It seems like months since I have been participating in my usual rounds of marketing world discussions. Probably because it has. My travel schedule has been “nutty” for the past several months, to say the least. To borrow from oh-so-many of my ex-girlfriends from over the years, “it’s not you, it’s me.”
I finally cracked open my reading list of marketing blogs and sites that I have loved for the past few years and came across a post by my friend and fellow rabble-rouser Paul McEnany over at Hee-Haw Marketing on the documentary film by Lauren Greenfield called Kids + Money. In a rare moment of clear thinking and brevity, Paul simply sets up the trailer to the movie and allows the kids from the movie to do all the talking needed to drive home the point. And it’s disturbing.
The movie is about kids growing up in Los Angeles and how their lives are impacted or influenced by money and our current consumer culture. These kids come from varying economic backgrounds, but it is clear that money and consumerism are the strongest factors of influence in their lives. As a parent, their words were chilling to hear. Not because anything they said was wrong, but was such a mirror of all the consumer messaging they have been bombarded with- probably since birth.
One young girl states, “if I could shop all day every day, I would”. Not too shocking, really, but coming out of the mouth of what would appear to be a pre-teen or early teen adolescent, it is still unsettling. I know that these sentiments are not new to this young generation of consumers. This detached from reality view has been prevalent for decades. Kids have been removed from any sense of understanding of money and what it really means to have it or not for as long as we can remember. Movies have pointed out this fact for years and years. My generation had such classic examples as Molly Ringwald as Claire in The Breakfast Club. The spoiled rich kid is a part of the modern movie lexicon.
Where I become disturbed is in the realization that these new kids are inheriting a now broken system of consumerism that has driven this country to the verge of collective bankruptcy. We’ve built the US economy on spending money. We create little and buy tons. Now, I don’t pretend to have an answer to our problems and how to turn things around, though I wish I did (because I’d love a job in the Obama administration). Our economy is in collapse for many reasons, but one of them is this irrational desire to spend money and buy things to be replaced by newer and better things the second they become available. Overnight lines in front of stores to be the first to buy a shiny new iPhone? How on earth is this a rational behavior? Taking out second (or third, or fourth) mortgages on our homes so that we can buy larger vehicles or new HD televisions? Economic stimulus packages are focused on putting money back in the hands of consumers– so they can consume and not so that they can put money away in the bank.
The kids in the film do not represent all kids across the country and I will be the first to admit that Los Angeles breeds a different brand of consumerism, but they represent far more kids than you might think. Right now, our country is holding its breath waiting to see how the Christmas shopping season turns out. Consumerism is what our country now produces- not products.
As a marketer, I have to ask myself if I am partially to blame for this problem. We all must, actually. Do we market for the right reasons or the wrong ones and do we even know what those reasons are? Sincerely, I don’t know the answers to these questions, but watching the trailer for the film sent a shiver down my spine as I watched it. I’m not sure of what to do with this shock and fear, but I know that I am hoping our consumer behavior is changing.