Marketing targeted at kids is virtually everywhere -- in classrooms and textbooks, on the Internet, even at Girl Scout meetings, slumber parties, and the playground. Product placement and other innovations have introduced more subtle advertising to movies and television. Drawing on her own survey research and unprecedented access to the advertising industry, Juliet B. Schor, New York Times bestselling author of The Overworked American, examines how marketing efforts of vast size, scope, and effectiveness have created "commercialized children." Ads and their messages about sex, drugs, and food affect not just what children want to buy, but who they think they are. In this groundbreaking and crucial book, Schor looks at the consequences of the commercialization of childhood and provides guidelines for parents and teachers. What is at stake is the emotional and social well-being of our children. Like Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia, and Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, Born to Buy is a major contribution to our understanding of a contemporary trend and its effects on the culture.
READING GROUP GUIDE Born to Buy Discussion Points 1. Schor describes a marketing juggernaut of unprecedented size, scope, and sophistication. Why has marketing to children become so much more pervasive and extensive than in the past? What are the major strategies marketers are using in their communications with children? 2. How do you think children are affected by "tweening" (p. 56)? Do you think that children today are maturing at an earlier age? If so, why do you think that is? 3. Schor points out that advertisers have incredible influence over children's views. They are able to promote ideas, like "antiadultism," and manipulate points of view, such as what kids consider "cool." How did forces outside the family become so influential? How can parents regain their central role in educating and advising their children? 4. What do you think about the use of children in developing and marketing potential products? The author discusses some of the unaddressed ethical aspects of using children in this way, but marketers defend their actions, saying they are just trying to make products that kids will like. What about schools' participating in marketing plans? Do you think schools should be marketing-free zones? 5. On page 21, the author describes one marketing company's pitch in which children were represented as wild animals and the advertising companies as the British colonial hunter. Discuss this analogy. 6. Discuss the consumer involvement of children today. Juliet Schor states that children have taken on an increasingly active role in consumer decisions (p. 23). Why do you think that is? Do you think that this consumer involvement is detrimental or beneficial? 7. Discuss the relationship between children with behavioral problems and their participation in the consumer culture. What do Schor's survey results mean? 8. Discuss the similarities and differences in consumer habits among different demographics (economic, ethnic, urban/suburban, and others)? Do you believe any particular race or class is more vulnerable to certain marketing tactics? Why or why not? 9. Schor argues that cultural ideas about childhood have changed in the past 200 years. How do you understand that change? What does childhood mean to you? Do you think our society should go back to more traditional ideas of childhood? 10. Who do you believe should be held responsible for monitoring the impact of marketing to children? Do you agree with the advertisers that parents can just shut off the TV or simply say no in order to prevent advertisers from reaching their kids? Why or why not? What kinds of challenges do parents face? 11. In the late 1970s, the Federal Trade Commission was on the verge of enacting strict regulations on marketing to children, but the intervention of Congress prevented it from acting. Do you think it's time for the federal government to regulate ads to children? If so, what should it do? 12. Discuss different ways parents and teachers can help protect children from the growing consumer culture. After reading Born to Buy, do you feel a need to get more active on these issues, or do you feel that the commercialization of childhood is inevitable?
Juliet B. Schor is the award-winning author of The Overworked American and The Overspent American. A recognized expert on consumerism, economics, and family studies, she teaches at Boston College and lives in Newton, Massachusetts.
"Born to Buy is so grounded in appalling data about both kids and advertising companies, it has the effect of making even the most TV-and-advertising-wary parents among us realize that we haven't been half vigilant enough." -- Amy Bloom, O, The Oprah Magazine
"An artfully argued, important expose." -- BusinessWeek