Thursday, May 14, 2009

Brands, Fashions and Uniforms

Originally Posted in the Common Threads Blog,
Centre Daily Times, August 8, 2007

Preschoolers prefer any food, including carrots, that is wrapped in a McDonald’s wrapper and think that the McDonald wrapped food tastes better than identical food wrapped in plain wrapping – this was the finding of a recent study of children’s food preferences by Stanford University researchers.

The study concluded that marketing and brand names are affecting the reactions of even preschoolers - an interesting commentary on the world we live in today, where marketing efforts on electronic and print media, store displays and word of mouth routes get both adults and kids to desire certain products.

My family is lucky that fast food places do not cater much to us vegetarians – so we only have to deal with the occasional requests our daughter makes for “French fries” and “apple pie.”

But we do get to deal with other desires that are created in all of us for fun or cool things, and often struggle with our “needs” and “wants.”

And all the recent “Back to School” advertising that I have seen makes me long for one aspect of my childhood in India.

I did not have to think about brand names or fashions, because shopping till 10th grade meant ordering two or three sets of uniforms from the neighborhood tailor, buying shoes, socks, raincoat, umbrella and a book bag, text books, pencils, pens and erasers.

What a freedom that uniform afforded – every morning, I joined other children walking to school in their uniforms, all with a collective identity of belonging to a particular school. And no one was defined by what they wore – there was no “cool” or “uncool” kid at school, based on attire.

Many schools across the world require uniforms, and it is a growing trend in the US. And there are parents and teachers on both sides of the issue.

Some believe that having uniforms stifles the expression of individuality, or that they are expensive. Others think that uniforms foster a sense of collective identity, discipline, and that it offers a level playing field with respect to clothes.

But then again, can we require that kids wear uniforms, when so many of us grown ups base our identity on what we wear? And can we ask them to be less brand conscious, when so many of us adults define ourselves by what we own?
Perhaps all this back to school shopping is just a “real” training for the real adult world.

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