How far should corporations go when it comes to marketing to kids? Is shutting down a library and then stocking it with propaganda far enough?
Target Practice: The Corporate Takeover Of Children
Credit: Common License
August 13, 2014

"Won't someone please think of the children?"

We’d like to think somebody is thinking about the children, but for the right reasons. For example, one distracting hot button today is the potential advertising of legalized marijuana, which is probably the least of the worries that we should have about kids who are supposed to be taking care of us down the line. We should be happy that they could learn how to steal dad’s stash, smoke some weed and pass out to “The Big Bang Theory” rather than drink a pint of Jack Daniels and go for a joy ride in mom’s car.

But what this hot button is really about is something we do agree with in principle: over-marketing to children is a little sick when the only benefactor is a shady corporation.

One need only think of Joe Camel or the Sugar Pops Toad to remember that big business has a shameless history of using not-so-subtle methods to turn today's kids into tomorrow's customers.

We found more evidence when we read this article by Rachel Cloues, a teacher-librarian in San Francisco. Cloues works at one of the hundreds of schools that über-corporation Target has given boatloads of money to overhaul their libraries.

This is all done in partnership with the Heart of America Foundation, which is dedicated to finding ways for Corporate America to "volunteer" in their communities.

So far, so good, right? We're all for corporations being altruistic and giving back. If they won't give their workers a living wage, they might as well do something with all that cash.

But, according to Cloues, the story gets more interesting. After Target overhauled her library, it got an exciting visit from two famous NASCAR drivers who duly posed for pictures with students -- in front of their bulls-eye-covered awesome race car! Then the drivers read a book to the kids, every one of whom got to sit on stadium cushions branded with the Target logo. Red-shirted Target employees circulated around. And everybody got to go home with a free Target bookbag!

We realize that kids in America get exposed to this kind of branding all the time. But in such a concentrated dose in what should be a trusted and educational environment? Predictably, this event made quite an impression on those little attendees. According to Cloues, one first-grader ran home and told her mother that, referring to one of the NASCAR drivers, "The guy [at the library] said they wanted you to buy stuff at Target!"

Even more outrageously, it turns out that Target’s library overhaul happened not during the summer months, when the school was closed, but after the semester started – to coincide with the late-fall opening of a nearby Target store. So, the school's library was essentially stolen for a corporate promotion.

After a struggle, Cloues's school library was spared the fate of other Target-targeted school libraries. Those victims got their walls plastered with Target's corporate bulls-eye logo as well as another special corporate gift for the kiddies: shelves lined with books bearing titles like, "The Story of Wal-Mart," "The Story of Starbucks" and "The Story of McDonald's." All lined up in the non-fiction section as part of a corporate-themed Built for Success series for children.

This got our brains a-whirling. Since Corporate America will keep being shamelessly shameless in marketing to impressionable kids, they probably aren't going to give up on stocking school libraries. Certainly they'll expand the Built for Success series. What titles do YOU think they’ll come up with next?

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