Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Crafting another generation of consumers

Thanks to Highlights for Children I’ve finally gotten the perfect opportunity to explain marketing to Buttercup.

See, yesterday, we got the latest round of marketing from them. This particular one is for a series of pubs about the fifty states. Before I even had a chance to intercept the thing, Buttercup had it in her hands, pulling the plastic off. There was a poster showing parts of the series. There was a sheet of stickers for the states — stickers being prime swag for the kid-set. There was a card assuring me about the fun and educational value of the series, and assuring me that I was under no obligation to buy anything. And last but far from least, there was the sweepstakes game.

The sweepstakes game is, of course, the prime driver here. There are six scratch-off spots. Scratch them off and find out if you’ve gotten: (a) the free book with one star, (b) the free bag with two stars, or (c) the free book and bag with three stars. As Buttercup started in on it, I grumbled that she would find three stars, of course. Why, she asked, and with a sigh, I told her that this is what marketing people do — we make the audience think they’ve gotten something special, even when everyone else who got the package also got three stars.

She didn’t care. She scratched them off and applied the three stars to the reply card, absolutely pleased that she’d gotten them. And of course she wanted to know whether we could send them in for the book and the bag.

I tried to explain how the process works, that we would send it in and pretty soon have things arrive that we would be expected to buy. She mentioned that we had gotten them last year, and I realized we were on the slippery slope again. Parental guilt was about to set in — if we got them, she might learn and that would be a good thing, but was the (small) added expense worth it — but it was bed time so I hoped it would pass.

No luck. I found her filling out the response card in the morning with her name and age. (Who knew that the words “Print Name” vs. “Signature” were a learning tool?) Her next question, though, was a good one for the lesson I wanted to teach. “Why are your name and our address already on here,” she asked. “Because they know we might buy it, so they’re selling it directly to us, sweetie. And making it really easy to send back to them.”

“Oh,” she said. “So can we still get it?”

I sighed, asked her to put it away for now, and eat her breakfast. Will guilt push me over into sending the card in? Probably. Do I feel like I got sucker-punched by classic, tried-and-true direct marketing techniques? Absolutely.