Consuming Kids: Selling Value As A Virtue

saleJuly 28, 2009 In another ‘silver lining’ of our economy’s challenging moments, seems “consuming kids” are self-reining and prioritizing the value of purchases, with fashion taking a nosedive and techno-media holding steady. (Reminder, we’re screening Consuming Kids again at my place on Friday, so RSVP, it’s free!)

When I interviewed Mike Berenstain of Berenstain Bears, he noted it’s the wee ones that ‘get the gimmes’ early on from marketing the most, and habits form early so intervention is key.

I’d say teens are comparatively frugal and ‘value’ driven overall as they inch closer to consciousness of the workaday world, but the economy is giving that age group an extra pinch-n-nudge lately and “sale” has taken on a meaningful mandate…Marketing charts wrote that this spring’s ‘Taking Stock with Teens” Piper Jaffray survey showed a 14% dip in teen fashion spending consistent with ‘double-digit year-over-year decline.’ (appx. 7500 online surveys + 600 offline responses of 16 year-olds in nine cities across the U.S.)

Media mindshare remains prominent, with gizmos (phones, music, video games, etc.) becoming an ‘accessory’ in themselves, as kids shop the bargains of phone plans and perks, saving pennies for devices over wearables. With back to school ads already chirping at us to cut summer short, retailers are eager to amp up ‘value’ to a farethewell…A life lesson  Warren Buffett’s cartoon persona would fully sanction. (but hey, it’s still summer and we haven’t even gotten enough wakeboarding time in, so take the B2S student pitch down a notch people, or we’ll have another ‘Christmas at Halloween’ marketing phenom!)

plato's closetSo my question is…How can we instill “value(s)” and leverage the downturn using marketing tactics in positive ways?

Easy. Give it the right ‘spin’ and seed a consciousness of cool, reducing consumption via ‘strategic thrift.’ Example?

Our local ‘fashion forward’ statement for back to school is ‘new to you’ gleaned from Plato’s Closet, which positions its brand as an eco-philosophy as much as a local fashion hub.

Truth be told, they’re all over the country as a teen franchise recycling retail store, and they just ‘feel’ local because of the clientele and cheap-chic-hipster environs. (yes, I was surprised too)

Plato’s Closet is actually a decade old and is the fastest growing chain in the Winmark Corporation family of brands (which also includes Play it Again Sports for used gear, etc.)

Their success? I’d go with ‘marketing spin.’

Instead of the ‘second hand’ or ‘consignment’ feel they position their brand as partners with teens in a win-win alliance where kids can make money and spend money in one super savings swoop.

plato sm

Our local Plato’s Closet has über-picky buyers that may get slammed on ‘Yelp’ opinions now and then, but I’d argue that (for better or for worse) it adds to the caché of treating clothing like some hot shot bouncer at an exclusive club…deciding which items are ‘past season’ and which ones make it through the ‘velvet rope’ for resale! (the pop culture zeitgeist reinforces this daily, so it’s no wonder this tactic of ‘what makes the cut’ lives on; just look at polls and vote up methodology)

Bonus cred for teens? Peer to peer nods for scoring a ‘deal’ on once-over-priced brands, pre-vetted pickiness from fashionistas, ‘tags-on’ merchandise now and then, and most importantly, the framing of “outgrowns as opportunity”…

Teens grow confident that they’re not shopping ‘ewww-used’ they’re shopping ‘awesome value.’ The concept becomes eco-smart spending not ‘second hand Rose.’

Next thing you know, kids are in a ‘why pay more’ mode and bargain-hunting with the best of ‘em, whether it’s new, vintage, or on sale at the mall.

Value is a teen’s ‘BFF’ on multiple levels.

play it again sportsAfter all, the braggart with the big bucks at school flaunting the high-ticket ‘must have’ message certainly looks MUCH less savvy and impressive when a smart teen’s snagged the same item for a fraction of the cost.

Goes for everything from waterskiis and snowboards to used cars and free phone freebies…(It always gets a fist-pumping ‘yes’ from me when I see this dynamic win out!) Plus, kids can turn ANY eco-friendly clothing swap, garage sale, youth sports Go Out & Play benefit or precycling of “regifted” goods into a ‘peer party’ atmosphere or even a wish list fundraiser, using just a few evites and some leveraging of ‘value-driven’ marketing.

You can even take it a step further with ideas to host a FREEcycling fashion fest, as I wrote on EcoChild’s Play awhile back in “Back to School Brandwashing: Freecycling for Picky Preteens”

project green dormWhich reminds me…if you’re in the Bay Area, don’t miss the Teens Turning Green grand opening of Project Green DORM on Thursday, kicking off their August back to school ‘how to green your scene’ collegiate environs…Story to come on using ‘values’ to add value in multiple ways to make your purchases count.

TTG will be making a Project Green Dorm Toolkit available starting Saturday, August 1st, as a “checklist” suggesting greener products for all your back-to-school needs, AND…College Care Packages (essentials available for purchase that you can send or give to students to promote a new green lifestyle and send them off in style)…clearly a social-entrepreneurial venture for their .com to feed the .org.

As TTG explains:

“The choices we make individually and collectively ARE making a HUGE difference. Take a look at the stores that you shop in every day: many are incorporating green products, business practices, initiatives because of the purchases YOU make as an informed consumer. There ARE greener alternatives for everything you could possibly need to make green your living space, school supplies and lifestyle.”

Needless to say, I’ve been hummin’ this tune quite awhile…

How do YOU effectively combat commercialism and turn brand influence on itself?

What are your ideas to instill values of “value” early and often?

Bring them to our Consuming Kids screening this Friday July 31, 2009 for discussion and we’ll compile them for all!

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, check out the trailer below, find or host your own screening and revisit our sidebar under the film clapboard for monthly youth and parent film fest of worthy documentaries including Consuming Kids and other must see-media!

Whether it’s in a swap-n-shop format, (see: “when the going gets tough, the tough go ‘swapping” events on Facebook ) or a counter-marketing consumption crowd-sourcing game, I have little doubt that youth CAN grab a firm hold on the value concept and given the proper positioning, pay it forward for the rest of us on the planet…Let’s do everything we can to encourage ’em, as the price we pay for needless waste and consumption will cost us all.

Visual Credit: Plato’s Closet interior by Phil K.

Snapshot of the Study’s Teen Prefs in Fashion/Apparel

Summary: Marketing Charts (my silly editorial comments in italics)

  • West Coast Brands (e.g. Pacific Sunwear, Volcom, Quicksilver, Zumiez) took the #1 spot in clothing brand preferences among teens, followed by Hollister, Nike, Forever 21, and American Eagle.
  • (AJ: How many of these kids really surf/skate? Curious. Been hangin’ out in Santa Cruz lately and found some interesting reverb on what kids consider ‘real’ brands vs. ‘wannabe’ surf imagery; e.g. “Hollister is for those who ‘wish they do but don’t’…it’s a mallrat brand”

  • Specifically among brands ranked by young women, Hollister took the “most preferred” position, while West Coast Brands continued to remain a favorite among young men. (see above comment)

  • Spending in the junior apparel category has decreased 19%, but increased 9% for footwear and 8% for accessories.
  • (AJ: Again, tough sampling in a surf town poll since flip flops and barefeet dominated the ‘real deal’ tribe, and ‘Reef’ and ‘Rainbows’ the brand most named (Teva/Deckers observed too)

  • Footwear posted the strongest year-over-year and sequential results at a 4% and 21% gain respectively – an indication that the strong footwear cycle, particularly relative to the weakness in apparel, continues for the youth demographic. (see above)

  • Beauty spending is down from last year, but is stabilizing from fall 2008 as lower-price categories of fragrance and cosmetics outpace skin care, and department stores continue to cede share to discount, drug, and specialty stores.
  • (AJ-Again, one size does not fit all; natural beauty and organic preferences dominated this coastal community, as I wrote in this post about kids’ environmental influences and lack of cookie cutter conformity via media portrayal–Viva la difference; esp. if it’s a ‘value’!)


  1. Jeffrey Lemkin says

    Hi Amy,

    Great piece – I suspect that at least part of the reason for the 14% decline in teen spending lies not so much with the teens but with their newly less-affluent parents.

    Another problem for teens is the problem of choice. There’s so *much* stuff – choice doesn’t make most people happy, it makes them confused and dissatisfied (see: The Paradox of Choice, one of my faves –

    I enjoyed Michael Shermer’s observations on the differences between the Yanomamo people and the Manhattan people ( Shermer’s not always my fave, but this is an interesting thesis.

    Great, thought-provoking post, Amy. Thanks!



  2. Amy Jussel says

    Yep, it absolutely has to do with the less affluent parents and the trickle down effect that’s long overdue. (that’s the UPside of the slump!)

    Ironically, I just experienced ‘The Paradox of Choice’ firsthand coming back from Draeger’s gourmet market, (which I rarely frequent as it’s over-priced, not a ‘value’ for hard goods only custom-deli stuff) but I’m at my outpost office this eve, so it was walkable…

    Anyway, I wanted to snag some fresh organic berries on sale, and yogurt to go with it…Heard the ‘Greek/plain/organic’ was the ‘way to go’ from our S.Y. nutrition guru in this post:

    Lo & behold…they had THREE freakin’ shelves of yogurt selections, packed with all the national brands, organics, foodie elite stuff, and sub-categories of light, fat-free, natural, ‘whole’ and fruit concoctions!

    I got the ‘deer in the headlights’ feeling and backed off altogether, knowing full well exactly what emotional wave had just sideswiped me!

    Reminds me of my trip to Russia decades ago with sparse shelves, and the culture shock of coming home to so many selections and zero appetite for any of it. Something changes deep inside you when you see ‘essentials vs. consumption’ …so I guess the next question is, are kids immune to this dynamic? Are they impacted by ‘overwhelm’ in the same way?
    Could this be a ‘counter-marketing’ strategy?

    I’ve seen hints of same when we go ‘back to school’ shopping in one fell swoop and my daughter burns out FAST without buying item one. But then, she’s not a ‘shopper’ so I don’t have a good read or benchmark.

    As always, thanks again for the “think links” to feed my ever-percolating brain matter. 🙂 So thrilled to find you via Ryan’s FB feed…

  3. Hi Amy,

    I have a question for you regarding television programming for children and I could not seem to find another way to contact you. My question is, how does the fcc monitor what goes into children programming? I mean with all of the programming out there how can they monitor all the networks 24/7? Is there a way to get involved with this to help in the process?

    Thanks for taking the time.

    One concerned parent.

  4. Amy Jussel says

    Hi Randy, apologies for that, need to redesign the blog as more of a ‘site’ with a prominent ‘about us’ and ‘contact’ section. (you can reach me: amy at shapingyouth dot org I don’t publish it often due to the massive spam count and autobots we have to manage on filter load)

    For the basic consumer facts of how it all works:

    There are formalized ‘complaint’ forms and compliance issues out the wazoo in terms of content/infractions, percentage of PSA time/ad streams, etc. too. but for a good overview of ‘consumer voice for communications choice’ I’d browse through (run by nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports) Good overview here:

    As for policy/watchdog orgs with a voice at the FCC level there are numerous ones like Creative Voices in Media, Consumers Union, Center for Digital Democracy, Common Cause, the Consumer Federation of America, Free Press, the Future of Music Coalition, Common Sense Media, the Newspaper Guild-CWA, Media Access Project, the Media Alliance, the Media Challenge, U.S. PIRG…

    And personally, on the research/analysis realm, for parental reasoning, I love all the studies and data at Children, and

    For direct parent activism and outreach, depending on your issues about content, two advocacy orgs with a high profile impact/strong voice re: key missteps (indecency, language, corp. ad creep, etc.) include the Parents Television Council (they also have newsltr ‘alerts’) and the CCFC (Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood).

    CCFC has a ‘take action’ component on their site that has been VERY useful for championing change and gaining press momentum. (I write about them often here on this blog from a ‘brandwashing’ perspective as they are very concerned about content driven infiltration of commercial msgs where programming becomes an ongoing ‘ad’ of product placement and behavioral cues!)

    So I guess the short answer is…It depends on what you mean by ‘monitoring’ and what concerns you have on the content specifically, since each of those orgs has their own hot buttons and action items to channel change and make a splash in a fast, impactful manner.

    Oh! Almost forgot! For an ‘inside the industry’ perspective on changes forthcoming, and the pushback to follow I read:

    For example, here’s the latest one on the amped up FCC 5-person panel:

    And one about children’s programming obligations/FCC fines, etc.)

    Hope that helps? Feel free to email me directly and I can try to route further for your needs?

    best, Amy

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