Aug. 6, 2013 Update! Honored to be accurately quoted in this pithy parenting prose by Heidi Stevens in The Chicago Tribune’s thrilled to see all the parenting pushback on Twitter that CCFC put together in this ‘Storify’ synopsis! (New York Times also covered CCFC’s efforts here)
Keep at it, families…save our traditions and narratives from marketing greed!
July 22, 2013 It’s rebel yell time, and this time it’s VERY personal.
Today I’m sharing with you a few notes from The Tooth Fairy that my daughter received, now time-worn and yellowing in a keepsake memory box along with a few clunky baby molars, which I wistfully stumbled upon in writing this piece the actual week of her 18th birthday. (sniffle)
My point in sharing my personal history and background is multi-fold…
The imaginative and beloved traditions that WE create as families, on our own, customized to our varied and vast cultures, regions, socio-economics and parenting styles are being infiltrated and ‘monetized’ as marketing execs go after childhood icons to homogenize, corporatize, sexualize and enslave them into ‘ownership’ as a “branded marketing opportunity.”
In short…heads up…The Tooth Fairy has been jacked.
Children’s rights advocates at Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood (CCFC) are leading the charge to “Save the Tooth Fairy” and I’m on board 200% (take action here) I pick and choose my battles carefully, and this is clearly one of them… a tent-pole in the media and marketing circus worthy of a rallying cry from ALL stakeholders.
Parents, this should jolt you awake like a taser. And here’s why…
Your family narrative is now up for sale.
Cheap. With tacky tactics. Money minions are now mowing down what’s left of our play yards of imagination…swiping unbranded icons and turning developmental milestones and moments into ‘brand experiences” through cloying cliché tactics like goodwashing.
(I swear, if I see one more ‘kindness, change the world’ product ploy, I’ll barf…and yes, The Real Tooth Fairies ® use that smarmy tactic in shades of Mattel/Monster High manipulative marketing.)
“The REAL Tooth Fairies” ® undermines parental authority and authenticity in a one-two punch, sending children the cue that this commercialized fabrication is the ‘real’ deal and family’s expressions of the tooth fairy are lesser in value. Bah.
The pompous header, “They have arrived” heralds the flitting in of a half-dozen formulaic doe-eyed stereotypes. Tressed, crowned and bejeweled in identical body types that might as well be uniforms, they descend upon us batting their eyes and crooning idiocy like, “This is awesome-ous, be a hero for kindness and change the world.” (Oh, how that makes my teeth hurt)
I have a gazillion critical thinking points on the duplicitous marketing tactics to callout (not to mention the pop star princessification and gender narrowcasting), but I’ll start with “proof of concept” by sharing a few of our Tooth Fairy notes and traditions that capture the poignant, highly personal milestones no commercialized ‘brand’ has the right to elbow out of the forefront of child-raising.
Reading through my handmade rhymes and reflecting upon what was happening in our lives at the time makes me realize just how intrusive, disturbing, and unethical it is for brands to try to co-opt family history and iconic rites of passage. Up until now, Tooth Fairy storytelling has been as diverse and individual as the families themselves, so back off marketers, you’re messing with our personal narratives here. (no question about my editorial point of view today, not a smidge)
Here’s an example from my own child’s memory box:
Notes From The Tooth Fairy…(Keepsakes)
I saw you in some awful pain…It made your mom & me insane
To see you hurt and bloody too…But now it’s OUT, so good for you!
Annoying yes, it was indeed…And now my dear you must feel freed!
It’s huge! (perhaps your biggest yet?)…The hole is too, I’d make a bet…
So keep that clunky tooth in mind…Each time you brush you’re bound to find…
Some yellow gunk & germ stuff too…And nasty sweet food residue
You must brush more, and do it well…Or you’ll have something sad to tell
Cavities and shots galore…Crooked teeth & so much more!
So please, dear child do not fuss…Wear your retainer, it’s a plus
Floss and swish and rinse and spit…Until it feels you just should quit
Cuz OVER-brushing hurts mouths too…And I sure don’t want that for YOU!
I’ve nagged enough for this trip now…It’s time for me to take a bow…
See you back real soon! Fairy dust and magic,
xo — TTF The Tooth Fairy
It’s been awhile since I’ve been here…Your front tooth’s gone, my little dear.
Retainer’s in, they’re nice & straight, And braces gone, you look just GREAT!
I’m running low on dust tonight, I’ll scoop you some from stars so bright…
And leave your tooth for you to keep…And kiss you softly in your sleep. xo TTF
As she got older she began to question the mysteries of The Tooth Fairy, leaving notes for her, asking about where she lived, her name, and cleverly trying to trip up and ensnare the fairy with set ups and stories of her own, just like the ‘leprechaun trap’ in kindergarten days.
I’d always find a way to flip the script back into her lap for her to ponder with a ‘well, what do YOU think?’ tonality.
…With the heavily commercialized purple/pinkification of the branded tooth fairy “experience” where they not only name names, they have kids take a quiz to ASSIGN them an official fairy, (talk about profiling, wonder how that works with their absurd cookie-cutter race representations too).
Then there’s the requisite virtual “fairy land” beckoning kids to visit and shop amidst a bounty of coinage and consumption cues, storybooks, upgrade prods and meet and greet …$$$$$$ “opportunities.”
As Susan Linn, Director of CCFC reports, “The company is already selling VIP memberships, deluxe Real Tooth Fairy Collections, and more. Participation in Real Fairyland doesn’t come cheap. “Give your girl the gift of everything Tooth Fairy,” the website exhorts. A Real Tooth Fairies Birthday Party Collection costs $379.”
Jaws firmly clenched and teeth grinding yet? Mine are.
With age compression marketing tactics squeezing childhood like a vice, and PREschool peers using words like “babyish” as the ultimate put down, I’ll add one more Tooth Fairy glimpse of how the rush to grow up can land on kids sideways.
I distinctly remember play yard peers prodding my daughter to plop imaginative friends into the discard pile and her reticence to let go, even in wink and nod understanding of this developmental transition and keen awareness of her reality. She left a final note to The Tooth Fairy about how she’d “really miss her now that she was done”…an outreach moment in parental subtext. Here’s how our ‘home grown’ Tooth Fairy was deployed to reassure, in a note dusted with glitter sparkles as usual…left behind for her.
(Again, this is PARENTING 101 folks, no corporation has the right to touch these moments.)
Are you sure you’re all through? I’m not sure it is true…I lose track now & then and rely upon you.
Maybe it’s my way of not letting go…For this way I pop in & see how you grow!
I don’t like goodbyes, and I won’t say one either…Besides, your retainer is still a good teether
You haven’t worn it enough, and I’ve helped curb the damage…But it’s up to you now, in case I can’t manage.
I’ll still flit around, whether you know it or not…Cuz tooth fairies stay, and never get caught.
We buzz past your ear when you think it’s a skeeter…And giggle and zoom playing follow the leader.
You woke up once quick and gave me a fright…I dove under the covers and stayed out of sight.
So know that this tooth may be the last of its kind…But I’ll be around…I hope you don’t mind.
p.s. As for my name? It changes with you…Each time we start fresh so it’s always brand new…
Love you loads, —TTF (“Ta, Ta For now”) The Tooth Fairy
Compare those homemade heartfelt ditties with the hyper-branded site of The Real Tooth Fairies® spilling forth from a purple and pink sparkle-silo of mono-dimensional hearts and flowers femininity…not a drop of open-ended originality, all pre-fab and turnkey.
It’s just not the same, is it? Parents, rise up, take action and tell The Real Tooth Fairies ® marketing minions to talk to the hand, while slapping them on the wrist for even attempting this ‘deliverable’…
Ready for the rinse and spit on HOW this product is being delivered?
Word of mouth marketing mindshare…from none other than your local dentists.
Yup. The Real Tooth Fairies ® ploy to productize childhood milestones is delivered via backdoor marketing through professional dental offices partnering with their site online.
That’s right, it’s a trust breach of YOUR own medical care circles, served up with pester power and positioned in cookie-cutter creations of “kindness.”
From videos on their site, “My daughter begged me to find a dentist who’s an official REAL Tooth Fairies ® dentist” followed by a child’s view, “I begged my mom to find me an official Real Tooth Fairies dentist.” and “I really like my dentist, he knows the REAL Tooth Fairies®
Wow. That’s some unmitigated gall right there…using dentists as a delivery platform to “sell” to kids by duping them into believing only CERTAIN dentists have exclusive access to these imaginative beings. That’s “all kinds of wrong.”
The next testimonial crows, “Our dentist told my daughter how she could meet her real tooth fairy online!”
Are you kidding me? That kind of direct exposure to incentivized marketing usurps parents’ agency on how they choose to raise their child, running a workaround past the parent into the end zone of mindshare.
It’s like having a neighbor decide to upend Santa Claus to your six year old child when you’re not around. NOT ethical.
National Institute of Health studies state that “until 8 years of age most children are cognitively incapable of appreciating the commercial purpose” to differentiate sales messages and persuasive intent…
…So looking at the timetables for baby teeth, (at left, via ADA site MouthHealthy.org) it’s fair to say the entire premise as well as the tactics of The Real Tooth Fairies ® is unjust, unseemly, unprecedented, and unethical! To co-opt the icon and turn family narratives into a packaged product is predatory marketing at its most heinous, even in today’s marketing climate when exploits are unyielding.
New readers should know I spent 25 years proving ethics and marketing need not be an oxymoronic pairing, as I come from a journalism and media background as a writer/producer and Creative Director in the branding business for umpteen years…I mention this for context, for I have NEVER seen the level of child stalking in the name of no holds barred profiteering that we’re seeing in the industry today. Ever.
Heads Up: These Are Calculating Marketing Giants with Formulaic Agendas
The voiceover from the investor video brazenly details both the intent and extent of this predatory marketing:
“With a target audience of 10 million US girls ages 6 to 10 who lose 20 teeth, that translates to 200 million tooth fairy moments. [The sound of a cash-register goes “cha-ching!” in the background.]
No surprise that the six-pack of sugar-sweet princess clones mirror the formulaic success of Disney, as the pitchmeister detailing The Real Tooth Fairies ® strategy was none other than former senior Disney executive Paul Yanover (now CEO of Fandango).
Also on the play board? Former toy execs from Hasbro, Kenner, Mattel, ready to pour millions into licensed products.
Susan Linn’s post reveals even more on the corporate game plan:
“Our intent in 2 to 3 years is that we project we’ll have over 30 million girls, unique users to the site,” said CFO Howard Bollinger, former Senior Vice President of Kenner and Hasbro toys, “At that point, the site will become a hugely valuable asset and a prime target for acquisition by scores of companies who want to connect with our girl demographic.”
In addition to Yanover and Bollinger, stakeholders in The Real Tooth Fairies include “a former President of Mattel, an Executive Vice President of Mattel and top brand-builders and inventors from the toy and entertainment world.”
Here’s a transcript of the video which is a cringe-worthy “must read.” Too bad you can’t VIEW the video directly, as CCFC reports the fairy censors must have “slipped a copyright claim under YouTube’s pillow and removed both the edited version and the original.” Ahem.
I truly haven’t seen a pitch this duplicitous since the vile Colt Blast alcopops presentation unveiling the agenda to plot with exacting precision how Snoop Dogg would sellout young kids in the hood as spokes shill. As one commenter aptly described, ““Watch as the corporate folk explain how they are going to pimp “urban” communities and use Hip Hop to do it! Promote, market and encourage underage drinking.” Bleh.
Yes, this is on a par with that. Different public health problem, same stealthful strategy.
Again, I urge you to read the impactful transcript and media literacy articles surfacing on this topic, then support CCFC’s amazing work for children’s rights and encourage all to come aboard and take action. As the lead organization involved with the “Save the Tooth Fairy” campaign, CCFC is urging stakeholders to use social media to turn up the volume on public push back and participate using hashtag #SaveTheToothFairy on Twitter, Facebook and such.
What Makes These Tacky Tactics Any Different Than Other Marketing Grabs for Mindshare?
As toy industry complicity in marketing vapid values reaches full tilt with the gawdawful rebranding of My Little Pony to glam-glopped humanoid hybrids called “Equestria Girls” and the recent Brave adventuresome “shero” Merida transformed into a come-hither makeover mess, many parents may yawn at the sexploitation of the tooth fairy…as “not as bad as some of the others.”
I can already envision the powerless, social norming shoulder shrug as “it’s more of the same, what can we do about it?”…
That would be a critical mistake.
This is co-opting family storytelling, far beyond commercialization and sexualization exploits…
This past May when Disney tried to trademark “Dia de los Muertos” across multiple platforms a social media rebel yell reverberated far beyond Mexico and Latin America, via petitions, tweets, and blogs who rightly viewed trademarking a holiday as cultural appropriation and exploitation of the highest order. (great visual at left via GlassTire.com)
The “no trespassing/hard stop” sign sent the mouse house skittering out of their self-created snap trap back to the drawing board for a new name for their fall film, leaving corollary vs causation uncertainty on the table, but the fact remains: Disney withdrew the trademark request the same week.
An oops gaffe or a branding misunderstanding perhaps? Hardly. Circle back to 2011 when Disney attempted to secure “SEAL Team Six” for full tilt merchandising in an opportunistic militainment cash grab leveraging the Navy SEAL moniker of the team that killed Osama Bin Laden. See the precedent here?
The Tooth Fairy exploits warrant the next “scream from the windows” media siege moment.
Parlaying childhood rites of passage and morphing real life holidays and traditions into marketing opportunities for sale goes beyond the usual industry complicity in monetizing vapid values to tug at the very fabric of our lives.
Under Siege: Hands Off Our Family Histories.
Colleague Anne Collier of NetFamilyNews.org writes of this “media siege mentality,” expressed by parents, citing thoughtful commentary in the New York Times by parent and author Bruce Feiler which splendidly makes my point about the need for family tribes, rituals and rites of passage sans narrative interference:
“Develop[ing] a strong family narrative,” Feiler discovered – helping our kids know who and where they came from with those family-history stories and little rituals (some of the best are the hokiest) clans develop together – helping our children have a sense of family history, is one of the best things parents can do to help them develop self-esteem, resilience, identity, and all the other good things that sustain safety, mental health, and good relationships online and offline.
“The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned,” Feiler says psychologists have found.
Anne Collier added, “Think about the safety that ensures.” Agreed. And yet…
How can we develop a “strong family story” when marketers are swiping our own traditions, usurping our agency, stealing our icons, and raiding our homes to upend our most intimate and treasured rites of passage…then inserting THEIR script to rewrite our parenting pathways instead?
Though Anne tried to elicit calm by positioning an antidote focusing on the need for internal protections and our own family stories to bump up against what’s blasting to kids via pop culture cues, I find it’s the perfect example of irony in the commercialized smackdown, since marketers are now hijacking the family narratives themselves!
No ‘internal protection’ can take back family lore thrown under the bus for a marketing opportunity.
No swiping of a family’s values can be brought back once our stories have been compromised and commodified altering the lens from which children view the world. (goes for Santa and the Easter Bunny too)
And if there happens to be any marketing I want to add to MY family narrative, that’s MY decision, not the corporations, as you can see when I subversively ‘positioned’ a value that I hold dear into The Tooth Fairy’s narrative, in my early anti-soda spin that I embedded early on…
“Your little tooth popped out so fast,
That even YOU seemed quite aghast…And in your mouth know you should find
32 teeth of all different kinds…I hope you find the lost box next round,
‘Twas my favorite gift housing that I had found…I’ll leave your tooth AGAIN for you,
Now put it in Coke, and you’ll say ‘ewww.” –TTF
This was during my child’s phase when she started asking The Tooth Fairy to have a tooth BACK now and then to ‘save’ and experiment on after seeing the tooth enamel/erosion demo I’d used from a YouTube video for show and tell in our “Dare to Compare Gross Out Game for Good Nutrition.” Again, you can’t make this stuff up, no matter how much corporate sites might try to replicate with “authenticity” or call themselves “real” these are parenting touch points, and they’re ours to keep.
Policies Should NOT Allow Persuasion & Profit from Practioners
Using trusted pediatricians, dentists, teachers and childcare providers to influence decision making among a population already vulnerable to marketing messages is the lowest of tactics (with the highest effectiveness due to the trust breach).
Professional industry associations should adopt a clear concise OFF-LIMITS policy regarding direct marketing and spell it out that there’s an inherent conflict of interest in being in a position of authority and shilling for commercial ventures. Period. Exclamation mark.
What’s next, a pediatrician as ‘brand ambassador’ for puberty? A teacher who ‘partners’ with junk food?
Oh, wait, we already HAVE that…McTeacher’s Nights are the poster project for that preposterous idea, undermining healthy eating by seeding junk food AT school, so parents get to mop up and mitigate the mess at home. And in classic underhanded form, McDonalds co-opted moms as marketing shills. Do you see the pattern of trust breaches and sellouts? Help stop corporate abuse.
What about YOU? After reading this…Where do YOU stand?
Do you think we’ll get to the point where baby molars and precious locks of hair from first cuts will be a ‘marketing opportunity’ in a fear-based “DNA reference kit” complete with CSI forensics flair?
Or will parents push back and chime in to Save The Tooth Fairy sending a clear sign that our narratives, holidays, and touch points are not for sale?
Join me, and take action to keep our family stories our own.
Marketers: My life’s touch points and memories are not for sale.