When I was a kid, my mom never had any cash and was forever “borrowing” it from my brothers and me. Even though cash is more widely accessible today than back in the 70s of my youth, I still find myself raiding my son’s piggy bank on occasion (and usually paying it back “with interest,” even if the money in question is for something that benefits him, like $1 for a school dress down day).
Without actually researching the disposable income levels of the under-16 crowd then vs. today, I think it’s fair to say that between tooth fairy funds, birthday/holiday cash from grandparents, good grade bonuses, allowance, pilfered silver change, and maybe the occasional lemonade stand, kids have always had a pretty sizeable largess at their disposal. And back in the day when cartoons only ran on Saturday mornings, the only thing that got kids to part with their money faster than comic books were the “amazing” products advertised in the back of said comics. Today’s B2C/D2C infomercials and DRTV pitches have nothing on those throwback geniuses who convinced gullible kids to fork over their hard-earned cash for questionable purchases like SeaMonkeys, X-Ray vision glasses, and amazing disguises, all while effectively eliminating the (parental) middleman. One “pop culture historian” even went so far with his obsession of these mail-order ads to compile an entire book about his product research and (more often than not disappointing) results.
As the 70s drew to a close, savvy marketers went beyond targeting kids’ piggy banks and straight to the money source with the invention of the Happy Meal. By including a toy with the meal, this idea appealed to parents (Look! A cute meal just for them!) and kids (Look! A toy!) alike. With today’s meal tie-ins to the latest toy trends and blockbuster movies, this is a franchise that only continues to gain traction among the pre-teen set, and with the on-box links to websites and additional content, the restaurants drive real world traffic to their online domains. Taking a cue from this playbook, DRTV ads expanded into their own brick and mortar franchises, marketing via big box stores as well as branded mall stores like As Seen On TV. So if you see a commercial for, say, the Sham-Wow enough times, you might find yourself picking one up as an impulse purchase while you wait in line to check-out or, more likely, a Slushie Magic kit to get your kid off your back for the money you owe him (I guess…this is not me speaking from experience).
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