Big brands recruiting "Consumer Kids" to sell wares

Wed Jan 28, 2009 7:49am EST
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - Global brand powerhouses like Mattel, Nike and Wrigley's use research companies who recruit children as young as seven across Europe, America and developing economies to sell their wares, a new book on consumerism says.

Child recruits, or "brand ambassadors," are paid with free gadgets, toys, video games or mobile phones after being groomed into perfecting the art of the hard sell by putting pressure on their peers to acquire the latest products.

"Who's your child working for?" the book, entitled 'Consumer Kids' asks in its introduction. The question is designed to scare, of course, but the authors say it should not be dismissed as scaremongering, because the answer may be truly frightening.

"It's quite shocking," said Ed Mayo, co-author of 'Consumer Kids' and chief executive of the British government-backed Consumer Focus campaign group.

He is describing the story of Sarah, a bright and busy little girl, who at age seven has been recruited by the specialist youth marketing firm Dubit through an online children's chat room to work as a sales agent for the Barbie Girls MP3 player, made by the U.S. toy firm Mattel.

Her downpayment, unsurprisingly, was a Barbie Girls MP3 player -- and the more she talks about it to her friends, and the more photos she posts across the Internet showing herself and her mates playing with it, the more bonus points she gets.

Using interviews with around 3,000 children and 300 adults, Mayo and co-author Agnes Nairn, a professor of marketing at EM-Lyon business school in France and RSM Erasmus University in the Netherlands, show how children are bombarded by slogans and images that "play on their dreams and exploit their vulnerabilities."

"The rise of consumer kids is not unique in the UK, or indeed in the UK and the USA. Every European country has a similar story to tell. Even in China, the newest consumers are the 312 million children under the age of 15," Nairn and Mayo write.   Continued...

<p>Girls play with "My Life" toys at the Dream Toys exhibition in London in this October 15, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Stephen Hird</p>