Smoking Out the Golden Marble Regime - The Lowbrow Lowdown
In recent days, we've heard the terms "Acts of War", and "Retaliation" repeated regularly. But there's a war being waged that isn't receiving round-the-clock news coverage. Some believe the outcome of each battle could impact society in profound ways, so they're taking action to topple their malicious enemies. If only their enemies knew they existed, writes Kate Kaye.
It was the morning of September 10, 2001. After scouring three floors of conference rooms in midtown Manhattan's Grand Hyatt Hotel, I finally tracked down a motley army of rebel mothers, protectionist professors and student soldiers holed up in a bunker far off from the glitz of the enemy camp where their adversaries would soon be receiving Golden Marble Awards, "celebrating excellence in children's promotions".
There Oughta Be a Law
The Stop Commercial Exploitation of Children Coalition (SCEC) is fighting to accomplish a number of goals, some of which seem more feasible than others. They include making schools commercial free zones and the elimination of marketing to children under age 8.
The small room was lined with chairs, most of them filled. Velma La Point, associate professor of child development at Howard University took the mike. "We know that youths are victimized, that they are bullied, that they are robbed, that they are assaulted and that yes, even murder occurs," stated La Point as the crowd clicked their tongues with vigor. The last bit about murder referred to kid-on-kid killings over expensive brand name sneakers.
Meanwhile, the villainous brigade of branders were busy hoarding their golden spoils of war. Among others, Leo Burnett garnered a Golden Marble Certificate for a Nike ad which doubtlessly spurred youth-on-youth bloodshed. Little did they know that the fearless guardians of their target market were just down the hall revealing their counterattack strategy.
Each speaker had his own specific agenda, to which the subject of marketing to kids was applied. One discussed the irresponsible promotion of junk food in schools. Another represented the European Union, explaining that in Sweden, advertising to children under the age of 12 is prohibited. Others told tales of brave students who defeated cola sponsorship deals and corporations like Scholastic and McGraw Hill who have buckled under the pressure of anti-school-marketing rebels.
Green Tongues and Tolstoy
The sleepy-eyed troops perked up as Jean Kilbourne, a research scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women, commandeered the podium. Not only do marketers tempt kids with "cute cartoon characters," said Kilbourne, they devise alcoholic beverages that she believes are "clearly aimed at young people," which combine liquor with "ice cream, Jello, popsicles, and punch." Referring to a Jim Beam product which apparently colors the drinker's tongue, Kilbourne declared facetiously, "this is certainly aimed at the mature set, wouldn't you say?"
I find blanket statements like these to be close-minded and somewhat misconceived. It's as if the only types of products that could possibly be made exclusively for adults must look at home beside a glass of cognac and a rare copy of Anna Karenina.
Enola Aird, director of The Motherhood Project, Institute for American Values and perhaps the most direct of all recruit-rousers thundered, "There is an out-and-out war between advertisers and marketers and mothers and fathers in this country and in this world.... Marketers are aggressively competing with parents to raise their children."
A less boisterous Diane Levin, professor of education at Boston's Wheelock College came armed with a war chest of visual aids, launching her campaign against the marketing of violence to youth. Images of pro-wrestling dolls flashed on the screen. Al Snow holds a severed head. The Sable Bomb doll comes with a whip. Levin's distress was apparent as she told the audience that the dolls are recommended for kids aged 4 and up.
It all seemed reasonable until Levin pointed to a slide of an action figure set featuring Bob and Doug Mackenzie, the two Canadian beer-guzzling goofballs popularized by the 70s/80s comedy show SCTV. These characters were popular 15 to 20 years ago and are aimed at the nostalgic adult toy collector. Levin may as well have showed us an ad for the "pot brownie" model Easy Bake Oven. "I'm not being alarmist," she assured us at one point in her presentation.
The Smell of Patchouli in the Morning
Following nearly three hours of lecturing, a little fresh air and non-violent protest was in order. All were welcome to grab a sign and join the procession through the Hyatt hotel. From the looks of it, the majority of the audience grabbed signs, which doesn't say much for the amount of objective press or non-affiliated parties in attendance at the "summit". Talk about preaching to the converted.
Marchers moved in a ridiculously small orbit, carrying signs that read "My eyes are not dollar signs" and "Mothers say: Back off! Let us raise our children in peace". Speakers decried the Golden Marble Awards as shameful and irresponsible. A man in a pin-striped shirt sauntered by and proudly declared, "I won one!"
Soon, it was time to present the SCEC's "Have You Lost Your Marbles Awards." Winners included itsy bitsy Entertainment, Reebok and Bartle, Bogle, Hegarty, LLC. Accepting the awards in place of company CEOs (evidently they were invited) was a chick in a hideous, gray rat suit. By this point, not only had I become embarrassed for the woman in the rodent costume, I became embarrassed for the entire SCEC congregation.
A Call to Charm
It got me thinking. If any of the Golden Marble ad agency execs and advertisers were to see Goldie the Weasel or hear about how sneaker marketing causes murders, would they possibly take these people seriously, or would they write them off as deluded extremists?
The SCEC must attract the attention of the advertising industry and corporate advertisers if they are ever going to be truly effective. If there's one thing that has constantly come up in interviews I've had with people who develop marketing campaigns aimed at youth, it's that these people love kids. It's obvious that the SCEC and its sympathizers love children, too. That means that there's a common bond among these seemingly alien groups.
Next year, conducting a summit in the true sense by inviting the SCEC as well as members of the marketing community could not only spur some interest and respect among advertisers, it could provide the SCEC with valuable insight into the minds of those people. After all, if marketers employ psychological tactics in the wars they wage on youth, perhaps those same strategies could work on them.
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