A story in the New York Times Monday told how the entertainment giant Disney is using anthropologists and psychologists as marketing researchers to answer that age-old question: What do boys want? They’re hoping to come up the equivalent of their princess franchise for tween males. And they’re not above peeking in boys’ dresser drawers to find out.
As The Times story notes:
Sometimes the research is conducted in groups; sometimes it involves Ms. Peña’s going shopping with a teenage boy and his mother (and perhaps a videographer). The subjects, who are randomly selected by a market research company, are never told that Disney is the one studying them. The children are paid $75.
Walking through Dean’s house in this leafy Los Angeles suburb on the back side of the Hollywood Hills, Ms. Peña looked for unspoken clues about his likes and dislikes.
“What’s on the back of shelves that he hasn’t quite gotten rid of — that will be telling,” she said beforehand. “What’s on his walls? How does he interact with his siblings?”
None of this is new. In 2005 I interviewed Juliet Schor, author of Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture, about the amount of scientific research devoted to making kids want certain products — and to convincing parents to let kids have them. Schor talked about the trend towards aiming products and ads at younger ages, the way families give kids an ever larger say in family purchases like electronics, cars, and vacations, and the "nag factor" — the research that goes into determining how many “asks” it takes for kids to wear parents down. It was quite eye-opening. (You can read the complete interview with Schor here, along with then 11-year-old John’s review of the 2003 kids’ guide Made You Look: How Advertising Works and Why You Should Know by Shari Graydon. And check out the "Kids and Consumerism" page from the organization Schor is affiliated with, New American Dream.)
But really. Aside from the geek factor of being the subject of an anthropology project, would you let someone go through your kids’ drawers for $75?
Photo: New York Times