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Review of "Branded"

By Alissa Quart
Basic Books, 2003
Review by Sundeep Nayak, M.D. on Feb 4th 2004

All teenagers want relationships with cool adult professionals and are flattered to be taken seriously by marketing thirtysomethings. Morphing into paid trendspotters, they are a symptom of the way brands corrode childhood and channel incipient idealism and imagination into advertisement campaigns that aim solely to reflect a magnified mirage that fails to exist outside of the digital studios that produce them. They make children want to chase a dream that cannot be realized. American children first became a target audience in the Fifties when television industrialists frightened parents into buying electronic babysitters for latchkey offspring. By the Sixties, youth was equated with hipness, vernacular and futurity; youth trends were reflected in the greater use of color, new materials, and decorative treatments. In less than two decades thereafter, kid business rocketed into an entirely new orbit influencing and dictating family purchases. Between the late Eighties and the late Nineties, corporations spent twenty times as much on direct marketing to children. At the turn of the Century, the median age for a first solo purchase dropped to eight years old. Today, nine in ten kids request brand-specific products. All children watch way too much television and, by extrapolation, the fabulous lifestyle sold through them through the media.

Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers takes a critical look at what happens in our cinema halls, our schools, our malls and, most of all, in our homes to our children. Bombarded by media-manipulated imagery and propelled into the citizenship of retail, the helpless automatons are spiraling willfully into worlds of credit-card debt, omnipresent material deficiencies, and challenging body imagery. Alissa Quart entertains the reader with bizarre tales from the world of burgeoning juvenile cosmetic enhancement surgery and overeager vendors hawking their wares in ostentatious party circuits. However, most of the observations seem to rely on anecdotes and cited published literature, and nearly all of it (excepting a very slim section on Tony Hawk?s video game and ephedrine supplements) is focused on girls. It is as if boys are absolutely unaffected by the merchandising volley served up with an unhealthy dose of corporate greed. The more innovative sections dealing with the branding of University culture, the sneak attacks into our schools, and the abrupt harvest of young auteurs make fashionably late appearances as the text reaches its breathy end. We get few facts and more anecdotes, but the reader is almost certainly left thirsty for solutions and optimism. And perhaps a fizzy green drink that will make you score hoops. Every time.


Read more in:

·        Berry J, Keller E: The Influentials: One American in Ten Tells the Other Nine How to Vote, Where to Eat, and What To Buy. 368 pp. Free Press. January 2003

·        Frank T: The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism. 265 pp. University of Chicago Press. November 1997

·        Hine T: I Want That!: How We All Became Shoppers. 240 pp. HarperCollins, November 2002

·        Lindstrom M, Seybold PB: BRANDChild: Insights in the Minds of Today?s Global Kids: Understanding their Relationships with Brands. 320 pp. Kogan Page Ltd. March 2003

·        Moses E: The $100 Billion Allowance: How to Get your Share of the Global Teen Market. 240 pp. John Wiley & Sons. April 2000


© 2004 Sundeep Nayak


Dr. Nayak is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Radiology in the University Of California School Of Medicine San Francisco and his interests include mental health, medical ethics, and gender studies. A voracious reader and intrepid epicure, he enjoys his keyboards too much. He proudly owned a pair of Jordache jeans but pretends not to remember their current whereabouts.

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