One of the most powerful motivating forces in a new parent's life is fear: fear of doing something wrong, fear of something happening to your baby, fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of the kid not getting into Harvard, whatever kind of fear you need, rest assured a new parent is stocking up on it, in bulk.
Marketers in the baby industry are well aware of this, and they have become disconcertingly adept at playing to those fears and anxieties, usually with carefully oblique comments loaded with unspoken criticism like, "Of course, you only want what's best for your child, [don't you??]" and "Well, the most important thing to us at Dry Cleaning Bags4Kidz is your child's safety [how about you?]" They're often effective precisely because they leave the parent to complete the thought, to question themselves, and to turn to the company who's only here to help make your baby safe, after all [and to keep the stock price up until the CEO's options vest.]
But sometimes you'll find a company whose exploitative fanning of parental fears is so brazen and disgusting, it really should be called out. In this Googling age, I won't use the name of the product, but it's a simple proximity sensor built into a carseat clip, that goes off if the child is left behind in the car. Obviously, it's intended to prevent kids from being forgotten in a hot car, where they're at risk of brain damage and death. A couple dozen babies die each year in the US, which is obviously a tragedy. But this beeper company not only focuses on the threat of death and tragedy, but the threat of imprisonment and prosecution in its copy, while wrapping up with the promise that "[Our product] will give you peace of mind that your most precious possession won't fall victim to your demanding lifestyle."
And if that's not enough, their pitch actually includes the rambling, grief-stricken, firsthand account of a mother whose baby died in her carseat the week after the dad switched to daycare dropoff duty. [No one comes out and says it, but in much of the language of its promoters, the implication is that this is meant to save children from being baked alive by their dads. Actually, one commenter's imagined worst-case scenario gets pretty close: in it, "the alternate parent is rushing to his work to meet his schedule and inadvertently forgets about his child in the backseat since he is not accustom to this daily task."]
That comment was left on a little-trafficked parenting blog from India, of all places, called ilovemybaby.org. [The site's tone is off, in a displaced, outsourced-to-Bangalore way, and it has a weirdly passive aggressive and argumentative opposition to paternity leave, but whatever. Not my problem.] Seems a concerned reader had contacted ILMB about this great, new product coming out which will save tiny lives and demanding lifestyles. And within a day, a couple dozen uniformly ecstatic comments appeared out of nowhere. They all had generic Western names (except for the two guys named "Mat" who had different last names, but near-identical comments, 4 minutes apart.) and had heard about these senseless tragedies that the beeper would prevent, thank heaven.
That same concerned reader emailed me yesterday, giving me a heads up to this VV Important Post and encouraging me to help "spread the word." Then today, I got another email from her, with the link to the beeper's corporate site. Turns out she's the marketing director for the company. [What're the odds, right?]
And to top it all off, this gadget with the Happy Meal Toy-grade technology, that probably cost a buck to make, is available for pre-order for $59.95 with a keychain beeper, and $79.95 with a car-door adapter. Even the MBA in me is shocked, never mind the parent.
So here's the deal, baby product marketers: