Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Power of Marketing to Kids

I know that the holidays are a big deal when you're a kid. But I'm also an advocate of parents knowing where to draw the line when it comes to gifts. (Easy for me to say; I'm not a parent!)

Yet, every child wants something special -- maybe a pricey bicycle, an expensive musical instrument, or a hard-to-find toy. So every parent who can afford to, and many who can't, do their very best to accommodate their children's wishes. In holidays long past, parents might buy the item second-hand and that often was just as satisfying as one that was brand new.

Today, techno-toys (anything from computers to fancy phones to game machines) seem to top the list for a lot of kids. Because technology changes so rapidly, second-hand goods in this category are usually going to be outdated and not an adequate substitute. Also because of the rapid changes, many new technology-based gifts will require expensive upgrades, usually more quickly than parents expect. You can also bet that they'll get discarded more quickly than parents expect, too, when the next new toy comes along.

So I was interested to read a blog post by my favorite marketing guru, Seth Godin, called "When Marketing Goes Nuclear" and watch the associated video showing the reactions of various kids, each opening a gift that turns out to be a Nintendo Wii. According to Seth, the video shows what happens when "scarcity plus Christmas plus social pressure plus greed plus kids = critical mass." He found the video disturbing; I'm on the fence about it. I would hope that some kids would be equally excited to find a less expensive gift that they also wanted, but maybe that's no longer realistic thinking.

When did marketing to kids take over to the point that "every" kid wants the same thing, and wants it desperately? Does it go all the way back to Tickle Me Elmo? Cabbage Patch Kids? Shirley Temple dolls? When did a techno-toy become the most important thing to have? Are girls and boys equally excited about them? At what age does the techno-toy desire kick in?

I've got a million more questions.

What do you think of the video?

© 2009 Cynthia Friedlob


Jeri Dansky said...

I also saw this on Seth's blog, and wondered if you'd be writing about it!

I found the video boring. After watching three kids go crazy as they opened the box and found the Wii, I really wasn't interested in watching 47 more. I forwarded to the specific part Seth mentioned, watched that one more, and then went on to other things.

I guess the other adjective I'd apply would be "unsettling." There was something over-the-top about the childrens' reactions.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

I agree that they were exceptionally demonstrative kids. It was particularly difficult to watch the one little boy's hysteria quickly turn to tears.

"Unsettling" is a good way to describe the video.

Makes me wonder what Christmas was like for the kids who expected to get a Wii but didn't. Tears and tantrums? I don't think I'd want to watch that video!