I want a hippopotamus!

A few years ago I volunteered with Junior Achievement BC, leading the A Business of Our Own program for a grade 6 class.

One of the units in the program is to guide the students through thinking about how to market the class business (in this case, chocolate sales to fund their class trip) and make some ads to put around the school to promote the sale.

The kids were super excited about the exercise that day, because (as their teacher so excitedly informed me) they’d just had a great discussion on advertising and marketing. Three seconds in and it became apparent that they had just crucified the entire advertising industry for the two hours before I walked in the door.

Not that I wanted to stifle their preshus, preshus creativity – but that day’s entire lesson became an exercise in steering the kids away from dreaming up mind controlling robots and back to making posters that say “chocolates are tasty and the proceeds go to a good cause, so you should buy some” and thinking of effective places to display them.

I still wonder what those kids think of advertising today (I bet they’re all busy whining to their parents about needing an iPod and some name-brand sneakers), and I’m still a bit annoyed at that teacher for encouraging such a black and white view of the world.

I know as I’ve grown up I’ve challenged myself on a lot of preconceived notions I wasn’t really aware I held. I make a conscious effort every day to check in with myself on whether I’m being truly open-minded, and accepting of others (note – I don’t have to agree with them, but if their decisions don’t affect me, why not just let it go).

And as Neil and I start thinking about what kind of parents we want to be when we start a family in a few years (repeat: in a few years! parents: you may peel yourselves off your respective ceilings), one of the things I’ve flagged as something I think is important to reinforce from an early age is that there are many, many different ways and things to be, think, do and believe. And different does not immediately mean wrong or bad – it just means different. And more often than not, that is a-okay.

I have no idea how one goes about doing that, since kids’ brains are necessarily hardwired to think in black and white, rather than shades of grey, as they figure out the world, but I’d sure like to try.

Anyhow, along that vein, this has got to be one of the best commercials I’ve seen lately. And not just because the hippo snarling at the cat is adorable.

It’s one of the few things out there that doesn’t beat the same “smarmy advertisers tricking our preshus babeez” drum, and instead encourages something we could all stand to practice a bit more: take some time to think for your damn self, and come to your own conclusions.

The fact that someone put house hippos (or any number of other make-believe characters and scenarios) on TV isn’t inherently bad. The fact that this commercial is the exception, rather than the rule, and that we don’t do much to encourage a bit of critical thought around what’s on our TV, is.

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4 thoughts on “I want a hippopotamus!

  1. Courtney

    I have wanted a house hippo ever since I first saw that commercial years ago. I think it’s still one of my favourites.

  2. April

    I love love this commercial!!! I haven’t seen it in years..thanks for the bit of nostalgia!

  3. Derek K. Miller

    Critical thinking is one of the most important things anyone can learn, and unfortunately many of us never really do. Just be aware that you have to wait a few years before it makes any real sense to kids. It does help to point out from time to time, for example, that commercials and ads are always trying to sell you something — that doesn’t mean they’re bad, but it’s something not obvious to children, and it’s a great place to start talking about being skeptical about all sorts of things.

    As for advertising and marketing specifically, the latest episode of The Age of Persuasion on CBC Radio is all about marketing myths. It’s worth a listen.

    Derek K. Miller’s last blog post..Flutebox and Beardyman

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