Apr 04 2010
In the first half Juliet B. Schor’s Born to Buy, she discusses how marketers target children to buy their products. A recurring theme in marketing that she outlined was how marketers used to send messages to parents about which products to buy for their kids, but now commercials skip the middle man entirely. Ultimately, parents have a higher chance of buying toys that their children beg for rather than products that the media tells them their children will like. With this new attitude of living in a kids world where kids rule, many products also play off the idea that adults and teachers are uncool, and that kids need to separate themselves from these authority figures that cramp their styles. However, this separation can’t go too far, because kids do need to ask their parents to buy the products. Here’s a commercial that I thought of when I was reading the book:
My siblings and I memorized the commercial and we loved to recite it when it came on (and it aired for years). When I was a kid I didn’t realize that it was asking me to bother my parents enough to buy Nickelodeon magazine. I guess we did bother them because we got it in the mail and I really loved it. My favorite part of it were the posters that came in the magazine to put on your wall. This was smart for the marketers because what kid isn’t going to put a poster on their wall of their favorite cartoon? And, after that’s on the wall, why not ask for the action figure in the store to match the poster?
The most interesting part of the book to me was the section on POX, a game that looked ready to conquer playgrounds everywhere. They distributed advance copies to the “cool kids” in schools (so that others would get them), used viral marketing so that kids would hear about it from their peers, and seemed addictive. The idea was that it was in real time, so if all of your friends had POX you could play during recess, or even during class. It almost seems like it would be positive if the toy got banned in schools because then it would seem even cooler. But, its unfortunate timing around September 11th meant that it never really got off the ground, which is too bad because it seemed like a toy that I probably would have loved.
In class we mostly talked about sex separation for kids and the nature versus nurture debate. Peter asked whether boys and girls actually had biological preferences toward blue and pink, and the answer is no; society placed the labels upon the two sexes to separate them. For kids, whose major goals include acceptance by peers, this means that kids labeled “boys” and “girls” are forced into gender roles. Children want to fit in, and if the media tells kids that to be normal they must like dolls and dress up (for girls) and action and fighting (for boys), then it is especially difficult to break out of this mold. Marketers can easily play on this by completely separating toys by sex. I went to Wal-Mart yesterday and over the toys section there were signs that said “boys” and “girls.” I’m pretty anti separating sexes (it leaves little room for the discussion of gender as a whole) and this annoyed me. While there are many toys marketed toward boys and girls, there are also plenty of “gender-neutral” toys that marketers make to appeal to all genders. But, this rigid binary system makes this nearly impossible. Unfortunately, marketers are stuck in a rut of enforcing gender stereotypes and they have few incentives to change this policy.
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