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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 6, April 2005

Cradle-to-grave marketing

by Dan Blake

f you notice the one-year-old craning its neck when the volume rises during the commercial break, don’t be shocked. Baby Jane really does recognize the sound of the Pepsi ad. Advertising agencies and marketers know that, and that may explain why we have an infant commercial web site. Pepsi has licensed its logo to appear on baby formula packaging. It really is cradle-to-grave marketing. So said Julie Schor, professor of sociology at Boston College, to participants at the second Public Education Not for Sale Conference in Vancouver February 19, 2005.

The ad business is constantly re-inventing itself. People tire of the repetition of TV advertising, even if it is funny and engaging. Schor’s talk was a fascinating tour of latest trends. Take viral marketing, for example. Individuals are recruited by a marketing company to use a particular product with friends and family in such a way as to encourage discussion about the product. Typically, they don’t reveal what their purpose is. There is no formal pitch. The situation is meant to appear as normal as possible. You may wonder how a few people using a product can affect sales. What most people don’t realize is that the company has several hundred people similarly engaged. The marketing agencies that engage in viral marketing are very careful about whom they recruit. Recruits are typically young and outgoing.

For teen products, the marketers recruit the cool kids. Agencies employ individuals as "cool hunters," whose job is to recruit the cool kids. The cool teens drink the latest pop, wear the latest fashions, and so on. If you think it sounds bizarre, you’re probably right. But the viral marketers and their clients don’t care; they know that the strategy works, and that’s where their interest begins and ends.

To learn more about the latest trends in advertising and how you can help your students understand and combat the daily barrage of advertising, consider signing up for the media literacy institute:

Media Literacy: A Five Day Summer Institute, August 15–19, 2005, at the BCTF Building. Presenters include John Pungente, co-author of Media Literacy: A Resource Guide, Meet the Media, and More than Meets the Eye, and Carolyn Wilson, co-author of Mass Media and Popular Culture. For more information and registration, contact Dan Blake, 604-301-1247, deblaca@telus.net.

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