Don't Conform, Transform
In my post Targeting Childhood: Children as Consumers I talk about how much money is spent annually by companies to promote their products to children ($17 billion) and the reasons why it’s problematic for marketers to target young children. One of the many reasons is that children up until the age of 8 years can’t even distinguish advertisements from entertainment. But what about teens and tweens, who the Kind Campaign is targeting with their message? Isn’t it okay to combine a marketable product like Monster High with their message?
In my post US Schools: Marketing Havens, I talk about the surprising way that marketers have crept into the once safe school halls. Schools are usually places where we imagine that children will be safe from the aggressive marketing of products. However, in the past ten years, schools have been integrated into the marketing plans of advertisers.
In the 2007 Report on Schoolhouse Commercializing Trends, advertising firms that target youth are quoted as labeling schools as a good place to “reach” children because of the “highly targeted and uncluttered environment.” Uncluttered? The only reason that schools are relatively “uncluttered” right now is because targeted marketing within them has only recently begun to grow. The school child is also, in some ways, a captive audience. They have to be at school, they don’t have a parent standing next to them to turn off the TV or help them process the message that they’re getting from marketers.
This is a huge problem because what is taught and presented at school have traditionally been things that our culture considers important truths (such as how to read or do math) or right (such as appropriate social behaviors).
The mixing in of product promotion confuses the message for children. Is it “right” then, to play with a certain brand of toy? Is this company “good” because they are connected with this positive campaign? When children are coming into contact with product promotions within an environment of learning, the message is being absorbed that these products are not only acceptable, but also good and important parts of life, just like reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Another thing to consider is that the Monster High characters are very sexualized in appearance. From their heavily made-up faces to their sky-high heels, the clothes that these characters wear would not be allowed in most schools. This connection between “trusted” brands presented within the school setting and sexualization is problematic. If a child is being convinced from a brand’s link with positive programming within the school setting that a certain company is healthy and good and has developed brand loyalty, then they see sexualized dress on the characters, they are more likely to discount the negative message that the sexualization of that character is sending.
We all need to be on guard against this invasion of our schools by marketers. If Mattel wants to provide funding to promote the Kind Campaign without moving their products into the schools, then by all means, give them funding! The Kind Campaign shares a valuable and worthy message. But moving products into the school setting is a big problem. Schools should not be marketing havens; they should be places of learning.
UPDATE: In a video interview with Jess Weiner, Molly and Lauren, the founders of the Kind Campaign said that Monster High characters will not be coming into the schools under the umbrella of the Kind Campaign. I’m very happy to hear that, as noted in the discussion above, marketing does not belong in the school setting. Great messages like that of the Kind Campaign do!