be written, "T&C Apply". And when we see the little asterisk we have come to expect to be disappointed with an impossibly difficult series of obligations and hidden up-sells that may, or may not, lead to our eventual 1:1000 chance of obtaining the said upgrade. Probably have to travel on a Wednesday when there is an R in the month, etc. 

Should we raise our children to have such a jaded approach to life? At the age of five this little boy has clearly figured out that he was ripped off, and he is not happy about it. 

You advertising and marketing people, please listen. I have a couple of choices for you:

1.You can take people’s children (starting with ours) to the supermarket and deal with their disappointment so that we as parents (consumers) don’t have to pick up the  broken pieces of your ‘brilliant’ campaigns.

2.You can stop misleading people (your customers) and stop cheating them through  making false promises, or at best stretching the truth. Yes, we know that you will tell  us ‘but there is a bowl’, or that ‘there are comics’, but that is not the point. Any  normal customer of your product thinks that there is something inside the box, and there isn’t.

In this age of instant gratification, the “Now” generation expects that what you will do what you said you would do, and to their simple view of life, “Free Bowl” means you get one. Easily. Right away. Same applies to the Comics. 


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Looking forward to seeing a more honest approach to advertising on children’s products.