Sprouting children

Advertisers understand it. That’s why we’re bombarded with the same adverts, time and time again. It appears that they work on the principle that our poor brains can’t assimilate their message until it’s been rammed in to our heads a few times. It’s why we are presented with the same billboards, no matter where we go; the same posters on the back of buses; repeated adverts on TV; the same junk mail, week after week. They know that we require this onslaught before there’s any chance of a light bulb suddenly illuminating in our heads and our deciding that we agree with their message and that we must have their product. And we know it works or the advertising slots available during the final of the X Factor wouldn’t cost the same as the debt of Ireland.
As a result it’s also why so many small businesses, like my own, waste so much money on marketing. They only do the occasional advert or promotional activity rather than a thought-out campaign. One lonely advert in the classifieds has little chance of success. But it still costs money and so is almost certainly a waste of the stuff. The message needs to get in front of the potential customer time after time which of course costs more, and is therefore more risky, but I think we’d all agree that you’ve got to speculate to accumulate.
And so you have to with children. On the obvious basis that you’re setting yourself and your progeny up for a fall if you acquiesce to all the demands itemised on their Christmas list, the same goes for making the little darlings do things they wouldn’t if left to their own devices.
Take the controversial seasonal vegetable, the Brussels sprout. What? You won’t? Well it’s quite apparent that you haven’t tried them enough and I blame your parents. Obviously it’s important that they’re cooked correctly because we’ve all got experience of evil little grey green spheres kept warm in hot plates or under lights, positively leaching an ammonia smell into the air.
But a Brussels sprout is a glorious thing if experienced, for the first time, cooked to perfection, with maybe a little butter and black pepper, or even some crispy bacon and a little cream. Or, more importantly, experienced this way half a dozen times. Because it’s likely that the first time you ever tried a Brussels sprout, it was at a stage in your development where your taste buds were underdeveloped; they weren’t trained; you were still a child. That’s what advertisers recognise; your brain needs training before you’ll buy their wares. And so does a child’s taste buds. And it’s up to you, the parent, to take on this task.
Yes, it’s risky. Especially if you choose to start the challenge on Christmas Day as there’s always the chance that you may ruin things – potentially for everyone. But you’ve got to start somewhere otherwise your charges will grow up, never having experienced the pleasure that can be derived from these small cabbages.
So, just as in advertising, to reduce the risk, a well-thought out campaign is necessary. You’ve got to consider product image, quality and placement. You can’t just go boiling a sprout any old way and plonking it on the plate. Psychology and tactics are essential. Even a little blackmail could be used. And before you know it, everyone in the family will be clamouring for more Brussels.
There’s still time before Christmas Day but you need to get going if the repeated-hit theory is to work. So I’d advise steeling yourself and starting today. Because if you leave it until next year, or the year after, all of a sudden you’ll find that you’ve got a stroppy teenager on your hands and the battle will be well and truly lost. And you’ll only have yourself to blame.
I actually truly believe that, when it comes to food, there’s enormous scope for changing our minds about what we like and dislike. And, with a little thought, the same can be done for our children.
But all of this takes effort and resources and involves risk. Despite much thinking and planning, you may still get absolutely nowhere with your efforts. History is littered with failed advertising campaigns. But business involves risk. If it didn’t, we’d all be doing it. And so does bringing up children – but just about everybody has a go at that. The problem with children is that if you start the campaign and fail, if they end up convinced that they hate Brussels sprouts, they may just end up hating you.

Merry Christmas.

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