5 Ways to Combat Back-to-School Marketing

Shop smart, avoid consumerism, and get what your kids want (and need) this school year.
Sierra Filucci Executive Editor, Parenting Content | Mom of two Categories: Early Childhood, Back to School, Marketing to Kids
Executive Editor, Parenting Content | Mom of two

The summer before my daughter started kindergarten was filled with firsts. First summer camp, first swimming lessons, first back-to-school shopping. Thanks to a school uniform policy, clothes were the easy part, but finding a backpack turned out to be an adventure -- not only did we visit countless stores in our search, but we learned a lot about which media brands were working overtime to catch my 5-year-old's eye.

With back-to-school shopping raking in more than $70 billion a year for retailers, it's a prime time to target both parents and kids. And advertisers know that the earlier a kid learns about a brand -- whether it be McDonald's or Tinker Bell -- the more likely she'll be to buy it or beg for it later. In fact, nearly 60 percent of parents surveyed by the National Retailers Federation said their kids influence at least half of back-to-school purchases.

My daughter and I ended up finding a backpack free of media ties at a sporting goods shop, but it wasn't easy. Here are some tips for getting what your kid needs for school while keeping the marketing influences to a minimum.

Have a game plan. Expect to encounter lots of kid-targeted advertising, and figure out your stance before you get to the store. My backpack mantra was "no characters," but you could also use "no words or logos," "no violent images," or any simple phrase that you won't mind repeating a hundred times but that clearly articulates your limits.

Seize the teaching moment. Discuss the tools marketers use to influence kids to buy or beg for something. Turn it into a game where kids try to figure out what product an ad is representing or what symbol marketers decided was popular with kids this year (rainbows! skulls! owls!).

Look for alternatives to big box stores. Online stores, mom and pops, thift stores, Etsy -- any of these choices offers the chance to find something unique, creative, or even personalized.

Talk to other parents. Ask other parents for tips on where to find certain goods and which stores to avoid. (After an early encounter with Bratz panties, I became a willing dispenser of underwear-shopping advice to parents at my daughter's preschool.)

Prepare for disappointment (or at least compromise). Some kids may be so focused on a Barbie backpack or a LEGO lunchbox that they're willing to throw the mother of all tantrums to get it. Browsing online before buying can help avoid getting into this situation in the first place. Ultimately, only you can decide which battles are worth waging. Remember that kids move on quickly -- almost as quickly as they lose backpacks.

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About Sierra Filucci

Sierra has been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade, with a special interest in women's and family subjects. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley,... Read more

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Comments (10)

Adult written by Monera

Why are character school supplies such a travesty? Honestly? How is Tinkerbell or the like on a backpack so damaging? I don't see any ill effects from it, and besides, advertising is just a part of life. How is a company supposed to function if they don't let people know they're selling anything!? Why is advertising the bad guy? It's the consumer's responsibility to buy wisely and use good spending habits, a much better lesson to teach kids than censoring the issue! A respectable company selling a quality product is hardly unethical! I mean, is the next step banning kid's lemonade stands? There's advertising involved there too!... Is the ideal society where no one has anything since all forms of commerce are banned?
Parent written by onlinemastitv

At that point shouldn't something be said about all the non instructive media for youngsters under that age? Regard: http://www.onlinemastitv.net
Adult written by Senser123

My back to school shopping experiences were not like those of today's students though I did have a The Little Mermaid Thermos pack with Ariel on it when I went to Durand Academy.
Teen, 15 years old written by ASLgirl

Yes, I agree with responsibleparentof2. I don't watch much tv, because I have the attention span of a fly, but I hear my grandpa and brother quoting tv ads...sometimes I'll even quote ones I've never seen! As for labels on everything...I'm not into too much pop culture, but even my magnifier has Baum and VisioBook boldly emblazoned on the case and start screen. It seems impossible to avoid marketing these days.
Parent written by demimoore

I totally agree with you. Kids under the age of 16 should only watch educational media. And as for the shopping part I think kids have the right to wear what they like till their cloths are decent and not revealing. cosmétique suisse
Parent written by nicolesmith

My daughter and I had most of her back to school shopping on GoJane.com, it was a very effective way to avoid pink, characters filled, backpacks and clothing! She managed to find items that she really loves and she looks wonderful while wearing them too.
Parent of a 12 and 12 year old written by ResponibleParentOf2

I think letting them have this stuff is okay, as long as it's from educational media. That's the only kind of media kids below the age of 16 should be watching.
Kid, 11 years old

Then what about all the non educational media for children under that age?