The branding of childhood is almost cliché by now. Who hasn’t heard the statistics? Kids recognize logos by 18 months old. The typical first-grader can name 200 brands. The average American kid watches 40,000 commercials a year. The corporate takeover of childhood is so evident that even Parents, a glossy magazine chockablock with advertisements, can publish—with no trace of irony—an article subtitled “How Corporations Turn Our Kids into Consumers.”
Less examined until recently, however, are the ways parents themselves have become marketing targets. The increase in marketing to children can actually distract parents from seeing how businesses target them directly, writes journalist Pamela Paul, author of Parenting, Inc. Indeed, long before the child in the shopping cart can point to the SpongeBob fruit snacks or beg for the Cinderella bed sheets—in fact, even before he or she is born—parents’ desire to raise safe, healthy, smart, and happy offspring is being rigorously studied and engineered. The “mom market” is estimated to be $1.7 trillion annually, according to Paul, with the toy market aimed at babies between birth and age 2 totaling more than $700 million a year.
If numbers aren’t proof enough that a new era of parenthood consumption has dawned, a visit to a baby or children’s superstore should suffice. There you’ll find videos to make your baby a genius, $150 diaper pails, luxury strollers, and crib mobiles operated by remote control. One baby superstore chain has stores containing more than 20,000 products. Then there are the services that accompany the burgeoning raft of consumer goods: baby sign-language classes, toddler gyms, and baby-name consultants.