Recently, I was watching a children's television program with a target audience of children between the ages of nine and fourteen, I would roughly estimate. I don't recall the name of the program; it was largely forgettable. What I do remember, however, is a television commercial that aired during one of the commercial breaks.
It was an anti-smoking and anti-drug commercial sponsored by Philip Morris (I believe), which is shot in black and white. It shows a very small, frail looking boy turning down cigarettes and some other drugs from a tough-looking group of kids, and then his bus driver shows up to protect him and chase the kids away! The commercial closes with the small kid, fully outfitted in his thick framed glasses, saying, "It's always cool to follow the rules."
Let's break this down logically. The commercial uses several visual cues to paint the kid turning down the cigarettes and other drugs as completely uncool. For starters, the kid is smaller than the rest, quite frail, and has a whiny voice. The kid also is wearing extremely thick-framed glasses, the type of glasses that would receive a great deal of harassment in middle school. Add on top of that the fact that the bus driver had to come out and protect the kid, and you've just painted a picture of the type of kid very few middle schoolers want to be like.
So, once you've got this kid that middle school kids negatively relate to, he refuses cigarettes and drugs and then says "It's always cool to follow the rules." What middle school aged child is going to buy into this pitch? The average middle school kid is going to see this type of kid at school and do the opposite of whatever the "geek" is doing.
I think this supposed anti-smoking ad defeats its own purpose and makes smoking and drug use appear "cool" to middle school children. The commercial's big flaw is that it chooses to have as a role model someone middle school children see as an anti-role model. Thus, kids are going to take out of the commercial the message that it's actually cool to smoke and do drugs.
I realize that part of the problem is that the company producing the ad is Philip Morris, a tobacco conglomerate. They're legally required to spend money each year on anti-smoking and anti-drug advertisements. But this advertisement is completely illogical and defeats its own stated purpose.
With a few minor changes, this commercial could be much better. Paint the central character as an "all-American" boy and don't have the bus driver protect the kid. The bus driver is probably the most disrespected adult in a middle school kid's life; look at your average school bus filled with hooligans.
I think, after seeing this ad, there needs to be better oversight of anti-smoking and anti-drug advertisements that are legally required, to make sure that the ads are actually promoting the message they are legally required to promote.