13 April 2011

Marketing & Parenting

Smithsonian Magazine | Jeanne Maglaty | When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink?:

Gender-neutral clothing remained popular until about 1985. Paoletti remembers that year distinctly because it was between the births of her children, a girl in ’82 and a boy in ’86. “All of a sudden it wasn’t just a blue overall; it was a blue overall with a teddy bear holding a football,” she says. Disposable diapers were manufactured in pink and blue.

Prenatal testing was a big reason for the change. Expectant parents learned the sex of their unborn baby and then went shopping for “girl” or “boy” merchandise. (“The more you individualize clothing, the more you can sell,” Paoletti says.) The pink fad spread from sleepers and crib sheets to big-ticket items such as strollers, car seats and riding toys. Affluent parents could conceivably decorate for baby No. 1, a girl, and start all over when the next child was a boy.
Paoletti is a historian at UMD specializing in children's clothing. She might be quite good at that, but the final quote above strikes me as poor understanding of business.

Yes, the more you differentiate your product lines, the more individual products you can sell, but the smaller the market for any one product becomes.   One strategy is to sell parents two sets of baby products differentiated by gender. Another perfectly viable strategy would be to sell a line of un-differentiated products, thereby doubling the potential number of buyers and more importantly driving down costs and thus improving profits on each sale.  Those are both equilibrium strategies, AFAICT, so there's no cause for invoking the specter of Big Business to explain why parents would voluntarily transition from one set of preferences to another.

For a similar issue of the intersection of commerce and children, see Bryan Caplan:
EconLog | Bryan Caplan | Is Capitalism Pro-Kid?

I'm pro-capitalism and pro-kid, and I'd like the two to be complementary. So I have to smile when Corinne Maier, author of No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not to Have Children, blames capitalism (plus the French government) for high birth rates:
Maier's concern is that no one is doing anything to temper the idealised view of motherhood perpetuated by two equally potent forces in France: the State, which wants lots of babies to pay for future pensions, and greedy capitalist enterprises, which make a fortune selling baby clobber to gullible parents.

"I blame the State, which encourages a certain idea of the French family, because this is a way of defending our national system," she says. "Second, I blame capitalism, which encourages people with its seductive advertising because having babies creates big consumers who buy a lot, who need bigger apartments, bigger cars, new washing machines..."
I wish she were right, but she's not. Empirically, relatively capitalist countries have much lower fertility than the Third World. And Maier neglects a basic fact: Advertising can be used to push anything. If people didn't have kids, they'd have more disposable income, and advertisers would desperately struggle to attract their euros. Instead of big SUVs, they'd push two-seat sports cars; instead of new washing machines, new plasma TVs. And while it's true that people with kids want more living space, how often do you see ads for real estate on television or major magazines?

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