Packaging Boyhood: Corporate Pirates Raid Boys’ Souls

pirate-bandanna.jpgEvidently “snips and snails and puppy dog tails” are out…Tween preening is in…And pirates are looking for gold…

Disney’s September debut of kiddie cologne for boys aged 4-11 in fragrances like Pirates of the Caribbean and Buzz Lightyear is a case in point…The time is ripe to research how Packaging Boyhood is impacting children’s behavioral cues.

Shaping Youth Board Advisors Dr. Lyn Mikel Brown and Dr. Sharon Lamb of Packaging Girlhood are “spot on” with their timely research into their new sequel for boys. These highly respected kids’ advocacy authors are offering boys a chance to participate in their book with a Life Through Boys’ Eyes survey here. (no ringtone perks and giveaways guys, just a great chance to be heard!)

Their new Packaging Boyhood book is due out in 2009, sure to be a must-read for parents, as it will delve deep into how boys are being targeted at ever younger ages for everything from hygiene, food and fashion to media, music, and mobile.

Some say it all “smells like money,” some say it just plain stinks…Either way, you can’t ignore that marketing tactics are zeroing in on young males to tap the tween boys market. It’s shifting cultural conversations and dumping new ‘shoulds’ into boys’ sense of self. (see BusinessWeek’s Children of the Web article all about cashing in on youth culture)

As The Disney Blog quips, “Soon little girls will be saying, ‘Is that Jack Sparrow you’re wearing? I think it makes you smell good.’ Is that what we want?”

The Brand Curve blog chimes in, “Is it just me, or is Disney reaching here? What are they thinking?”

Joel Warady’s blog carries the headline, “Hola baby! Want to Get Together for Some Cookies and Milk?”

Then the StyleDash blog reveals the parent mindset in the comment section, so you’re clear on who’s buying into this notion of 9 year olds begging for Axe and Tag and 5th graders choking on fragrance fumes in math class.

Yep. Packaging Boyhood can’t be written fast enough as Sharon and Lyn apply their analytical research skills to address how boys receive the 3000+ visual and verbal cues coming at them daily.

I’m dying to know how their research survey turns out, so parents tell your sons, boys tell your parents!

As I wrote here in this Bratz Movie post, I’ll personally give the first three families that complete their research a free copy of Packaging GIRLHOOD for contributing to this book project.

It’s important to get this research established, because whether it’s online, offline, mobile/wireless/pda or cell screen, there’s no question young males are in the crosshairs of marketers everywhere. Not to pick on Disney, but they’re such a fabulous product machine, it’s a good way to illustrate how these cultural shifts play out in the marketplace. By that I mean:

How will all this affect boys as they grow up? What other media messages are being sent about what it means to ‘be a man?’

Disney’s boys cologne for tots is a textbook case of trend-tracking to see how a need is ‘created,’ filled, and embedded to shift kids’ behavioral cues for profit.

It used to be, dabbing cologne was a ‘dating ritual’ right of passage, now tweens in middle school slap it on like after shave even though they don’t even have peach fuzz yet…

“Sup wit dat?”

Think about it. It didn’t happen in a vacuum. (nor did that pop culture phraseology!)

When Axe body spray aimed their ads at college-aged guys offering slithering ‘bomchickawawa women’ as the “reward” for wearing the stuff, it’s pretty easy to see how they gleaned the 12 and up crowd as a wannabe bonus.

As Brandweek noted, hormone charged preteen boys are “buying it like it’s going out of style.”

No question the Axe and Tag crew helped move the market of fragrance wearers into the middle school crowd, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Disney’s going after the playground set…

Axe and Tag’s success simply gave Disney a sniff of ‘opportunity.’

Disney’s character licensing enables them to skew the audience even lower into grade school with ease…Next thing you know, voila! 4-year old Casanovas on the grooming ritual scene.

One might counter, “no big whiff.”

After all, fragrances have been sold to boys in Europe, South America and Latin America for the last 15 years, as Disney licensee Air-Val International in Barcelona can attest. (they’re the biggest Disney partner in the world for perfumery products for children/teens)

Disney simply took note of the fact that young boys overseas use fragrances at a younger age, particularly in Latin communities, so they’re pushing the perfume to develop a similar need in the U.S. starting first with Hispanic communities. Marketing 101, right?

They already tested a boys “Cars” fragrance line last year with strong results, confirming the viability…And by holiday season, they’re hoping the revered abuelita (grandmas) will snap it up as a gift of choice for wee ones in the $10-$20 Longs, K-Mart, Target, Wal-Mart big box retail segment.

Now look deeper beyond the initial ‘ka-ching’ of whether it sells at the register…

See the bigger picture of the impact on boy culture…

Commentary on the Daddy Daze blog and other guy-talk hubs have had a field day wondering what a pirate might smell like, other than booze, dirty-greasy-sweaty stuff…They’ve conjectured about an aphrodisiac scent of “new car smell” for the Cars movie tie-in, and are clearly stumped by what Buzz Lightyear’s scent might be, or why their sons would ever want it in the first place…

But the scent of profit is no joke…

We are literally importing behavioral shifts for boys by “Packaging Boyhood” in this manner.

Brandweek notes that “sales of children’s cologne an gift sets to Hispanic consumers grew 7.3%” in the last year, so rather than roll out a widespread ad campaign, they’ll tiptoe in to tap the Spanish-language community to lead the trend of making fragrance a daily regimen for younger males.

See how it works? See what I’m getting at and why it matters?

The U.S. does this all the time by exporting behavioral cues into global pockets, encroaching on indigenous foods, farming, lifestyles, consumption patterns…This time it’s simply flipping in reverse.

Whether it’s importing or exporting cultural junk food, entertainment, or skin tone ideals, it changes the landscape for children on a global scale, particularly noteworthy on the body image and socialization front.

As it is, boys are exposed to a steady stream of steroid abusing sports heroes & buffed muscled videogame icons, and already 26% of male adolescents don’t like their bodies or have dysmorphia issues. (American Journal of Drug & Alcohol Abuse)

To me, that means boys are now joining the heavily bombarded media world of girls presented with buxom, thin-thonged bikini imagery, and toxic aspirational ideals.

Here’s a primer on boys’ body dysmorphia called, Unraveling the Adonis Complex, from the Psychiatric Times, and here’s a slough of eating disorder info from MenStuff on body image which marries the G.I. Joe buffed boy syndrome with the Barbie phenom.

Long term? One has to wonder…

How will this all this appearance-based stuff impact boys’ worldview? Or personal sense of self?

When “playground pimp” is a tiny tot tee, and children are sexualized at most any age with fashion flair, it’s a cultural imperative to WAKE UP to the concept of “trash in, trash out” media and marketing content.

Many of the tweens and teens I encounter SAY media and marketing has ‘very little affect’ on them…yet the minute I have a conversation it’s self-evident in multiple variations.

Hopefully books and blogs like Packaging Girlhood and Packaging Boyhood will continue to jolt both the purchasers and providers of media and marketing messaging into some form of awareness and ethical responsibility with the knowledge that we’re not just ‘filling’ market needs, we’re ‘creating’ them…

Clearly this offers equal opportunity foul-ups on the gender offender front, creating insecurities where they didn’t exist before…especially when marketers are dialing down to single-digit demographic age-groups.

Yes, “that’s advertising.” But never has it been so concentrated and laser-beamed toward innocents in formative years to mine kids’ childhoods for a buck. That’s worthy of plentiful research.

Will children become marketing immune and cynically alert? Numb to nuance and desensitized?

Will we produce a kid-culture of uber-savvy media literacy? Or will children get adept at skimming off top layers of scum only to find it’s seeped into the silt of their psyche deep down bubbling up unexpectedly.

I asked the Packaging Boyhood team about any particular vulnerabilities when it comes to boys and marketing…

Lyn Mikel Brown said, “An analysis of the media and marketing messages in boys’ worlds is especially important because boys are major consumers of certain kinds of media, proud of their facility with technology, and invested in believing they’re immune or above being affected by any of it in any deep way.”

I’m assuming she’s hinting at controversial sims in certain video games, digital media violence, or TV violence which studies have red flagged countless times as watch-worthy for aggressive behavioral outcomes, only to ultimately fall on the sword of free speech.

As the mom of a girl, I admit I often view boys’ productization from a fuzzy lens, so I’m anxious to see what the boys and parents of boys have to say! I tend to be circumspect of media and marketing crud in any form, with an observational mindset that admittedly jumps to parent mode…

“Hmn, if boys are digesting copious quantities of power and control cues in violent video games or digital pornification…How will this work when these boys knock on the door to date my daughter?”

Yep. If I had a son, I’d send him over to the Packaging Boyhood survey to encourage him to speak what’s on his mind.

It’s anonymous, so he’s got free rein…He might even want you to be privy to his thoughts, ideas, likes and dislikes in a wishlist capacity of favorite ‘stuff’ which may give you a window into this world. Never know. It’s worth a shot.

Besides, it’s a great opener for random dialogue on boys’ consumption, enticements, entitlements, sports icons, pop heroes and such, as boys learn to navigate smoothly through the sea of pop culture cues without running aground or being ransacked by ‘pirates’ of the corporate coffers on the playground…

Ahoy, mate! Is that Jack Sparrow cologne you’re wearing?

Details on Shaping Youth’s “Packaging Boyhood” Research Survey Offer:
For Boys Aged 3-18 (Or parents of the wee ones!)

If you’d like a FREE copy of Packaging Girlhood, I’ll gift the families of the first THREE boy responses to the “Life Through Boys’ Eyes” survey a copy. (just code “Shaping Youth” in the ‘how did you hear about us’ section titled “other”)

It’s our way of contributing to the vital research of our Advisory Board team, supporting the work they’re doing at Packaging Girlhood, and giving youth a voice to express the pros and cons of media and marketing influences in their day to day lives.



  1. Okay… maybe I just have a really good sense of humor today, but I think this is hilarious. Yes– weird we’re bursting that youth bubble a little early to make children aware of their own smell…

    But here’s my two cents (probably not as in depth as usual)

    1. Pirates?! I love pirates… but seriously? Aren’t the romantic version of old school pirates (not new school, heaven knows they probably smell like ammo & gasoline & sunblock) really, really, REALLY dirty? Like– “I’ve got scurvy & fleshy wounds & dirty clothing & smelly sweat” dirty? Like “I’ve been living on a ship without bathing with a hundreds of other men day in and day out working my rear off and killing people while a monkey & a parrot poop on my shoulder” dirty? I’m not quite sure something is matching up there.

    It reminds me a bit of the Princess Dora toy. Dora isn’t a princess… shes an adventurer. Why is she wearing that long dress? It’s going to get caught in her treasure hunting extremes! And that pointy hat isn’t doing her any hunting favors either. And isn’t Dora great because she’s an independent chick who isn’t falling into that girly-girly princess stereotype? Oh wait. Money making, not content continuation. Silly me.

    2. As a veteran camp counselor who knows what “grubby child” smells like after a hot, hot day in the sand by a lake’s beach… and don’t even get me started on those darling 11 year olds starting sweaty puberty– this is actually a bit of a bless in disguise. Why? Because after a long day at camp with the rockstar tater tots, you sit in your car to drive home, and you become suddenly aware of this… smell. GRUBBY CHILD HAS STRUCK AGAIN! You may smell your own deodorant, or even your own perfume… but your clothes have a pungent odor due to all the campers hanging on you throughout the day (and they do hang– counselors, no matter how hard they try to keep the kids off, become human jungle gyms).

    Kids are quite active and accumulate all sorts of aromas… for those around the early tweens & their developing sweat glands, a little extra cologne help isn’t so bad…

    I know, I know… shame on me for having thought of such a thing! But seriously… it’s just another viewpoint. 🙂

  2. No shame, no blame…I LOVE other viewpoints.

    AND…If ANYone could convince me this wasn’t yet another ‘uh-oh’ moment, it would be you, dear Izzy, with your clever wit, unabashed candor, and clear-headed thinking.

    I’m VERY appreciative of your humorous insights, in fact. BUT (there’s always a but…) I still believe ‘at best’ this is yet another ‘kids as commodity’ marketing play and ‘at worst’ it’s a toxic behavioral cue that you need to ‘look/act/smell’ a certain way in our appearance-based society.

    Both your “points one and two” are well taken…but I’m gonna stick with #1 based on my premise above. heehe 😉

    Dying to hear about the Tween MashUp in NYC, so please “report” when you can, ok? This may be ‘the tip of the iceberg’…Promise I’ll try to see all sides, so help me out here to keep the ship from listing…

    Appreciatively as always, A.

  3. Ah, now HERE is a VERY compelling reason to ditch the silliness, this article from GlobeMail/Canada titled, “The battle against body odor stinks for the planet” makes a strong case for why constant and needless marketing to create insecurities and product demand is harming both kids and the planet as a whole. Check this out:

    One of our loyal readers sent this in to me…(still don’t know why you guys don’t post directly, PLEASE don’t be shy!)
    Here’s the source: Sources: The Environmental Investigation Agency, Journal of Applied Toxicology, Health Canada, National Research Center for Women & Families, September 28, 2007 © Copyright 2007 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc.

    And here’s the content (or a teaser of same…)

    “We absorb just under five pounds of chemicals through our skin each year in the form of creams, lotions, sprays, deodorants and antiperspirants. And though the alleged link between aluminum-containing antiperspirants and
    Alzheimer’s has long been in the public consciousness, many of the so-called “natural” (supposedly chemical-free) deodorants are startlingly far from non-toxic. Terra Naturals’ Zemea, a corn-based aluminum and petroleum-free deodorant launched this week, begs the question: Is it possible to obliterate body odour and be good to the planet?

    50% of natural deodorants contain petroleum-based propylene glycol – also known as antifreeze in 100-per-cent concentrations. It is extremely toxic to aquatic life.

    57% of U.S. streams surveyed contained triclosan, an antibacterial found in deodorants and soaps, which washes down the drains and into waterways when we shower. This has scientists worried because of triclosan’s ability to kill the “good” bacteria that fight germs, resulting in concerns over rising antibacterial resistance.”


    And so on, and so on…Read the rest of the article by HEIDI SOPINKA, it’s interesting. To me, what we keep failing to see in the plethora of ‘must-haves’ created by ‘how to make a buck off of kids’ consumptionism is the trickle down impact on the excess packaging of productization, planetary/habitat impact, etc. etc.

    Again…I’m not saying live in a hammock and go austere like a monk, I’m just saying let’s be reasonable folks, and get a grip on ‘the big picture’ long term rather than the short-sighted profiteering at all costs…(behavioral, environmental, socioemotional, etc.) It’s the interplay of CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS once again…

    That’s my two cents…now, Izzy? Ball’s lobbed back into your court, m’dear…heehe. Tag, you’re it.–Amy

  4. From a conceptual, thoroughly thought impression… I agree with you. There is far too much responsibility & pressure within schools about beauty, hygiene, etc– and then to add the world’s two cents (here, kid, buy this cologne, all the kids at school think you stink). Yeah. Intense. And I love what you brought up about environment– it was an angle I hadn’t considered.

    However, in my opinion, just to have it available for the boys who don’t want to smell like their dad or grandpa (ooo Old Spice)… it’s not so bad. There was this kid in Junior High dubbed “Meatball” because his stench was that of a pubescent sweaty boy. It was sad, and to this day I hope he’s not overly scarred. However, had he known there may have been something created FOR him, for kids LIKE him… I dunno. A product created so that he knows he isn’t alone and won’t feel so weird going to school smelling like his Uncle Bobby before a date.

    I mean, there are certain elements of tweenhood where you think you’re alone– no one is as ‘messed up’ or ‘unlucky’ as you– at least in your mind & insecurities. Look how hard girls go to cover up the fact they’re indeed having their period… or trying to pretend like they’ve HAD their period even though it hasn’t come yet. It’s like this battle between needing to be an adult, not wanting to be an adult, wanting to be a kid, but not wanting to be a kid. You’re stuck always guessing “am I?” “aren’t I?” etc.

    Although I HEARTLY disagree with a heavy-handed message about boys buying cologne, and I definitely don’t want to encourage anyone into buying products that destroy our precious earth (both VERY VERY valid points)…

    I also believe making it available for personal choice isn’t so bad. Really– my decision on it isn’t exactly made yet. I haven’t seen anything on TV yet, and I’ve not come into a marketing scheme for it. So if I happened to see it on a shelf at Target, I can’t really dispute it yet. All I can think of is poor Meatball and the possibility that he may have been able to buy a product for boys based on the idea of helping his pre/post pubescent smell…

    So, I guess that’s my lazy answer. Hahahaha. It’s one of those ‘time will tell’ kinda things. I think you’re completely right, but I also see who the product could have benefited (even though its probably a small percentage of the population its meant for).

    We’ll have to pow-wow soon to go over this past weekend! It was great. As usual, Anastasia is a rockstar 😉

  5. Yes, she is! I’m dying to hear!!! Do tell!

    Thanks for the ping…On the perfume front, in the big scheme of things, my thought is essentially an ‘eh’ shrug priority wise, as it seems to me there’s a WHOLE lot more media/mktg. stuff to land an eyebrow raise than some b.o. —That said, I’m here to ‘track the trends’ and ‘report ’em as I see ’em, so to me the much bigger issue is needless consumption and body image stuff overall…

    This is a teeny weeny gnat swat in the branded marketing channel of free enterprise…

  6. Ok, so I am new to this blog. Believe it or not, I found this blog while doing a search for a boy’s cologne for my son to wear to church on Sundays. He sees his dad putting on cologne and he wants to be like his dad. We actually had bought him Versace’s Baby Blue Jeans, which is a version of the Blue Jeans cologne, but is geared toward younger people. If memory serves, Versace has a version of a cologne that they have done for younger girls also. He has had this cologne for quite some time and, to be honest, he is almost “outgrowing” the smell (it is almost too babyish).

    So, then, Disney is not necessarily doing anything new. I know for a fact that Versace has had this cologne for children for at least 10 years (that’s how old my son is and that is when we started looking at this fragrance for him, but did not buy it until a year ago).

    As a society, we give our children “grown up toys”. I wonder how many people who object to children having cologne have bought their children cell phones, IPODS, etc., their own personal computers, etc. It could be argued that those things would suggest more “maturity” than cologne.

    As for the “stench” aspect, if we as a society do not object to Sponge Bob farting or the numerous poop jokes, etc. (“My Gym Partner is a Monkey” and “Ed, Edd and Eddy” come to mind), then marketing cologne using the “stench” factor should come as no surprise to us.

    Just a thought!

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