Never to Young for Marketing

Recently my son’s little four-year-old girl friend arrived at our house wearing a very hip and stylish Hannah Montana ensemble.  I, of course, have a boy, and have not been privy to the Hannah craze. I was surprised that this little tyke was completely informed and up to speed on all things in Montanaville.  When I spoke to another friend who has six-year-old twin girls, he said that they know everything there is to know about the show, and dressing like the lead character, well, duh… of course they do.

I remember when my son was born, how outfits with Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse were given to me as gifts. I also remember returning some of them determined to be that mom who didn’t buy into marketing ploys.  Instead I preferred classic and traditional over obnoxious and commercialized.  As he grew, I refused to buy Sesame Street diapers and anything Elmo. I picked zoo animals as his bedroom theme over Buzz Lightyear or Clifford the Big Red Dog. I wanted him to be stimulated by creatures of the sea, dinosaurs or bugs found in books, flashcards and the many excursions we made outdoors. It was my opinion that all of the marketing and advertising wouldn’t affect him if I didn’t let it, and our house would not be full of TV characters and movie images.

Now that he’s three, I have to admit that Speed McQueen and Diego do tend to dominate his world. He has his favourite Cars t-shirt, toothpaste, PJs, and bed spread, along with his Diego light-up runners, rescues-pack and adventurer socks. Suddenly these things represent cool, neat, and fun. He will dig through his drawers to find his Wingo t-shirt and go looking in the laundry basket for his Nemo swim trunks. At no point did I tell him or show him that there is a connection between his clothing, his feelings and these personified images. He learned it quickly and completely, the way any marketing master would have planned as he imagined selling to kids and selling big.

At the moment my biggest concern is the Bob the Builder underpants he wants. Next year I imagine it will be Spiderman and Shrek, then Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker. Still, I have a few years before it is anything I won’t completely understand or something I’ll utterly disagree with. And yet when he becomes a teenager, how can my hopes for endangered animals or real life heroes compete with celebrities and multimillion dollar advertising budgets that highlight speed, money, rebellion and all things hip? Or in the case of my daughter (still only 10 months), beauty, glitz, glam and sex appeal.

These and other images are what our children are seeing and imprinting as as an acceptable representation of fashion in today’s society.  Their suggestive posturing and barely-there clothing convey distinct message, and our kids are buying into it. It seems that as they move from toddler to teen, their focus becomes being the image and then becoming the person. What I was taught was to be your own person and create a unique image.

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