kids are absorbant

A few weeks ago, I was stuck in the car during the Diane Rhem Show. While I usually can’t stand the sound of her voice, she was talking with a professor of Sociology at Boston College who had just written a book called, “Born to Buy” (Scribner), and I found it compelling. The woman, Juliet Schor, if I remember correctly, had taken a sabbatical to join an advertising firm that had a division devoted specifically to the tween and pre-tween markets. What she found, after having sat though a few months of meetings with them, while not exactly unexpected, is troublesome. Here are a few clips from reviews, as well as a link to the NPR interview.

Amazon synopsis:
Over the last fifteen years children’s spending power has mushroomed to an estimated USD30 billion in direct purchases and another USD600 billion of influence over parental purchases. Advertising and marketing has exploded alongside expenditures and now totals more than USD12 billion a year. Ads targeted at children are virtually everywhere – in schools, museums and on the internet – and strategies for capturing the child wallet have become ever more sophisticated. Marketers are intruding into a child’s most private space, organizing stealthy peer-to-peer viral marketing efforts, and using high tech scientific research methodologies. Together, these trends have led to a pervasive commercialization of childhood in the West. By eighteen months babies can recognize logos, by two they ask for products by brand name. During their nursery school years children will request an average of twenty-five products a day, by the time they enter primary school the average child can identify 200 logos and children between the ages of six and twelve spend more time shopping than reading, attending youth groups, playing outdoors or spending time in household conversation. On the basis of first-hand research inside the advertising industry, BORN TO BUY lays bare the research, messages and marketing strategies being used to target children, and assesses the impact of those efforts.

Review from Publisher’s Weekly:
According to consumerism and economics expert Schor (The Overspent American), the average 10-year-old has memorized about 400 brands, the average kindergartner can identify some 300 logos and from as early as age two kids are “bonded to brands.” Some may call it brainwashing, others say it’s genius; regardless of how you see it, the approach is the same: target young kids directly and consistently, appeal to them and not the adults in their lives…

We’ve tried, up until now, to keep Clementine logo-free, but it’s a challenge. It’s especially difficult as most of the clothes that we like, that are in our price range, carry some kind of word-mark or logo. I was just flipping through pictures to see if I could find an instance of our having let our guard down and I found one without much effort… This is an early example of Clementine co-branding with Old Navy.

It’s a bit scary how these things begin worming their ways into your lives.

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  1. Posted October 25, 2004 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    It appears that the me-generation softies have allowed their children to become the decision-makers.

    I remember telling my father how badly I wanted some stupid plastic piece of trash.

    He would listen and then ask me how I was going to afford such a thing on $.50/per week.

  2. Posted October 25, 2004 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    When my brother had his kid I told myself that I didn’t want to buy her anything that had an outward label (like Mark’s Old Navy photo), But it’s so impossible that I gave up. I think maybe 3/4 of the stuff I bought for her was branded with some label or another, and the other 1/4 is just plain white onesies.

    Even fucking Rancid has infected her wardrobe.

  3. Dave Morris
    Posted October 25, 2004 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    I remember the Flintstones vitamins “with Iron”. I’m sure my brother and I pitched a fit to get them. My mom was pretty good about keeping out the junk food though. She bought mostly bulk food from a local co-op.

    One day my brother and I were watching cartoons and my mom was outside gardening. We got the sugar craving and started climbing the cupboards. We usually went after the collection of cake toppings as well as the brown sugar. This particular day we settled on the Flintstones V’s- may have been that Fred and Wilma on the boob tube triggered it. I managed to get the cap off, dump out the full contents, and proceeded to divy them up like Bugs Bunny -” one for you, one for me, two for you, one two for me”, etc. until Jeffrey realized he was getting the short end of the stick. So we roughly evened them out and started eating them. I remember Jeff biting Dino’s head off and making him bark at me. We got down to the last few when Mother came in the house and asked what happened to all the vitamins.

    “We ate them!”

    I don’t remember exactly what my mom said, but it was along the lines of “Oh no you didn’t!” She dragged both our scrawny 3 an 5 year old asses into the bathroom and put a few drops of syrup of ipaca down our throats. It was instantaneous and messy. I remember that some of the Flintstone characters were still roughly intact.

    There were quite a few other choice ones that had to do with clothes. I remember my brother and I throwing a fit to get Levi’s, but that was mostly because we were pretty damn tired of wearing the Sears Tough Skins. And then there was Jordache and after that there was Chams parachute pants and then there was overpriced Levi’s that looked like a dump truck skidded to a stop on them and then there were those silly Jams pants…

    Even with a head full of messages, there is still a chance for some pure moments -like my brother Jeff who called his Tonka Truck “bear” and his Teddy Bear “truck.” How was he going to bitch for something if he couldn’t even get the right label right let alone the proper name? Advertising dollars lost on that one. Or my sisters kid who asks “is that Jesus?” whenever she sees a picture or sculpture of an eagle. Not sure what to make of that one.

  4. chris
    Posted October 26, 2004 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    First, I must say Mr. Maynard that you go to great socio-philosophical lengths, whose diatribes reference NPR guests just to shamelessly show us another picture of your daughter. OK, WE GET IT SHE IS THE CUTEST BABY IN THE WORLD!! Me and a bunch of mommy friends are trying to start a child clothing/toy barter network. See, if we trade it than we don’t have to worry about brand names.

    Dave, your stories bring back some serious ass memories. Like how I begged my single mother for a pair of pastel Levi cords circa ’76. Somehow someone came through with some cash and she brings me to the County Seat at one o’ the ‘dale malls in the Twin Cities. Where this 30 something guy who I am sure was a junior high math teacher making some cash for the summer-big blonde ‘fro handle bar mustache, earth shoes- you know the deal proceeded to measure my…inseam. As the tape measure neared my pre-pubescent pudendal mound the guy started to shake, sweat, and stutter. It took another decade before I figured what that was all about.

    So what is the thesis here? Levis+puberty=pedophelia, or a pair of ill fitting Easter chick fuckin’ yellow cordouroys. Oh yeah, and remember how when we were kids before we enslaved the rest of the fucking world to manufacture crap at our bidding we had like 3 pair pants and 5 shirts. My 2 1/2 year old daughter’s current wardrobe is larger than the my wardrobe for the entirety of my grade school career. Which makes me think of how I went into Urban Outfitters the other day and see if they still had T-shirts for sale that say “We’re all going to Hell”. They were sold out.

  5. Alicia
    Posted October 26, 2004 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    One needn’t look far to see how insidious all this is. NEWBORN DIAPERS (of the disposable variety) come with Barney and Mickey Mouse on them. Potty seats (the kind that fit on a regular toilet but make the opening small enough your child can’t fall in) have Sesame Street characters printed on them (“There Elmo…there — oh! Poop! — Big Bird…”).

    If you exclude plastic and/or battery-powered toys from the house you can keep out a lot of the toddler marketing.

    A seam ripper ($1.49 at Michael’s) works wonders on the external tags.

    But see how we all have nostalgia for our own childhood brand-name desires? Do we want to deprive our own children of the opportunity to one day say “Oh I remember how badly I wanted an X Box or at least a Game Boy…”

  6. Posted October 26, 2004 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Sorry to allude to They Live again, but do you remember when Roddy Piper’s character puts on the glasses for the first time and sees all of these subliminal messages–consume, marry and reproduce, sleep, this is your god (on paper money), etc? It’s not so subliminal in the real world, but it is sick in its own right.

    We need to kick corporations’ asses. I’m down with disbanding them entirely–at least taking away their “personhood.” What happened to our culture? It’s all mass-produced and marketed. Clothes that are made locally? Nope–you have to go to the Gap or whatever. Food that is made locally? Fat chance. Your chicken was processed in Texas, your fries were mass-produced in Albequerque, and that isn’t really chicken that you are eating, anyway–it has bubbles in it. Music? Brittney Spears is music (or what

  7. Posted October 26, 2004 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Alicia, watch out for baby thongs–they are coming (sorry for shamelessly linking to my blog by the way–but what the hell).

  8. mark
    Posted October 26, 2004 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    I’m afraid that if I type “todler stripper pole” into Google, I might get a hit.

  9. Dave Morris
    Posted October 26, 2004 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    I believe that the study you mentioned was featured in the film ” The Corporation” ( ). It is toward the end of the film and dovetailed nicely into the subject of corporate power. The film definitely has a slant to it, but it approaches that slant in a very measured way. I liked that they interviewed CEO’s of large corporations as well as left leaning individuals. It really painted an interesting picture of corporations as these larger bodies that no one was really running and was only concerned with its survival. The well executed argument that corporations, by definition of the us governments laws and the FBI’s personality assessment exam, should be considered psychopahs is very interesting.

    Here is a link to the movie site:

    There is another part of the movie that interviews Paul Hawken and talks with him about his book “the Ecology of Commerce.” I am reading the book right now. The gist is that there are costs that are not factored in to the price of products and that Free Market Economies need to be held accountabel for these costs. I am only half way through the book and the untallied costs that he mentions deal mostly with the environment. I think that our minds are yet another resource that needs to be made sustainable rather than looking at it as something to be divided and conquered. Garbage in – garbage out.

    One of the first things that the Chinese did when they invaded Tibet was to take away their silence. They put up loud speakers and played Chinese propaganda radio.

  10. Posted October 27, 2004 at 5:17 am | Permalink

    I do my best to shop at independent stores, or at the very least, Detroit-based stores, i.e., ABC Warehouse over Circuit City (Best Buy isn’t even in the equation), my friend’s CD store over the stores in the Mall (I don’t even know what their names anymore). And I’ve never been one for labels, but that probably comes from being raised on K-Mart clothes. My only outward label is generally found on my Converses.

    But it’s hard to avoid because this country has become such a label-whore. I mean, an article in this morning’s Freep talked about the fact that the Michigan-Ohio State game will now have a sponsor!!! WTF!!!!! I remember when the Sugar Bowl was the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl was the Rose Bowl. I hate that the Tigers don’t play at Tiger Stadium, but at Comerica Park (and I mean that in both senses, i.e., I love old Tiger Stadium, but I would prefer them not to have named their stadium after a friggin’ bank).

    Everything is about labels!!!! I knit a lot and people tell me I should make a label and attach it so people would know they’re wearing one of my scarves. I absolutely hate that idea! I would rather people admire the scarf, find out it’s hand-made and then ask who made it, if they care.

  11. Posted October 27, 2004 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    I got a new job. Bought seven pairs of slacks and three shirts at Value World. $35.

  12. mark
    Posted October 27, 2004 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    You don’t really think they’ll let you keep the job when they find out that you shop at Value World, do you?

    Concerning Clementine’s wardrobe, and my own, and Linette’s for that matter, I’m thinking about creating a family brand that can go on top of anything else, like the “Old Navy” tag pictured above. You don’t think the other kids would make fun of her too much if everything she owned said, “Team Lao Maynard,” do you? As for a logo, I’m thinking about a smiling monkey in a jumpsuit.

  13. Posted October 27, 2004 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    Not after I’m done dazzling them with my expansive wardrobe.

  14. Posted October 28, 2004 at 5:11 am | Permalink

    I love the Team Lao Maynard label idea! If you check out knitting/sewing type magazines, I’m sure you’ll find an ad for places that make personalized labels.

    I say, DO IT!!! (please note in an effort not to get Nike on my ass I left out the “just.”)

  15. mark
    Posted October 28, 2004 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    OK, just remind me once the election is over and I’ll have some labels made… I’ve been thinking that I have to have something new to sell here on the site anyway, and it might as well be thriftstore clothes re-branded with the “Team Maynard” logo… Or “Team Lao Maynard.” (I don’t know if Linette wants to be a part of this project yet.)

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