Long before The Truman Show came to the movies in 1998, ads were slowly infiltrating our everyday lives. Whether it was a corporation sponsoring a coliseum or Carrie, of Sex and the City, typing on her Mac, Schor argues the virus had been unleashed. Continuing to captivate me, Born to Buy tackles how an advertiser’s need to create a buzz is transforming friendships.
Apparently, there is a company called Girls Intelligence Agency, which capitalizes on the growing business of peer-to-peer marketing. “Girls as young as six are recruited to become GIA agents, and once they’re accepted, they become part of an active online network.” According to Schor, in 2002, at the company’s start, 40,000 girls, aged eight to eighteen, were ready to “swing into action on the drop of a dime to create buzz for whatever product the company sends their way.”
Here’s how it works. GIA’s trademark product is the Slumber Party in a Box, which “takes places in what the company calls the ‘inner sanctum’ or the ‘guarded fortress,’ that is, girls’ bedrooms.” Schor explains “parties have featured toys, film, television shows, health and beauty aids, and other products. The host girl (a GIA agent) invites up to eleven of her friends to the party. Their first instruction is to put on pajamas and ‘eat too much junk food.’ Then partygoers are given a product sample that they use during the evening.” Girls are encouraged to be “slick” and “find out some sly scoop on your friends.” When it’s over, after receiving only the product as payment, the host is required to provide feedback. As Schor points out, the party essentially becomes a natural, intimate focus group or sales session.
I felt violated just reading about it. While Schor explains that this trend will eventually make word-of-mouth feedback corrupt, I worry more about an even more serious consequence she highlights, the corruption of friendship itself. “Marketers are teaching kids to view their friends as a lucrative resource they can exploit to gain products or money.” It’s just not right. Still, with the company estimating it reaches 20 million girls nationwide, it’s a trend that’s likely to continue.
My preoccupation with this fact prevented me from reading more. All I could think about was how sleepovers would never be the same again. Before the worst thing that could happen was a bra in the freezer or maybe a hand in cold water. (I was always the girl who fell asleep first so I’m familiar with all the “fun.”) Now I’ve got to worry about my children being manipulated by someone who has taken a Kim Possible fascination too far.
Feeling like I’d received a wake-up call with no way to turn off the alarm, I decided to temporarily put down Born to Buy in lieu of a book my friend lent me. Amish Peace by Suzanne Woods Fisher claims to offer simple wisdom for a complicated world. When I came across the following Amish proverb – “You can’t keep trouble from coming, but you needn’t give it a chair to sit in” – I knew I’d found my answer. Just because the average American is addicted to excess doesn’t mean I have to be. Easier said than done, I know. So, I’m hoping in Schor’s final chapter, Decommercializing Childhood, she’ll recommend some practical advice.