Buy Buy Baby : The Mass Seduction Of Our Youngest Consumers, And How It’s Changing The American Family
by Susan Gregory Thomas
I reluctantly picked up this book after a week away on holidays. It was due back at the library a few days later with no option to renew it so I ploughed ahead even though I expected it to depress me.
And it did. I had to remember the old adage that knowledge is power. It is better to know about unpleasant forces around you, because whether you are aware of them or not, you are still influenced by them, including the ability of advertising and materialism to make you depressed, anxious, and overly competitive.
In fact these are some of the findings that investigative journalist Thomas discovered in the course of interviewing marketers, toy producers, psychologists, educators, and child and family welfare professionals for her book. Namely that intensive marketing to younger and younger children is resulting in their being afflicted with what were previously considered adult ailments. And along with this, our children’s cognitive and social development is at risk.
But it seems the temptation (and income earning capacity) to exploit children is too great to overcome much conscience on the part of most toy advertising executives.
Toy manufacturers and their marketing cohorts are pushing parents into believing that unstructured play and baby-directed activity is not enough for today’s infants and that every free moment must be a learning opportunity. Despite there being no evidence that babies learn anything from these products and the suspicious fact that so-called educational research is funded by toy companies, these products are gaining in popularity amongst North American parents. One child’s toy marketer who spoke to Thomas on condition of anonymity said that a “marketer who can establish educational credentials can get away with anything” p. 3.
And it seems that the temptation to move into media manipulation of younger and younger audiences is greater than any conscientiousness on the part of marketers. Something called KGOY—kids getting older younger—is the result of this down-aging of the marketing machinery whereby younger children are watching more television and videos, and identifying with more “licensed character” products as a result. It’s another indication of our society, manic with consumerism and materialism.
Thomas cites the meteoric rise of the Baby Einstein series of DVDs that claims to introduce the world to infants and toddlers. The company says that their products contain “developmentally appropriate content that parents/caregivers know they can trust to use with their little ones, and providing them with superior products they can feel good about using with their children“(http://www.babyeinstein.com/en/our_story/about_us/).
Far be it from parents to be able to give children what they need – including the personal connection with a real live caring human being that really gets their synapses firing. Baby Einstein products not only don`t give children what they need, but they also steal from parents a feeling that they are capable and most important for an infant to develop healthy social relationships. But of course, no one is making money on authentic parent-child interactions and that’s what motivates marketers to discredit what parents have known for years.
Even in the face of a peer-reviewed scientific journal, the Journal of Paediatrics that questions Baby Einstein’s ability to develop cognitive abilities and may even delay them, the Disney Corporation balks, calling the research clumsy and inaccurate as a way to deflect criticism and maintain their influence on parents and their hard-earned cash (Journal of Paediatrics Vol 151, Issue 4, October 2007, pp. 364-8).
There was not much new in this book for me, despite its well written and well organized array of interesting research, but I have long been interested in marketing and consumer issues.
What did surprise me was the last chapter wherein Thomas gives her very personal and insightful explanation for how we let our children become the object of marketing madness. Speaking from the position of a Gen X-er she says that her generation’s insecurities and consumption patterns made parents vulnerable to the forces of marketing that made them want to give their children ‘everything’. Thomas says that as a child of the 70s, dealing with divorced parents and television-filled free time, she was the first generation to be raised on the highly manipulative marketing that has only become more seductive over time. She says it’s ironic that Gen X-ers think, erroneously, that they are the most free generation, yet she now thinks their obsession with image and nsecurities about almost every aspect of their lives springs from the media onslaught she experienced as a youth.