Monday, March 15, 2010

Barney to Miley: Why Marketing is Scary

Walmart has a new line of clothing splashed with the name of Miley Cyrus. The line appeals to my 6th grader, even though she is thoroughly sick of Hannah Montana.

She used to love Hannah when the show first came on the air. She faithfully watched the Disney show, and we bought her a Disney marketed nightgown and lunch box. But the madness didn't stop there. Soon there were Barbie type dolls with Hannah's face, board games, clothing, accessories, shoes. Everything was Hannah Montana. Even my daughter was sick of it. They had marketed Miley to death.

The Hannah situation is nothing new. I started to catch on to this ploy early in Sabrina's life. I think the first was Elmo.

Sabrina watched Sesame Street when she was just a baby. I thought it was cute that they made a little plastic bowl with Elmo's face on it. Then I bought her an Elmo nightgown. We found a fuzzy red chair with Elmo on it. Soon, my toddler who couldn't even walk through a store could spot Elmo toothpaste from eight aisles away.

"I want that!" she'd cry, her little face lighting up with joy. "Elmo!"

Of course, I bought her the toothpaste. Little did I realize the problem I was buying in to. I've realized now that it never ends.

The parade of characters that have sold me stuff are endless: Elmo, Barney, Blue's Clues, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Pokemon, even Harry Potter.

When we went to Japan, I was excited to get my daughter away into a different culture. We would be far away from Barney toothpaste and Hannah nightgowns, right? Wrong. Actually, Japan seems to have amped up the marketing craze that we live within in the United States.

My daughter was in her Pokemon stage at the time. I was trying to hold her down from spending too many precious dollars on collector cards and Nintendo games, when our plane landed in Tokyo and then in Okinawa. Even on this remote island in Japan, Pokemon was literally everywhere. The little yellow pocket monster appeared on ramen noodles, soy sauce, packs of dried fish, gum, even on the front of a local nursery school.

"You like me?!" Pikachu practically squealed. "You'll love my stuff!"

Maybe it is a part of being a kid today that our love for childhood characters is linked to products like cereal and toothpaste. But it's kind of a shame.

It seems to take away the magic and imaginary play of characters like Winnie the Pooh and Anne of Greene Gables when you slap their beaming image on a polyester nightgown.

It makes it seem like a popularity contest - the character with the most stuff wins. It encourages buying and accumulating and materialism - all of the nasty habits that we, as adults, try NOT to pass on to our kids. And it starts so young!

I don't really know a way around it. Maybe if we could ban our children from stores until they reach the age of 13? Or maybe it's just a matter of trying to keep our own indulgence of their desires under control. We live in a buying, purchasing, marketing world. It is easy to get absorbed into it, and to teach the habit to our kids.

Tough time to be a parent...
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