The Dark Side…


Reading that title in my “Consumer Behavior” book in uni, I suddenly got the chills, thinking of some horror link of consumers behaving badly. Instead, the first subtitle was about the ethical controversy of marketing to children. “Too much of a good thing could be bad for you”, but what if you are an irrational kid? On whom would the responsibility of rationing your consumption fall?

In a world that is growing greedy, people have comfortably assumed that we are born intrinsically selfish and instinctively fit for survival. A parent would complain how the terrible twos tantrum to get what they want; but the truth is, by that time you’ve created a monster. As reviewed in The Guardian article referenced to below, psychotherapist Graham Music discussed the evidence to the exact opposite of said assumption.

“we’re more likely to be born big-hearted and kind but then pushed towards being selfish and cold than the other way around.” said Music

Backed by research from  Max Planck Institute in Germany, the experiments showed how toddlers as young 15 months old are willing to help an adult in need. Once a group was presented with a “reward” for their help, they lost interest in further lending a helping hand. That is not to say that administering rewards is not well proven in the field of management for positive reinforcement, yet it the balance of things in hand. Showering babies with inappropriate rewards each and every time they improve could mean developing a sense of “what’s in it for me?” early on, when in fact the very joy of helping is forgone. For example, rewarding your child for eating their vegetables with a sweet candy may backfire the whole concept of vegetables being healthy, make them greedy and even over-feed. And as for rewards, we tend to obsess too much on providing for our children “the best money can buy”.

So where does the stealthy role of marketing come in this dilemma? It is quite simple. Not only are bombarded as parents with messages of “buying the best for your babies”, “nesting in nurseries” and “baby loans”; even our little buds are exposed to all these stimuli to materialism. I remember seeing Disney’s Frozen in the cinema, with a preview of almost 30 minutes of advertisements for toys, theme parks, and CITV. The channel itself being targeted at an audience from 1 to 10 years old, CITV shows excessive commercials for an unsuspecting spectator. It is not the question of the appropriateness of ads for young viewers in terms of violence or genre, but rather the whole consumerist approach to self definition as “You are what you buy”! And Disney themselves are quite guilty with the whole franchising of merchandise to accompany the movie. Arguably, consumerism is just as unacceptable for an adult, leading to all sorts of grievances and psychological conditions, namely depression; yet it is most despicable to attack the innocence of these little ones when they are most capable of happiness with the simplest of things.

I am not an idealist, and enjoy a shopping spree every once and a while. Nonetheless, I must remind myself how I’d hate to fall in such a vicious circle with a description matching “siblings to the devils”. And I try to shower my child with love, as money cannot and should not buy happiness; unless of course it’s money for charity, Sadaqah and Zakat; then giving for the sake of Allah SWT is most definitely the pursuit of happiness in this life and the hereafter.



Consumer BehaviorBuying, Having, and Being

Michael R. SolomonPearson/Prentice Hall, 2004 The Dark Side of Consumer Behavior p.30

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