Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Marketing 101 - Selling Crap to Babies

I've previously written my thoughts on Baby Einstein and other products marketed to small children. For those of you who don't pay attention to the small children market, these are products that basically promise to make your kids smarter. They're incredibly popular, and have only grown in popularity with time. today interviews Susan Gregory Thomas, the author of Buy, Baby, Buy. She sums up the value of the Baby Einstein products here:

If you look at the marketing rubric of, for example, Baby Einstein, what they talk about is enhancing a baby's natural curiosity. But what's so fascinating about it is that there is absolutely no research that undergirds those statements. There just isn't any. It's all marketing.
So these products are worthless. No evidence that they do what they're marketed to do. Well, that's not the first time (after all, when was the last time that a Coors Light actually got you lucky). But it's actually worse than that. They're marketing a product that not only doesn't help, but actually harms infants. Infants and toddlers shouldn't be placed in front of a television. She explains using a more child-friendly program, Sesame Street:
It's complicated for an infant or toddler to process television. When they are put in front of the television, the only thing they seem to be getting out of it in a verifiable way is character recognition. That's why you see babies and toddlers so thrilled when they're at the supermarket and they recognize Elmo. But still, it wears what the marketing industry calls an "educational patina."

The problem is that the great social values that Elmo and the characters on "Sesame Street" teach are lost on children under the age of 3. They get solely a flat, one-dimensional character recognition. And the only other times that children are going to encounter the character are when a company is trying to sell the kid something. You don't see Elmo running around your park. You see Elmo when he's in diapers, when he's on juice boxes, when he's on Band-Aids and when he's on toothbrushes.
So really, in addition to not learning anything from these "educational" shows, your average toddler is becoming a brand recognition machine. So what do you do about it? Keep your child away from the TV until they're old enough (4 or 5). And then, teach them what they're seeing on TV:
My daughter -- at age 3 -- came home from school talking about how certain girls at school weren't allowed to play something called the Princess Game unless they had come to school wearing a dress with the colors of a particular Disney princess. It was shocking to me that Disney had penetrated at that level. We hadn't shown her any of the Disney movies.

I said, "OK, if this is what's going on in school we'll get into it." We just did our own study of Cinderella. We went to the bookstore and the library, and it turned out that almost every culture in the world has its own Cinderella story. So we got out "Cendrillon," which was a Caribbean Cinderella story, and "Adelita," which was Mexican, and a Chinese one. Then we got the Disney Cinderella book, then we got the traditional Brothers Grimm. Then we started asking her, How come we don't see Cendrillon on Band-Aids? How come Adelita isn't on any toothbrushes? Then when we went to the grocery store, I'd ask, "Why would they put SpongeBob on that macaroni and cheese? Does SpongeBob have anything to do with that?" We began to talk about how characters are used to try to sell stuff.


1 comment:

Dustin said...

My grandfather, a psychologist, was talking to me a while ago about a study he'd seen which supported the idea that children are having increasing difficulty in being able to express or even think about objects in moderation. They simply lack the language needed to address things which come in a spectrum, rather than black and white. Things are, according to some of these studies, seen in either black or white -- extremely good or extremely bad.

He thinks that the advertising methods combined with the extreme exposure that children are given to the advertisements has more than a little to do with that.