Sunday, August 19, 2012

# 7 The Price of Admission

It’s early August and I’m bombarded with reminders that a scheduled return to the
classroom is approaching. The days are getting shorter, nights are a little cooler, and the sortie of
advertisements for back to school products is unavoidable. A new school year is a time to rejoice
for many parents and great anticipation for most kids, but it comes with hefty price tag.

    Back to school marketers are like a secret branch of the military who specialize in
psychological warfare. There is a reason large retailers proudly announce they are embarking on
a marketing ‘campaign’. They spend a lot time and money to learn more about us than we know
about them.  They can predict which car we will buy, our sleep and eating habits, our spiritual
persuasion, and what we want most in life.  All this to extract money from our pockets with military
precision.

   Marketers understand that most parents and their kids want social status, and one of the best
ways to achieve this position is through the appearance of  material wealth. They are masters at
converting ‘I want’ a cell phone and data plan into ‘I need’ them. So, when many parents hear the
cry ‘Everyone has these shoes!’ or the emphatic, ‘I must have those jeans!’ They can thank
a platoon of strategists behind another successful marketing campaign.

   It is a very simple objective, prey on the desire to achieve social status through the appearance
of wealth, combine a little parental guilt, and the money is theirs. They might as well say,
“Mom, dad, if your child doesn’t  have that cell phone, she will be left out of the group,  have no
friends........and it’s your fault!’ They’ve used advertising to conditioned most of us to identify with
product labels. Parents feel guilty and the credit card comes out, who cares about the bill, it’s for the
children after all.

   Local back to school charities have learned how to play on the same emotions too. Over the past
few decades their expectations have become ambitious. You can tell by the confidence with
which they make their requests. These community charities have gone from asking for ‘used’ to
‘gently used’ to we only accept ‘new’. Some will even ask that you just make a donation of a
specified amount.

   So, what becomes of a lot of school supplies after they leave the house and before the bills
arrive? I’ll give you a hint, kids don’t lose things that are important to them. For example, very
few lose their Blackberry or I-pod, but they will lose a binder, lunch bag, pencils, calculators or a
pair of sweat pants.  Items which are less important to expressing social position are more likely
to get lost. We regularly find discarded clothes, lunch bags, shoes, calculators around the
school, but rarely cell phones or other status symbols.  I have had kids leave a jacket in my
classroom for over a week, but if they forget a cell phone, it is retrieved in a minute or two.

  Adolescents mature quickly, both intellectually and physically, so they need new clothes and
school supplies every year. However, marketers know this reality and have a tendency to take
advantage of the emotional component involved in the purchase. The best we can all do as
consumers is understand the difference between the ‘wants’ and the ‘needs’ when buying
products. The quest for trendy labeled products is widespread in our culture and we can get
blinded by the hype. For many parents it is a battle to balance their child’s needs with their own
budget.  Realize that a marketer's goal is your money in their pocket and if it means you suffer a
guilty heart and an swollen credit card bill, so be it. Sometimes the biggest battles are fought
between saying yes and saying no.