As a kid, I didn’t know anything about Ovaltine aside from their commercials, so I hadn’t seen it as a sponsor of classic radio and television, as a joke on Seinfeld, or as a big fat liar in A Christmas Story. I can’t remember any of my friends having anything to say about it, either.
I was totally unbiased.
But from the company’s marketing alone, I could tell that rich chocolate Ovaltine was uncool. I had never drunk any — and decades later, I still haven’t — but if I ever had, I certainly wouldn’t have told anyone about it.
I’m not exactly sure why the stuff made my lame-sense tingle as a kid. Maybe because Ovaltine was named after a shape (and shapes are for little kids), or that its marketing proudly proclaimed that it was full of vitamins (like everything parents love, and kids don’t), but what I suspect it was… was a little more basic than that.
Watched the ad above? Note the ending. “More Ovaltine, please!” closed all Ovaltine ads of my childhood. My present-day cynical, works-in-marketing self can imagine some agency selling this concept to the Ovaltine company with “Look, these kids not only love this vitamin-filled drink, but they love it so much they’ll develop manners and ask for it politely! Parents will eat this up!”
But my kid self saw things a little differently. “Wow, these kids are super-polite. That’s totally uncool.1 I don’t want this. Where’s the Nestlé Quik? That rabbit is cool.”
There’s a marketing message here, and it probably goes a little something like this:
If you have different targets, your messaging needs to speak differently (use “code-switching”) when speaking to different targets — there’s peril to face when one target receives a message tailored to another. It may fall on deaf ears, or maybe turn them off, entirely. Tell my mom about the vitamins — tell me about the chocolate.
And so on. But there’s also a human message here:
Look, as you grow you’re encouraged to “act your age” and as part of that, cast aside things and behaviors associated with people younger than you, and instead do things that are more becoming for someone as grown as you are. Society beats the kid out of you.
To be able to act your age is wonderful and arguably necessary… as long as you can still, as they say, “walk a mile” in smaller shoes when the situation calls for it. And, of course, recognize why a kid — this kid, kind of grown up now — may not be interested in your vitamin drink, however how rich and chocolatey it might be.
- Full disclosure: I was kind of a polite kid, and I definitely thought I was uncool. Shoe fits. ↩