I have a confession. I’m not, nor ever have been, employed in anything to do with marketing, advertising or retail. The extent of my knowledge in this field is probably much the same as the average person in the street: marketing and advertising exist to promote goods or services and persuade you to buy them. Retail, is, well, selling stuff. So far so good. However, I now realise that I have a fundamental problem even in this basic understanding. It’s reached such proportions that I feel the need to share it and hope that someone will enlighten me.
The catalyst was a sign in a well known High Street department store. ‘Back To School’ it trumpeted. Occupying an entire window were mannequins of small children dressed in the regulation grey trousers or tunic with white shirt combo.
My problem arose because this was a full 10 days before the summer term ended. How perplexing it must be for children old enough to read to realise that the new term is apparently imminent, while they’re still deliciously anticipating the 6 week holiday stretching in front of them and which they thought had yet to begin.
My days of uniform-buying are behind me, so possibly I’m missing a vital nugget of information here, but it led me to wonder what’s behind this latest effort to accelerate us through our lives?
Everyone knows that small children grow; sometimes in a steady line on a graph, but frequently in spurts. My cynical self wonders if parents are being exhorted to buy school uniform early, only to find that their offspring will have outgrown their new uniform before term begins. Perhaps parents will, in anticipation, buy a size too large, only to find that their child is returning to school in September without a significant growth spurt and is therefore swamped by their uniform. Cue another visit to the department store: win-win for the uniforms department.
We’re all accustomed to what I’ve termed (as a non-marketing person) Accelerated Time Marketing (or ATM, since its principal function is to assist in dispensing cash, this time from us to the retailer). Christmas starts in September with the advent of wintry-scene cards and wrapping paper in shops and supermarkets.
The supermarket aisles shrink as more space is made available for all things festive. Thoroughly sick of the sight of it all by the time Christmas arrives, we heave a sigh of relief – only to be confronted on January 1st by hot cross buns and some fledgling displays of Easter eggs.
Most perplexing of all is to be in the supermarket as they mark down the Christmas excess stock, while hanging fluffy bunnies and chicks from the ceiling. Caught momentarily in this time warp, it can be impossible to know if it is in fact Christmas or Easter.
A quick straw poll among family and friends reveals that we all note, then ignore, these out-of-season attempts to part us from our cash and accelerate us into the next spending spree, which means that the point is being quite deliberately missed by some of the population.
Everyone knows that life rushes along as we try and cram more and more into it, coupled with the speed of change in everyday technologies, sciences etc. As John Lennon memorably sang ‘Life Is What Happens When You’re Busy Making Other Plans’ – but I bet he wasn’t referring to celebrating Easter in January.