Marketing to parents | Globe Editorial

Good sense is the best defense

April 21, 2011

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ANYONE WHO’S watched preschool television lately has surely spotted the long commercials for “Your Baby Can Read!,’’ a system of flashcards and videos that purports to give literacy skills to babies as young as three months old. The ads aren’t especially convincing; the parents giving testimonials have a Stepford quality, and the babies don’t seem happy about knowing the word for “clap.’’ Yet the videos sell, so much that the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has filed a compliant with the Federal Trade Commission, accusing the California-based company of false and deceptive advertising.

The Boston-based advocacy group is admirably vigilant on matters of deception, and scored a high-profile victory in 2009 when Disney offered refunds to parents who had purchased “Baby Einstein’’ videos. Like “Your Baby Can Read!,’’ “Baby Einstein’’ exploited parents’ urge to do the best for their kids, and made potentially false promises along the way. “Your Baby Can Read!’’ arguably makes even more specific promises, with less foundation in fact; its website urges parents to seize a “small window of opportunity’’ to teach their kids to read well before they start school. That claim has been eviscerated by reading experts, but it also flies in the face of common sense.

In other words, while there may be a role here for the trade commission, the parents who shell out as much as $200 for “Your Baby Can Read!’’ bear some culpability, too. The world is full of dubious advertising messages. The best way to guard against them isn’t to depend on being saved, but to think: read ads critically, guard money wisely, and remember that the buyer must always beware.