The Black Friday madness has passed and it’s officially the holiday season. This is the time of year when the millions of children who celebrate Christmas are drawn in by the most vital marketing campaigns of the year, inspiring them to write their Christmas lists. Black Friday initiates this holiday season, where parents gather at 3am to buy what has arbitrarily been deemed “the coolest gift of the year.” This year one woman pepper-sprayed her fellow shoppers to get an X-Box 360 game (as in the video below) while others stepped over Walter Vance outside a Target as he collapsed, dying. This soul-sucking consumerism is the very contradiction of Christmas and for many of us it begins at childhood.
I remember as a child dreading my return to school after Christmas break because everyone would brag about their Christmas gifts. Having grown up in a large family with a small income, my presents were never as cool as my friends’, and most often “cool” meant “expensive.” No matter how fulfilled I felt spending the holiday with my loving family at home, I would return to school feeling like I didn’t get enough. My self-worth was driven not only by what I got for Christmas, but how those items would represent me to my peers.
Sadly, this is the psychology that advertisers thrive upon. That intense yearning that all children feel to be accepted or favored is driven by the peers who are ‘valued’ in the first place and their access to what is deemed cool. Parents want their kids to feel included, to feel accepted, and somehow advertisers convince them that getting them cool things will make them happier. Peer spaces privilege these popular items which are sold through stereotypical marketing campaigns. In turn, what advertisers really end up marketing is a child’s self-worth.
Stereotypes are what advertising is really about. It’s a marketing scheme that works as long as people subscribe to the stereotypes they’re selling. Kids see something during an iCarly commercial break–they see a child that looks like someone they’d like to be playing with some random toy, and not only does it draw their desire, but it draws on their self-worth. If they have that toy, they will be cool. So, they write it down on their Christmas list for their parents to see. If the gift is too expensive, their parents will be the ones to wake up at 3am to get it on sale, so they can hear that squeal of delight on Christmas morning instead of that disdainful groan (think A Christmas Story). These kids will most likely grow up and do the same for their children because that’s what they know and that’s what they think is supposed to be done at Christmas.
This intense desire to feel cool and the reciprocated yearning for parents to make their kids happy by buying them things, though ridiculous, is self-perpetuating. We have yet to see what this year’s cool item is. Maybe it’s that X-Box 360 game that people were pepper-sprayed for, or the same gift in the Target where Walter Vance collapsed. By now, advertisers have the cycle down so that people who are taught to be die-hard Black Friday consumers from the beginning of their lives can pass it down do their children. It’s almost as if the work is being done for them.