Shaping Youth Through Consumerism: The Hard Sell to Kids

hardsell2.jpgBuy, Buy, Baby. CBSNews is doing a four-part series called Gotta Have It: The Hard Sell to Kids all about womb to tomb marketing, with kids being targeted in a scope we’ve never seen before.

In this video clip, investigative journalist and Buy, Buy, Baby author Susan Gregory Thomas talks about the $20 billion being spent on the 0-3 “baby genius” products being bogus. (er, “scientifically unfounded”)

She amusingly talks about attachment issues, and how Gen X parents have turned a “shower or a grilled cheese sandwich into a high stakes proposition” as if the little tyke might be abandoned or deprived of “appropriate stimulation.”

Mind you, Harvard psychiatrist and author of Consuming Kids, Dr. Susan Linn, has been exposing baby media as an unmitigated sham for years, relentlessly championing the merits of free play and unbridled creativity over pre-programmed toy responses and plopping junior in front of swirling pretty musical mesmerization. (This new Canadian Press article says it could even harm brain development)

Susan Linn just pinged me back from my congratulatory e-mail on HER television appearance on the CBS show, where she nailed the Shrek hypocrisy, and pushed the “parents as purchasers” pitch right back into their laps, saying it’s “unfair and naïve” to expect outgunned parents to shield kids from this level of marketing firepower, embedded messaging, advergaming, and subversive guerilla warfare.

Apologies for all the violent verbiage, but I really DO feel it’s a war for the hearts and minds of our children, and we’re all in the blast zone. Look no further than this CBS video of the GIA slumber party of squealing 8-year old “alpha influencers” wielding their power of supreme judge and jury.

Egad, that’s gotta be a heady experience to be ‘selected’ as an “in the know” Secret Agent tween…what kid wouldn’t want to get a bunch of free products and have their opinion count?! But look at the more profound messages on the slumber party circuit…

Juliet Schor, author of Born to Buy said, “The host girl is being taught that her friends are an exploitable resource…she needs to get those friends over there, get that information out of them.”

And I’ll even go one further and up the ante there…When Capitol Records launched pop-star Skye Sweetnam, 7,000 girls at 500 slumber parties reshaped her look, video, website, and “the look and feel she should have when she’s performing and when she’s in the media.”

They sent a message about as FAR AWAY from authenticity and ‘be yourself’ individualism to those tweens as possible.

They literally CREATED this pop-vocalist like lab-coated Frankentweens. That’s just…icky.

Then there’s the whole other angle that no one seems to notice except those of us in the media business…Does anyone SEE that ad agencies asking for “user-generated content” are getting people to do their work for free?

Does anyone NOTICE these kids are being “pimped” for product sales and getting “paid” peanuts?

Marketing research like this costs MEGAbucks!

And yet…these children are EAGER to be ‘first on the block and in the know’ meaning they’re being paid in emotional ya-yas, coolness caché, and tchotchkes for their valuable field analysis…That’s nothing short of a child labor scam if you ask me.

The stats may vary but the bucks are in the billions:

8 to 12-year-olds spend $30 billion of their own money each year and influence another $150 billion of their parents’ spending…The Great Tween Buying Machine authors put it around $50 billion a year, and the CBS interview quotes the GIA exec in generalist terms as “a $300 billion market…so you’d better take them seriously.”

Billions, schmillions, gazillions, here’s what I’M taking seriously…Kids are being hammered with vapid values. Which ones? Take your pick:

“It’s not about who you are but what you have”
“Sell out your friends for a buck”
“Don’t be who you are, alter yourself to what’s “hot”
“Don’t trust your peers, because they’re probably on the take”

Need I go on? Second part’s tonight if you want to catch it. Or read it here later.
Stay tuned…



  1. I was appalled by my visit to the Georgia Aquarium this weekend, where corporate logos have taken over. my trip to the Corporaquarium here (and if that link doesn’t work, hit the website link).

    What can we do? Most people don’t even think about this stuff.

  2. They don’t, but they SHOULD…sigh. Loved your article, though as I’m sure you know, the reality is, many venerable institutions, particularly in the public venue arena (arts and sciences cutbacks, museums scraping by, etc.) necessitate corporate commercialism for sustainability…

    That’s why, as much as I like CCFC (Campaign for a Commerical Free Childhood as a pragmatist, I know that many of the services and facilities we support for our kids would be lost without sponsorship.

    Media literacy and common sense can go a long way with minimizing the offensiveness of some of the pairings, but I think corporate logos have and WILL be funders for sustainability forevermore.

    At Shaping Youth, we try to shine the light on some of the more heinous ‘disconnects’ (um, like beer sponsors in kiddie amusement parks) but I know the corporate social responsibility trend is actually picking up and helping to fuel some (many) of the nonprofits as well…(when I attended the Craigs List Nonprofit Bootcamp, this was self-evident)

    Ping me when you find ones that jar your senses, particularly…I like to keep on top of this stuff. (Oh, and the fish named Deepo you mentioned on your blog? sheesh… now that’s a stretch 😉

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