Last week’s Our October Media Free Week was an especially welcome break. For the past few weeks, I have been getting progressively more overwhelmed by the marketing and media related to pregnancy and having children. I don’t think this is unique — there is a similar amount of media saturation for people getting married, and for holidays, most notably Christmas. But there are some very insidious strategies that have a special impact on parents-to-be. And even though I am a media educator, I am just as susceptible to the claims, threats, and promises that are out there. Here are a few examples:
1. The Fear Factor
Safety is the watchword, and it is peppered all over the Internet, on parenting discussion groups, webmags, and product reviews.
After reading about 400 reviews (this is not an exaggeration, sadly) on Amazon for cribs, bottles, and the like, I observed that there is a solid 10% of reviewers who complain about the safety of every product. At some point, it feels easier to close my eyes and pick a product at random, the decision-making gets so murky.
When 1,000 + people review something, it’s hard not to take notice. And when those reviews are mostly glowing, for say, a certain rubber giraffe toy, it suddenly becomes very important for the future happiness and healthy development of one’s child to buy said giraffe.
Two dangerous things happen here: 1. You can rack up a serious bill for stuff you never planned on buying, and 2. some really great (and possibly more relevant) stuff that has less reviews can get lost in the shuffle.
3. The Eco Argument
This is something we’re just going to see more and more. Between BPA’s, recyclable materials, composting, and the like — there is a whole new (well, not so new, but prevalent) language for marketing products. And you know what? While I could buy hemp burp cloths, made from renewable resources, I could be even more eco-wise and cost-effective, and use some of our cotton cloth napkins that we already own. In general, the most eco-conscious thing is to buy nothing at all.
Ok, and this is the final biggie:
4. The DIY Option
Sometimes, doing it yourself is cost-effective, satisfying, and the absolute best solution, such as the cloth napkin example, or breastfeeding. But just like wedding projects, there are a bajillion baby projects out there that can suck up your time and resources. Between craft blogs (which I admit to a near-addiction to), and “DIY” kits being sold, I could probably have built our crib, sewn our own diapers, and knit a complete layette (I admit to one baby sweater and a blanket, still in progress). While some of this could be fun and rewarding, it could easily also be just one big stressball. Folks, I’m 37 weeks pregnant – cooking breakfast is a DIY project. And as you can see, the blog is not being updated very rapidly, so let’s just give ourselves a break.
What this is really about… the forest
The reality is, we’re trying to make room in our grown-up lives for a little one, and want to make the environment welcoming. It doesn’t have to be perfectly matched, it doesn’t have to be full of the best products money can buy. It has to be warm enough, safe enough, and with some nice people who are going to take care of the little dude and make sure he has enough to eat.
And whether you are in the same boat, or starting to plan your holiday giving, or your own wedding, I hope these thoughts are helpful as you navigate our wacky consumer media landscape.
Here are a few resources that I have found helpful:
- The ACME Coalition’s 24 Persuasive Techniques (Great for educators! Use the link just under the image to download a pdf)
- No, Your Baby Can’t Read (an interesting example of deceptive marketing)
- The Center for a New American Dream (love their Alternative Gift Registry)
- And Debra shared this article with me, not about consumerism, but definitely great for parents: It’s Official, To Protect Baby’s Brain, Turn Off TV