Car commercial sends wrong message to parents, kids

I have just seen one of the world's worst TV commercials, a 30-second spot for the Toyota Sienna.

Picture this: An all-American Dad in his DIY, handy-husband weekend garb - jeans, a scruffy, paint-spattered T-shirt and a brown leather tool belt circling his waist - runs excitedly up to the minivan parked in the drive.

Dad throws open the door to reveal two cute young boys, lounging in the van's captains chairs, headphones covering their ears as they simultaneously play Go Fish and watch a DVD on the flat-screen suspended above them.

The dialogue ensues as Dad enthusiastically announces to his son, "Hey buddy, I know it took, like, four weekends, but the tree house is finally done. And it's AWESOME! It's got this great, like, rope ladder and ..."

Looking up from his cards, Junior interrupts Dad's jubilant tree house description, asking, "Does it have leather seats?"

Taken off guard, perplexed Dad responds, "What?"

"Leather seats," repeats the kid, with an unspoken "duh, you idiot" revealed in his tone.

"Well, no," says Dad. "But it's got this nice ... "

"Got any threes?" the kid on the other seat interjects, clearly unimpressed by boring Mr. Tree House.

"Go fish," answers Junior, before turning back to weekend-warrior Dad to confirm that the features of the tree house do not even begin to meet his leisure-time expectations.

"10-speaker stereo system?"

"No," apologizes Dad.

"A DVD player?"

"No," says Dad, now hanging his head in shame over his failure to provide electronic stimulus for his offspring.

Affirming his complete disinterest in life outside the van, the kid pulls the headphone back over his ear and summarily dismisses Dad with, "I think we're good in here."

This is the full script. I'm not kidding.

The commercial ends with Dad slowly closing the tinted glass door, leaving the two little van potatoes alone to veg in the dark with their electronic diversions as he lopes dejectedly down the drive, his tool belt now drooping a few notches lower.

I guess the next installment will be when the two boys start scratching themselves, belching, playing poker and looking at Internet porn.

I don't know about you, but the image of my kids leaned back in their big ol' Barcalounger captains chairs watching a DVD in the driveway until their little bodies atrophy from lack of exercise and natural light doesn't exactly inspire me to shell out $30K for a fancy new van.

The blogosphere is on fire with people trashing the kid's attitude.

"If my kid just dismisses me like that after spending four weeks building him something, he is getting yanked out of there by his ear and the DVD player in the van is coming out for good," wrote one indignant blogger.

Hello? This kid is an actor. Next week he'll be hawking peanut butter or making your heart melt as he saves a doggy in a Lifetime movie.

It's not the kid who bothers me. It's the grown-ups who wrote the ad: grown-ups who successfully demonstrated the benefits of their product in a memorable commercial, but who have depicted a scenario that is just plain ick.

I actually drive a 10-year-old Toyota Previa and, yes, I have used a portable DVD player on long trips. So it's not like I'm immune to the value of reliable transportation and keeping kids amused in the car.

But come on, people. Do we really want to reinforce the message that leather seats are better than rope swings, that Dads who build trees houses are dumb and that whiling away your childhood parked in the driveway with surround-sound is a good thing?

Call me crazy, but cultivating a crop of van potatoes isn't exactly my highest aspiration.

So, car people and ad folks, listen up. You may suck the kiddies in with this one, but beware, they're not the ones holding the checkbook.

Snellville resident Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear." Contact her or join her interactive blog at www.forgetperfect.com.