A fish out of water. . . that’s exactly what I felt like six years ago when I joined a group of about 300 highly-energized and motivated young adults (most of them twenty-something) who had gathered for a few days in central Florida to learn and share their secrets regarding how to sell anything and everything to kids, aged 2 to 12. These were some of the most creative folks I had ever met. They knew the culture, were constantly living on their toes, and were doing anything and everything to get into the pocketbooks of kids and their parents with a single-minded commitment to pursuing that end and justifying any means on the road to get there. My deepest suspicions were confirmed, and it was very depressing. I liken the experience to having watched a marionnette show, when suddenly, the top curtain fell, revealing the people who were doing all the pulling and manipulating on the puppets’ strings.
The competition for the hearts, minds, money, and life-long allegiance of the youngest of our young hasn’t subsided. In fact, it continues to snowball in its intensity and reach. The other day I ran across a great little article from the Orlando Sentinel’s Sandra Pedicini, “Teen clothiers targeting pre-teen market.” She writes, “Clothing stores aimed at teenagers and twentysomethings are expanding their reach, trying to hook customers barely out of kindergarten with their own teen lines.” With age aspiration and age compression leading pre-schoolers to want to be seen, perceived, and treated like they’re in elementary school – and elementary-aged kids wanting to be at middle-school age, it’s a logical strategy. Add to that the $13.4 billion spent annually on teen clothing, and it makes even more sense. For example, there’s Aeropostale and their P.S. store for kids ages 7 to 12. Visit the P.S. website and you’ll see three happy and fulfilled young Aeropostale billboards. Visit Forever 21’s homepage for their HTG81 brand for children 6 to 14, and you see happy kids sporting the brand.
Marketing works. It’s worked for years. Today’s marketing experts are bearing the fruit of the successful efforts of past generations of product evangelists. It’s ingrained in the very fabric of who we are. Pedicini quotes branding-strategist Eli Portnoy: “Little kids are so status-conscious about clothing now, more than ever. It was a natural evolution for young college, teenage brands – Why not go after them younger and get them hooked into your brands?”
Contemporary Christians may pride themselves on the fact that there are no literal golden calves sitting in our midst. But the subtle draw of idolatry weaves itself in and through us without us ever knowing it. . . and we might not see it until we catch ourselves leafing longingly through the piles and piles of consumer catalogs that fill our mailboxes, feeling good when we’re going to or at the mall, or when we allow our young to wear t-shirts emblazoned with “SHOPPING RULES!” or “BORN TO SHOP.”
C.S. Lewis got it right when he wrote, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” That’s where we need to live. It’s where we must spend everything we have and everything we are.