Archive for the 'consumerism' Category


Disney now marketing to newborns

Yes, that’s right. NEWBORNS. As in “just been born and still in the hospital.” This brings a whole new level of literalness to the concept of “cradle to grave” marketing.

You can read the New York Times article about it here.

You can read the Consumerist take on it here. The comments are pretty good. Some choice ones:

  • “It’s not a new practice for companies to give baby products to new parents, but to have a rep actually visit the hospital room is incredibly tacky and invasive. The mother is still exhausted and this is a time for her to recover and for family to visit, not to be subjected to a sales pitch.”
  • “‘To get that mom thinking about her family’s first park experience before her baby is even born is a home run.’ I’ll bet that smarmy bastard said those words without an ounce of guilt or shame. While it’s no surprise that Disney would sink low enough to want to manipulate children’s minds before they can even have HALF of a choice, it’s still disgusting.”
  • Well hell, maybe we should inject a Disney rep right into the Cervix for a cheery “Hello!” to the ABOUT to be born bambino.
  • Wow, I never realized the severe level of neglect taking place right here in the US. The possibility of children spending a good 4 years of their life not “consuming” Disney products? It’s the kind of thing I thought only happened in movies…

If you’re feeling unhappy about this news and feel like doing something, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood site is a great place to start, and they’ve already got a campaign up and running on this subject.


American history

While my parents were visiting us over Christmas, we took the opportunity to do a few “touristy” things. Here in the Philadelphia area, there are all sorts of historic sites to visit. Our first destination was actually in northern Delaware: Winterthur, one of the DuPont family estates.

We have a family membership but rarely visit the museum/house; we usually spend all of our time roaming the grounds, particularly what Sylvia calls “the fairy garden.” We do venture into the house to see the holiday displays during the Yuletide event, though.

The place is set up as if the DuPonts were still living and entertaining there. The decor in most rooms is from the early 20th century, and nearly every room has a themed tree. (We were disappointed not to see the fairy tree there this year.)

Even without the holiday decorations, this place is pretty amazing. Take a look at this room, for example:


Here’s an interesting story: the wallpaper was handpainted in China in the late 1700s. When it arrived, Henry DuPont found that it was a few inches too tall for this room. Rather than trim the paper, he had the walls curved at the top in order to accommodate the extra length.

He adjusted the walls to fit the wallpaper. Seriously–who has that kind of money any more? I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be that filthy stinking rich.

The next day we took a trip to Valley Forge. Talk about a study in contrasts: one day gilt opulence, the next day log cabins and mud.

I’ve been to Valley Forge a few times but only wandered on my own. This was the first time I did anything that was “official” there. In addition to walking through the house where George Washington lived (and slept, of course!) during that winter, we got to see some park rangers in historically accurate dress.


And of course there was a musket-firing demonstration:


The most sociologically fascinating element of the day? Seeing this in the gift shop:


And look who’s standing behind her:


Poor George.


Holiday shopping

This is the time of year when many of us are faced with some or all of the following:

—A deluge of catalogs in our mailboxes. What’s up with that, anyway? I mean, just how many copies of Catalog X does a person need to receive within one month? Certainly not six. (Save some trees—and your mailbox—by registering at Catalog Choice, a free service that helps you get off those mailing lists.)

—Lots of sanctimonious talk (on blogs, in church, in editorials) about how shopping and spending are out of control at this time of year. First of all, Christmas-time consumerism has been happening for well over a century, so this is nothing new. And second, why focus on just Christmas? We have a huge problem with consumerism in general, so perhaps those “spend less money and spend more time being with people you love and helping others” messages ought to be shouted out year-round. (This reminds of those god-awful local news spots at food kitchens on Thanksgiving, with the reporter who says, “Volunteers are here giving up their Thanksgiving* in order to give something back** and show the down and out that someone cares for them”…to which I want to add “…until Thanksgiving is over and society decides to forget about you again until next year.”)

(*Start handing out the Nobel Peace Prizes, please!)
(**Is it just me, or does this phrase make you, too, want to retch?)

—Stressing out about what gifts we do want to give. Jan and I keep our gift-giving pretty simple. We shop for just a few people, and we really try to find something that we think the recipient will enjoy (which is why, much as I like the idea in theory, we never give gifts of charitable donations in someone else’s name). We also don’t go crazy with the spending (unlike someone I used to ride the commuter train with who told me that the adults in his family now usually spend $1,000 per person on gifts each year).

This year, I think I’ve found the perfect gift for everyone on my list. It’s something that people aren’t likely to have bought for themselves already. Look how small it is—it won’t contribute to anyone’s clutter, and shipping will be super cheap! And really, who doesn’t need their own chunk of uranium ore?


Why AOL is going down the toilet

Two days ago the June statement for my Visa card came in the mail. Because of a busy weekend, I didn’t get around to opening it until this morning, and I was very surprised by what I found: two $25.90 charges, spaced one month apart, for AOL service.

I should point out a few things:

1. This card is associated with a particular merchant, and I use it only when shopping with that merchant (so I get free shipping) or when shopping at one of the few places (e.g., my local health-food store) that does not accept my primary credit card. This card gets very little use (monthly statements often have no balance), so out-of-the-ordinary charges definitely stick out.

2. I do not use AOL. I have never used AOL.

First, I try to call the telephone number listed next to the AOL charge on my card statement and immediately got stuck in AOL’s IVR hell. Pressing zero didn’t work, saying “I want to talk to a human” didn’t work, and the tips at IVR Hacks and Gethuman didn’t work.

So I decided to take a break from trying to contact AOL. I called my credit-card company to dispute the charge–no problems there. But they said I’d need to call AOL to make sure the subscription was canceled. Sigh.

Back I went to AOL’s IVR system. After about ten minutes of mucking around and getting more and more frustrated, I restarted the call. The first question asks if you are currently an AOL subscriber. Rather than answer yes, this time I said no. The second question asked if I wanted to sign up. “Yes!” I answered jubilantly. And whammo–I was instantly directed to a real, live, customer-service rep who was able to answer my questions.*

Let me get this straight: if you want to start a new subscription to AOL, they are falling over themselves in their eagerness to talk with you. But if you’re a current AOL customer with any sort of query whatsoever, well, they’ll talk with you, too–but only if you jump through a gazillion IVR hoops (and heaven forbid you reach a point where none of the answer prompts is the one that suits your case!).

Wow, that’s great customer service, isn’t it?

*As it turns out, these AOL charges were fraudulent: someone I didn’t know was using my card to get AOL service. So I had to call the credit-card company to report this and request a new card. Ugh.