A recent Bits column in the New York Times titled McDonald's Makes Subtle Play for Children Online opens with these words:
McWorld, a Web site for children sponsored by McDonald’s, offers visitors the chance to create characters, decorate digital treehouses and go on a quest in a virtual world.
French fries, hamburgers and apple pies are nowhere to be seen...
Oh, McDonald's, I beg of you: please bring the French fries, hamburgers, and apple pies back to your advertising! I want them out in the open, where I can keep my eyes on them. I want to see them like I want to see the eyes of the creepy guy who lurks in a dark alley. Because when I see his eyes, I know for sure where he is, and that he's not following me.
As advertising to kids becomes ever subtler, parents will have an increasingly difficult time teaching their children to be savvy consumers of digital media. It used to be that when a flash ad for Deep-Fried, Sugar-Coated, Highly-Processed Fat Balls appeared on the screen, we could tell our kids, "That's an ad. The Deep-Fried, Sugar-Coated, Highly-Processed Fat Ball Company paid your favorite website a lot of money to try to sell you that product. Just ignore it."
But now, the Deep-Fried, Sugar-Coated, Highly-Processed Fat Balls might appear as colorful balloons, or swollen raindrops in a dreamscape, or even soccer balls in an online tournament. No longer relegated to the sides of the screen, the images are working their way into the web pages' very essence, and even the most discerning kids may have a difficult time recognizing them as ads.
In his Bits column, writer Joshua Brustein notes that Mark Smale, who works with the company that created the McWorld site,"said in an interview that companies are realizing that, when going online, the best strategy is to forgo immediate sales in order to build lasting emotional relationships with children."
I want my children to have lasting emotional relationships. I really do. Just not with multinational corporations that cover the whites of their eyes, making them largely invisible as they try to seduce my children.
Recipe for Soba Noodle Salad with mixed vegetables, peanuts, and mint
I dream of a world where kids can play online and off, confronted with nothing more sinister than a tangled noodle, a crunchy peanut, or a sharp scallion.
2 bundles (about 5 ounces) soba noodles
3 cups (packed) fresh spinach leaves, rough chopped
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons (packed) freshly grated ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Persian cucumber, julienned
1 carrot, julienned
2 scallions, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped peanuts (I use roasted peanuts from Trader Joe's with 50% salt)
Handful fresh mint leaves, cut in chiffonade
Sriracha for serving, optional
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in noodles and cook for 3 minutes. Add spinach and cook with noodles for one minute longer. Drain and rinse under cool water. Give the spinach a squeeze to remove excess water.
Meanwhile, whisk the oil, vinegar, ginger, and garlic in the bottom of a large salad bowl. Dump in the noodles and spinach and toss to coat. Add the cucumber, carrots, and scallions, and toss through.
Garnish with the peanuts and mint, and serve room temperature, or even cold, passing a bottle of Sriracha, if desired, alongside.