Wowza: Youth Marketing & UGC, is it right?

Buy, Buy, Baby. CBSNews is doing a four-part series called Gotta Have It: The Hard Sell to Kids all about womb to tomb marketing, with kids being targeted in a scope we’ve never seen before.In this video clip, investigative journalist and Buy, Buy, Baby author Susan Gregory Thomas talks about the $20 billion being spent on the 0-3 “baby genius” products being bogus. (er, “scientifically unfounded”)

She amusingly talks about attachment issues, and how Gen X parents have turned a “shower or a grilled cheese sandwich into a high stakes proposition” as if the little tyke might be abandoned or deprived of “appropriate stimulation.”

Mind you, Harvard psychiatrist and author of Consuming Kids, Dr. Susan Linn, has been exposing baby media as an unmitigated sham for years, relentlessly championing the merits of free play and unbridled creativity over pre-programmed toy responses and plopping junior in front of swirling pretty musical mesmerization. (This new Canadian Press article says it could even harm brain development)

Susan Linn just pinged me back from my congratulatory e-mail on HER television appearance on the CBS show, where she nailed the Shrek hypocrisy, and pushed the “parents as purchasers” pitch right back into their laps, saying it’s “unfair and naïve” to expect outgunned parents to shield kids from this level of marketing firepower, embedded messaging, advergaming, and subversive guerilla warfare.

Shaping Youth » Shaping Youth Through Consumerism: The Hard Sell to Kids

Wow. Amy (, your brill at just getting to the heart of things. Zam, BOOM, hard facts. Lurve it!!

It’s what I was looking for the other day when I was rambling about UGC & Communities. Someone to really blast a hole in all the youth UGC & uber-marketing combinations going on. Why? Because I like differing opinions than my own. Life is about learning. You can’t make it all up on your own… sometimes it helps to listen to others and their various point of views. Yay, diversity!

Anyway, so coming from a unique brand perspective as my own (online community for a branded website catering to U13 kids and allowing opportunities for UGC), this is a “pickle” of an argument for me.

Then there’s the whole other angle that no one seems to
notice except those of us in the media business…Does anyone SEE that ad
agencies asking for “user-generated content” are getting people to do
their work for free?

Does anyone NOTICE these kids are being “pimped” for product sales and getting “paid” peanuts?

Marketing research like this costs MEGAbucks!

And yet…these children are EAGER to be ‘first on the block and in
the know’ meaning they’re being paid in emotional ya-yas, coolness
cache, and tchotchkes for their valuable field analysis…That’s nothing
short of a child labor scam if you ask me.

I think it can be easy to fall into this mind set. And I understand where it comes. Businesses open up instances for their audiences to provide their content… while reaping all the benefits and not giving anything back.

But what I struggle with (day in and down out) is the opportunity vs. disservice of UGC. When is it bad? When is it good?

User Generated Content in certain circumstances is allowing the user a voice… Giving some power back to the masses. Instead of the biz telling you what you want to see– giving YOU the opportunity to voice what it is you want to see, and even star in it.

I can’t discredit “emotional ya-yas”… I know it’s wrong & naive of me, but I can’t. Why? Because I was that kid that sent in pictures to Archie Comics— just so I might see my art proudly displayed on one of their digest pages. It made me feel validated. I never got “paid” in money to see it… but I was paid in confidence. Is that wrong? To this day I feel grateful. And that’s only ONE example of all the UGC-attempts I tried for as a kid (unsuccessfully, sadly).

I guess… in a way, I would rather have kids use self-created “coolness factor” as social currency instead of bought-cool-technology currency (ie. 9 year olds having cell phones simply to be cool).

UGC for kids allows them to be valued and acknowledged. “Look at what my talent did!”

The problem with UGC (aside from the reapers of the benefits) is when companies don’t give back to their audience/contributors. Respect, acknowledgement, empowerment, etc. And worse? When businesses steal ideas. That’s horrible.

There needs to be more thought put behind UGC and what it means to minors. What about the HUGE legality issues that haven’t really been explored in full? What happens when a child who provided UGC has their content publicly displayed, recieved minor compensation/credit/etc, and turns 18 years of age? Can they turn around and sue because they feel they were taken advantage of as a minor? <– This could very well happen in 10 years to the UGC kids today.

Amy makes some GREAT GREAT points about pushing kids & UGC into Brand Evangelists and then expecting huge compensation from the combination of the two.

8 to 12-year-olds spend $30 billion of their own money each year and influence another $150 billion of their parents’ spending…The Great Tween Buying Machine
authors put it around $50 billion a year, and the CBS interview quotes
the GIA exec in generalist terms as “a $300 billion market…so you’d
better take them seriously.”

Billions, schmillions, gazillions, here’s what I’M
taking seriously…Kids are being hammered with vapid values. Which ones?
Take your pick:

“It’s not about who you are but what you have”

“Sell out your friends for a buck”

“Don’t be who you are, alter yourself to what’s “hot”

“Don’t trust your peers, because they’re probably on the take”

There needs to be a GREAT amount of respect and time given to marketing & youths… technology has made it very easy to walk a shady, sketchy road to tread.

These aren’t just little walking billfolds… they’re adapting, changing wee handfuls of clay, easily molded by the society’s pressures. Time has not afforded children the knowledge needed to understand anything but what is directly presented to them, and they cannot fully understand what capitalism means until their in adulthood– some ten years later. Ten years.

Once again, this is why I’m glad I’m in the business. Why? Because I would rather be in the dirt, fighting the good fight… helping to shape the future of youth empowerment online & media safety (or at least spouting on and on about it) then just expecting someone else to do it. The time to ask questions and poke holes in loose theories is now— while the UGC explosions is early/young enough to shape & mold.

For as much as I adore the ground Mike Myers walks on (childhood hero), and love the first Shrek movie… Shrek has gone toooooo faaaaaaaar. I thought Pirates of the Caribbean was bad with their uber-marketing methods (and I love Pirates too… le sigh). Shrek creams PotC into sand. Every other commercial is Shrek oriented– from McDonalds to M&Ms to Cheetohs to toys to the Movie itself.  I understand that advertising & marketing help get the “word” out… but doesn’t it feel a bit…. much?  And the sad part? I heard this movie isn’t 1/3 the movie the 1st one was… that was unoriginal & a quicky fill in to extend the heck out of a property.  I know, I know– I should wait until I actually SEE it, right?  Indeed.  But I can’t help but wonder… Perhaps the marketing machine has taken over?  Have merrrrrcy.

  1. May 15, 2007 at 11:48 pm

    P.S. Hey, Izzy, just noticed you have us as instead of

    Our blog (and content!) is at, and the full site will be too once it’s launched…(We might shift the .com to house our nonprofit’s programs/productization; still playing with that, tbd!) Thanks! Amy

  2. May 15, 2007 at 11:57 pm

    Izzy, your UGC points are equally valid with mine at Shaping Youth, and eloquently stated to boot!

    I DO agree with giving youth voices their ya-yas AND coolness currency (I prefer it be more for genuine UGC rather than “product-stumping” though)

    To me, there’s a BIG difference between giving kids a voice and paying them off as shills. One is UGC, one is hawking with “why to buys.”

    User generated content for creativity (or contests, designs, input, or comics) is fab…(Shaping Youth is working on tween podcasts using the NPR StoryCorps format and ‘townhall’ live cable style venues where kids can be heard from all walks of life)

    And yes, at the risk of being ‘kidcentric’ I think it’s incredibly important to HEAR and FEEL that there’s power in your own voice. But that’s my point. It should be a child’s voice, not a marketer’s voice.

    The minute you tie that value with a ‘product and a payoff’ (if this/then this) it becomes a ‘work for hire’ type of gig that smacks more of adult world propaganda than kid world enthusiasm…Then there’s the fuzz factor to sort out…Where do you draw the line between having fun and ‘goods for services’?

    Most UGC firms have disclaimers out the wazoo saying they own all rights to concepts/creations…

    BUT…as one who used to write greeting card lines and pitch concepts only to see them ‘packaged and sold’ sans payment (“gee, kid, we thought it was a great idea, we knew YOU wouldn’t be able to do anything with it, sorry!”) it raises some ‘royalty’ fairness and ‘what if it gets big’ issues.

    If a child artist comes up with a cool logo for a new sneaker and his payment is a free pair, he may think ‘fine’, while the agency splashes it all over every billboard, gets a million dollar media buy, and charges the client for creative execution to boot. There’s bound to be reverb somewhere down the line (PR, parents or someone in the posse lookin’ out for junior) so as you said…this stuff needs addressed early on, so there’s no surprises/disillusionment. (or cynically savvy NDA-wielding “Gordon Gecko” kids bouncing about)

    Maybe it’s a credit/creative commons bit that turns into royalties when it veers past a commercial use profitability benchmark? Maybe it’s a trust fund account seeded for college? I dunno. But it needs sorted out early on.

    Personally, I have a problem with kids as “commodity items,” valued primarily for their gender, age, race, psychographic profiling and insights. Why can’t our culture allow kids to be kids, instead of mini-shopoholic ‘opportunities’ and peer pitchsters to fuel consumerism?

    It all makes me want to go flop in a grass field, stare at the clouds, create animal shapes in my imagination and feel the warmth of the sun beating down on my face.

    WITHOUT some web-celeb tween wanna-be desiring to “film the moment” for UGC or to brand an ad for an allergy med, hoping to post it on YouTube as a product pitch…

    Know what I mean?

  3. May 16, 2007 at 12:10 am

    Awesome, Amy 🙂

    This whole UGC thing feels like it’s grown new definitions and boundaries and spun itself into a new creature (I love the frankenteen analogy you had for over-empowered tweens). Gone are the days of sending a picture into Ranger Rick, Bozo, or Archie…

    If anything, I have to thank you for speaking more about it. The more brains on this raising questions and bringing up new points– the better.

    UGC is such an enigma. I’m elbow deep in various versions of it, and I’m really enjoying the conversations trying to determine what exactly it means to the market, audience, etc.

  4. May 16, 2007 at 4:24 am

    I hold you with high esteem as a ‘voice of reason’ to go forth with that dialogue…you go girl! Thanks for opening up the conversation WIDE! 🙂 –a.

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