Can TV Really Send Kids Outdoors?

When TV campaigns urge kids to go outside and play, it always seems a little disingenuous. There’s just something odd about TV telling kids they shouldn’t be watching TV. It’s like fast food places encouraging kids to eat apple wedges, or cheap beer makers advising consumers to drink responsibly.

So it’s with some skepticism I see news about "Team Xtreme," a new partnership between Pepperidge Farm and the NBA. The campaign exists primarily on a Web site, and is supported by 30-second TV spots airing this month on Nickelodeon, Disney Channel and Cartoon Network. On the Web site, kids can “track their play activity, find play ideas, and enter sweepstakes.” They might as well add “…in the comfort of their climate-controlled homes.”

Here’s the really interesting part: When kids have been on the site for 15 minutes, a video of Miami Heat star Dwayne Wade pops up and tells kids to get outside and play. I'm not sure if Dwayne suggests, pleads, or orders his point, but I’d like to know how many kids immediately jump from their comfy seats and streak outside. Still, Dwayne demonstrates the point well in the commercial, in which he opens a door in the wall of his press conference to send kids into a playground. Did you hear that, Mr. Wade? I liked your commercial.

I know Web sites and TV channels are the top ways to reach kids. But we also know kids are way more influenced by their peers than by any ad campaign. So why not create a campaign that focuses on peers influencing each other? A kid is a lot more interested in going outside if his pal is already there waiting for him.

Also, most live-action kid shows take place indoors. I know this is a matter of production economics, but if iCarly, True Jackson, Hannah Montana, Zack and Cody, and everyone else spent more time enjoying the outdoors, wouldn't the audience be more interested, too? Kids see; kids do. And most kids' live-action characters act as if "outside" doesn't even exist.

During these "Go Out and Play" campaigns, I suggest more shows—not just commercials and interstitials—be shot entirely outdoors. That would put your superstars where your mouth is, and truly open the door for kids to think anew about the joys of being outside.

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