Although most of my articles on SociallyMindedMarketing.com are written for marketing professionals about emerging trends and issues in marketing, my passion for socially minded consumerism is the underlying theme for this site and what drives all of the posts. Therefore, instead of writing this article from the perspective of a marketer wanting to help socially minded organizations, it is high time for me to post from my view-point as a parent, who is bent on raising socially minded children.
So, if you are a marketer of a socially minded organization and want insight into what motivates your customers and/or donors, or if you are parent who wants some advice from a developmental psychologist on how to raise your children in a way that makes them aware of the social impact of their purchases…read on.
****An important note about what follows. This is NOT a promoted article. None of the persons, brands, companies, or organizations have compensated the author.
On Tuesday morning, I jumped out of bed at 5:30 with a huge smile on my face, because Dr. Christia Brown, developmental psychologist and author of the soon-to-be-released book, “Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue: How to Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes,” agreed to participate in an interview for this article. Dr. Brown is officially on my list of role models, and, despite my trade as a marketer, she is higher on that list than Dr. Michael Porter of Harvard and Dr. Adam Grant of Wharton (sorry, gentlemen).
Below is a tape of that interview, wherein Dr. Brown and I work together to create a short list of methods that parents can employ in an effort to raise socially minded children. Immediately after the video, I will outline those methods with relevant images and easy-to-implement tactics.
So, if you are the type of parent who “accidentally loses” the pair of Disney Princess pajamas that you know were drenched in flame retardants…
Also, note in the interview that Dr. Brown addressed my concern that I would somehow damage my daughters’ psyche by not letting them have less-than-desirable consumer products. So, if you are the type of parent who “accidentally loses” the pair of Disney Princess pajamas that you know were drenched in flame retardants, but worries that by throwing out almost every gift that Grandma gives is doing more damage than good, this video is for you.
As shown in the video above, Dr. Brown shared some methods she employs within her family life in an attempt to raise daughters who are aware of the social impact of purchases. Below, I will outline her methods, as well as offer real-life applications.
1. THE WORLD IS LOUD, SO SPEAK UP!
One of my favorite methods that Dr. Brown recommended during the interview was to be a (loud) intervening voice when your children are being exposed to advertisements. Notice in the interview, she did not suggest that parents should shield children from television and all forms of media. In fact, quite the opposite; Dr. Brown noted that these forms of communication are just a part of the world in which we live. And, as parents, we need to teach our children the skills to recognize an advertisement for what it is and make good choices in light of it.
Television exposure was positively related to materialistic values except in those families with strong communication patterns.
Another one of my heroes, Deborah Roedder John, professor of Marketing at the University of Minnesota published a retrospective in 1999, which looked back at the twenty-five years of research on the “Consumer Socialization of Children.” In this piece, Roedder John pointed to a relevant study, which showed that “television exposure was positively related to materialistic values except in those families with strong communication patterns” (p. 206).
In other words, if you’re a parent, spend less time with other parents who criticize advertising and marketing to children and more time on using those instances of for-profit promotions as an opportunity to be the loud voice inside your child’s head. Dr. Brown suggested that children, who have parents that routinely mediate during a commercial break, are more likely to be socially minded consumers in the future, because they are being taught to identify truth from persuasive communication.
Let’s Discuss It! Leave a Comment at the End of this Article about How You Would Mediate This Stuffies Commercial:
2. NO! YOU CAN’T HAVE THAT…BUT, YOU CAN HAVE THIS.
During Dr. Brown’s and my discussion about proactively explaining purchases to our children, she offered a suggestion that made a light click on inside my head. This discussion and suggestion was prompted by a video that I showed Dr. Brown of an interview with Sara Gilbert, in which she talked about her new book, “The Imperfect Environmentalist.” In the interview, Gilbert also divulged that she has been concerned in the past about possibly scaring her kids with all of the toxic-toys talk. Sara Gilbert’s interview can be viewed via the Twitter link below. Her discussion about “everything in the world being toxic” begins around the 03:30 mark.
Dr. Brown’s suggestion to parents with similar concerns about toxic consumer products was to not only explain, in a kid-friendly way, why certain products don’t fit into your family’s value system, but to also recommend a substitute. By using this method, the child will hear a socially minded message of “better choices,” rather than always hearing, “that’s bad…you can’t have that!” This suggested method is kind of earth shattering for me, because as a socially minded consumer I strive to replace potential purchases of bad consumer products with better ones, but I do not always show or communicate the “swap-out” to my daughters. So, the below images and suggestions of “Socially Minded Swap-Outs” are just as much for them and your own children as they are for us.
The First Annual Socially Minded Swap-Out
Swap Out Toxic, Plastic Toy Purchases with Socially Minded, Handmade Toys.
My four (“and a half!” according to her) year old daughter has been clamoring around about her desire to acquire food toys. Her desire is probably rooted in the fact that her toxic, plastic food toys (gifts) somehow found themselves in the recycling bin about a year ago. I don’t throw away every gift, but these particular gifts had a terrible odor that stubbornly off-gassed for days – they had to go.
So, when it gets closer to Christmas, our daughter’s grandparents will be getting a link to HouseMountainNatural.etsy.com. Hopefully, this link will encourage them to swap out their potential bad purchase with a socially minded one. Moreover, I have already talked to our daughter about why the plastic toys were removed from our home and showed her the healthier alternatives from House Mountain Natural.
The wood crafters at House Mountain Natural hand paint all of their amazingly real-looking food toys with eco-friendly paint and rub them with their “own blend of organic olive oil and local organic beeswax to lightly seal the wood.” (A. Seacat personal email communication, September 4, 2013).
If you are like me and have a toddler on your Christmas list, the toy aisles will bombard you with unhealthy options for the little one and her/ his environment.
Socially minded consumers like to give toys that encourage creative thought and imagination, so a toy-camera might be a natural purchase. But, please make sure to tell the child why you swapped out the potential purchase of a gender-specific, plastic toy camera for a superior, socially minded alternative.
Swap-Out Disney’s Plastic, Hyper-Gendered Camera for North Star’s Toy (made with love)
The amazing husband and wife team at North Star Toys make each and every toy they sell by hand at their workshop in Questa, New Mexico (and have been doing so since 1979).
Wouldn’t your little one’s imagination and creativity grow with one of North Star’s handmade, wood camera? You can purchase one for only $25.00 from: http://bit.ly/18xHCRp
Swap Out Hyper-Gendered Clothing Purchases with Non-Gender Specific, Organic Attire.
As Dr. Brown’s title of her soon-to-be released book, “Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue: How to Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes” indicates, she is exceptionally passionate about how gender specific products can negatively affect children’s development. In a recent tweet, Dr. Brown brought attention to t-shirts being shamefully sold in The Children’s Place, which glorified a materialistic lifestyle and suggested that girls were good at shopping and dancing, but not math.
Thankfully, The Children’s Place realized the consequences of their message and pulled the products. However, I pity all the poor parents out there, who, because of a retailer’s bad judgment, had to say, “No! You Can’t Have That!”
However, as parents, when these uncomfortable shopping moments come up, we can use them as an opportunity to teach our daughters about how gender-specific messages devalue the advancement of our society (water that down, please) and show them better choices.
My personal favorite clothing brand for children (I am a loyal customer) is London-based Boys&Girls, which sells an all-organic, unisex line of clothing. Although I was attracted to the brand initially because our daughters only wear organic clothing, I became a loyal customer, because of the concept that the pieces are meant to be as non-gender-specific as possible.
As far as I am concerned, this fact moves Boys&Girls out of a retailer category into an exceptional, socially minded organization. If their company was a non-profit organization that educated consumers on gender biased issues, I would happily donate to it. Are you with me Dr. Brown?
3. GREEN FOOD IS FUN
I had the privilege of growing up on a small family farm, so green food was not in short supply. Furthermore, we almost never (probably five times during my entire childhood/ teen years) went to restaurants. However, when I went off to college, I became a regular at the Burger King in the student union. Why did the eating habits that my mom and dad instilled in me not carry through to college?
In the above interview, Dr. Brown postulated that unless parents proactively and routinely communicate the purpose behind our purchases and lifestyle decisions to our children, the intended message might get buried by others’ advertisements. Beyond communicating to our children why we should eat a certain way, I would like to recommend making it fun.
Inspired by Dr. Brown’s suggestion that she explains to her daughters that organic is not only better for them, but better for farmers, I decided to have a “Fun Green Food Adventure” with my daughter yesterday.
Below is one way to make green food fun for your little one, a
“Fun Green Food Adventure”:
Step One: Discuss the source of where food comes from and why farmers and workers at organic farms are happier and healthier.
As you can see, my daughter colored a picture and marked out the fertilizer to “tell the farmer not to use it.” Also, important to this step is to teach children to be thankful for all of the hands and hearts that tended the green food on its journey to their bodies.
Step Two: Discuss the long journey organic food has to make.
Below, my daughter and I demonstrated why it’s better for the environment and economy to buy local, green, organic food. We talked about how it takes “trains, planes, and cars” that use yucky oil to get food from far away.
Step Three: Involve your child in the purchase process and proactively explain the purchases.
One of our daughters’ much loved activities is to load up the little carts at Whole Foods Market in Lexington, KY with green food. Below, a child of a Whole Foods Market’s employee enjoys the engaging shopping experience.
Step Four: Let your child help you juice fun green foods like “Dinosaur Kale” and “Rainbow Chard.”
With names like Dinosaur Kale and Rainbow Chard, it is easy to help your child see the fun in eating green foods.
Step Five: Reward (or bribe).
My youngest daughter has been drinking green juice since she was a baby, so she gulps it down and moves on. However, admittedly, sometimes we have to bribe our six-year-old with, “if you drink your green juice in less than five minutes, we will take you to the park.” Our hope is that she starts processing green = fun.
The Takeaway for Socially Minded Marketers
To my fellow marketers: if you work for a socially minded organization, there are plenty of lessons to be learned from mothers, who strive to raise socially minded children.
First, parents have the burden of being an educator during commercials. Ergo, why not give them a breath of fresh air and make your commercials purely educational with clever moments of appropriate branding?
Second, there are a lot of bad products being advertised to children and parents. If your product represents a good, underlying social cause, you might do well to initiate a nonprofit movement around that cause.
Last, I went to great lengths to find online coloring pages that would educate my daughter about why organic, local, and green foods are better. If you are grocer, like Whole Foods Market, or a producer of organic food, I would recommend offering free printable coloring pages featuring age-appropriate discussion questions.
The Takeaway for Socially Minded Parents
While the marketing messages out there are loud and numerous, the toxic chemicals in our lives number by the hundreds of thousands, and M&Ms might seem more appealing than kale, by employing suggestions from socially minded mothers like Dr. Christia Brown (“Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue: How to Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes” and Sara Gilbert (The Imperfect Environmentalist), we can successfully raise socially minded children.
John, D. R. (1999). Consumer Socialization of Children: A Retrospective Look at Twenty-Five
Years of Research. Journal of Consumer Research, 26, 183-213.