Back to School: Where are the Pencils?
I got the Target Welcome Back to School flier in the mail a few days ago. It’s loaded, presumably, with offers on all the things my kids will need to be successful students. I thought to myself “It looks thick. I wonder what sorts of things public school kids need these days.” This morning, because The Economist was in another part of the house, I flipped through it over breakfast. I saw pencils, erasers, crayons, book bags, calculators and a section devoted to clothing. These, I agree, are all standard back to school items I’d buy if I were a parent of a public schooled kid. But, beyond what we all think of as necessary school supplies, I was surprised (and a little repulsed) by the branding of certain items. When we buy pencils and pens it doesn’t matter what brand they are as long as they write. The same goes for notebooks. I don’t think kids care if they have a Bic pen as opposed to some other brand. I don’t think they care if their notebook is made by Mead or another company. The first part of this magazine (it looks like a magazine), for the most part, sticks to the point and tries to sell me all the things I, a parent concerned about his kids’ education, am likely to buy. The back half, however, is segmented by brand rather than by product. Backpacks and all the other things fit to print cartoon characters on are found at the back. It’s annoying.
Branding Makes Buying Confusing:
If I want Band-Aids, I should be able to find them by looking in the health and personal care section. How am I supposed to know I need to look in the section dedicated to Go Diego Go or Dora the Explorer? The same goes with backpacks. There is no longer a backpack page. Now I have to flip though the selection of branded cartoon characters my kid likes to find the backpack with the right character printed on it. I am literally, because one cartoon festooned backpack is sold on every page of the magazine, forced to look at the entire magazine to see if Target sells a backpack my kid thinks is cool. What if I don’t want the Buzz Lightyear Band-Aids? What if my kid doesn’t give a damn about cartoon characters on his medical supplies but still needs to protect a paper cut? There are no regular Band-Aids sold in this magazine. They are all printed with cartoons and they’re distributed throughout the magazine by cross branded category rather than in some logical order. It’s stupid.
Is all this Stuff Necessary?
Actually, I can’t distinguish the necessary stuff from the unnecessary. They make it all look so useful. Advertisers these days have become sophisticated. For instance, I see Kid’s Tums (the antacid stuff) being sold next to lunch bags and crayons. Oh, well naturally my child is going to need an antacid! Notebooks, crayons, lunch box, antacid, bike helmet. Yup, that makes perfect sense. On the next page I see more useful things, pencils, pens, personal label maker, notebooks, and erasers. Wait. A personal label maker? One more example on the next page: dry erase markers, colored drawing pencils, lined writing paper, dry erase learning mat, felt tipped markers. That’s right. How can I do without the activity learning mat from Roseart? It’s right next to all those other things that are traditionally accepted school supplies.
When did Food Become a Back to School Supply?
I don’t begrudge Target for advertising food in a back to school mailer even though as far as I’m concerned my kids’ food should be no different than mine. What bothers me is all the terribly unhealthy branded crap. Being a semi responsible parent I know things, things like my kid should probably eat nutritious food if he’s to have a functioning brain for class. Orange/Cherry/Grape Popsicles don’t do it. Neither does the Sponge Bob Taco Kit or the Kid Cuisine (It comes in a cardboard box and a TV dinner style tray, but I’m not sure if that’s what it actually is) thing which I can’t identify. There are of course also, Nutter Butter Bites and Mini Oreos, a Kool-Aid FunFizz drink and Capri Sun. I’m not sure Target really cares about the health of your child. This is what my kid’s lunch would look like:
- Peanut Butter and Jelly (natural and on whole wheat bread)
- An Apple
- A Cookie
I know it’s crazy. I mean how in the world can a kid get along without a Sponge Bob taco kit and Kool-Aid?
All the school supplies you had when you were a kid are still for sale today. But, instead of a random advertisement for a Dukes of Hazzard Lunch box, now you get random advertisements for notebooks and erasers. And because advertisers are so much better at advertising these days, it’s hard to distinguish the things you need from the things they just want you to buy. Be vigilant, folks. Protect your wallet by knowing what you want and going to the store with a checklist. If it helps I suggest blinders to keep you focused.