If Your Kid Really Wants a Toyota Highlander, Tell Him to Get a Job

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Two new commercials feature children who are disappointed that their parents are totally uncool: For some reason, they’re totally unwilling to go into debt, skimp out on saving for college, or buy crap that’ll fall apart and wind up in a landfill. And it’s the children who suffer.

I saw this Toyota commercial written about at The Simple Dollar the other day, in which a punk kid who needs a haircut describes his yearning to drive in a new Highlander because he doesn’t want to be known as a member of “The Geek Family” that drives an old minivan. “Just because you’re a parent doesn’t mean you have to be lame,” the kid says.

My wife’s response to the commercial was: Who exactly is this commercial supposed to appeal to? I know people are shallow, but is anybody really that shallow?

Usually, advertisements try something slightly more subtle, and considering how money-conscious are these days, you’d think Toyota—a brand that mainly attracts consumers who want good value and don’t at all have a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality—wouldn’t go for something so blatant. Shameless really. The other issue is that most kids I know who are roughly the same age as the one featured in the ad couldn’t care less about cars. Video games and sneakers and Nerf guns? Sure. But if their friends heard them talking about wanting a new Toyota, they’d probably be the ones considered lame.

The bigger point, of course, is that parents simply can’t let their kids call the shots when it comes to spending serious money. As Trent puts at The Simple Dollar:

First of all, if you’re a parent, your kids shouldn’t have any influence over your buying decisions. This commercial only really works if you believe that your kids should have any significant input over what automobile you purchase. If you’re letting your child have that much power, particularly in an effort to not seem “lame” to them, you’re abandoning your ability to actually be a parent to them.

The other commercial I’d describe as equally shameless was made for Target. Again, oddly enough, this is a brand known mainly for decent value that here aims not at sensible, responsible consumers, but at those who can be manipulated into buying stuff because they don’t want to seem uncool. Or rather, I suppose, they don’t want their kids to seem uncool. If you don’t already know the commercial I’m talking about, it’s the Halloween one in which a boy wears a homemade Iron Man costume—actually a pretty darn cool-looking one, made by his mom—and he couldn’t look more disappointed that he doesn’t have the store-bought costume instead.

All sorts of moms and consumer bloggers jumped on this commercial, denouncing it for putting down a mom who seems to truly have her son’s best interests at heart. Instead of patting such a mom on the back, Target makes fun of her, and spreads the word that parents are wrong to try to save money or to teach their kids anything about originality, creativity, and mass-consumption. As a Slate writer put it:

The ad only makes sense as a piece of propaganda in service of a broader mission, to teach children that they should be consuming identical mass-produced products whenever possible.