No Ovaltine please — we’re cool

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.

 

  1. Full dis­clo­sure: I was kind of a polite kid, and I def­i­nite­ly thought I was uncool. Shoe fits.

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