PETER YORK ON ADS NO 252: V-TECH: Children who love chips

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The Independent Culture
We all want children to be computer literate don't we? Children themselves want to be sufficiently computer literate to engage in Mortal Kombat, chat with their friends on the internet and show off. Their parents want them to be modern and get good jobs. And the Prime Minister has put IT for schools very high on his priorities.

But this admirable resolve opens up massive opportunities for moral blackmail and pester power in marketing. If you don't know one end of a Mac from the other, a convincing name, a handsome screen and a posh-sounding voice- over can be awfully persuasive, just like Encyclopaedia Britannica was in the days of print.

V-Tech sounds nice. I haven't a clue what V-Tech machines actually do, whether they're useful training for tiny tots, compatible with grown-up kit, recommended by Demos or anything but it's a bit spacey, a bit modern and a bit fun. Fun is part of V-Tech's sell. "It combines learning with fun," it says cheerfully while a variety of muddled pictures of excited child-people cross the screen.

The voice-over is a wonderful period piece, reminiscent of Mr Cholmondeley- Warner reading the advertising script for the Prince of Bombay restaurant just around the corner from the cinema in East Grinstead ("excellent cuisine and good service"). It's got a variety of very delicious, old, print-world conceits of the rhetorical question variety. "Why is V-Tech so different? Is it their quality or the number of features?" or then again "some people would argue" or "could it be?" or "the answer is quite simple; a V-Tech toy is all these things."

This isn't exactly the leading edge of street English, nor parental techno- English, nor even Blairite, on-message, third-way, New Labour English.

This ad is full of muddles and fatal mistakes arising, I suspect, from the partnership of V-Tech, the maker, and Toys 'R' US, the retailer. The commercial looks like off-cuts from a more-considered work, combining different ages and kinds of children - always fatal. It abuts the imagery and logo of V-Tech - modern, middle-class and cool - with the lurid colours of Toys 'R' Us, which say plastic and primary school. And worst of all the voice-over describes the V-Tech thing as a "toy". No snobbish eight year old consorts with five year olds and no self-conscious 10 year olds describes any bit of electronic equipment he uses as a toy.