“Grooming” Children to be Good Little Consumers

The Sephorification of American Youth
March 27, 2024

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Sephora, Kiehls, and the Grooming of Childhood Consumers

This week, Google notified me that my eldest daughter will soon be old enough to digitally emancipate herself from my parental controls on devices where she maintains a Gmail account. 

COPPA, the Child Online Privacy and Protection Act, deems that a thirteen-year-old is capable of making their own privacy decisions, and may elect to leave our family privacy tracking settings.

The entrance to teenagehood could mean that her digital footprint — ad preferences, watch history, and even online shopping behaviors, are all fair game for digital marketers. But thirteen isn’t where her consumer journey began. For many kids like mine, consumer behaviors begin much, much earlier.

You might have seen the recent CBC report on the ‘Sephora Kids’ trend that is making headlines. YouTube creators, TikTok Livestreams, and ‘GRWM’ (get ready with me) content have memorialized Sephora and Ulta as a primary destination for some children’s experiential shopping. 

Vlogs of Sephora birthday parties notwithstanding, the trend underscores growing concerns about children’s media consumption and glamorization of consumer culture. Viral products like the Stanley Quencher may start their trend ascendency among millennials, but the ten-and-under crowd is driving products and experiences to new mimetic heights.

The new monoculture isn’t a pop artist like Taylor Swift; it’s Sephora, Target, and Jeffrey Starr. Product and brand virality have strong agreement across generational lines for the first time. Ever.

TikTok viral products are revealing more generational agreement. “Our first product collaboration was with a YouTuber,” said BK Beauty co-founder Lisa Jauregui at the VISIONS Summit: Austin during SXSW. “She's in her sixties…. [it] has exploded on TikTok.” The product? A concealer brush for women experiencing menopause. “I was at my daughter's career fair at a middle school, and we had 8th graders coming up to us saying, I have the hot and flashy concealer brush,” says Jauregui. “[TikTok revealed] this market of consumers that we didn't expect two years ago.”

Social and video algorithms alone aren’t to blame. The “grooming” of youth into good little consumers has become a multiplayer, participatory act. Curiously, the current trend cycle is focused on beauty, anti-aging, and personal care.

But it didn’t begin there; after specialty retailers like Toys ‘R Us collapsed, the toy aisle was relegated to shopping megastore destinations like Target. There, children can push their own child-sized Target shopping cart, which you can purchase for $20, and buy products like Mini Brands: miniature replicas of everyday consumer products packaged in a blind box model—opaque plastic spheres that create an air of mystery and rarity around the toy contained within. Mini Brands had an estimated $1.4B USD in revenue in 2023.

The trend works in both directions. Mondelez-owned Sour Patch Kids announced a viral rebrand stunt today, saying “it’s time to grow up.” The new brand name is “Sour Patch Adults,” just in time for April Fool’s. The announcement, made on social media channels, uses a screenshot form letter, making a meta-reference to social media Notes app apologies by large corporations.

Credit: Kiehl’s on Instagram

As with all trend cycles, the backlash comes quickly. In reaction to the ‘Sephora Kids’ trend, Kiehl’s unveiled a new campaign aimed at parents. The social media campaign launched with the caption “Childhood goes by fast! Don’t let your kids waste it on a 10-step skincare routine.” One image features a child eating an ice cream cone, with the headline ‘the only anti-aging cream kids should buy.’

My daughter turns thirteen next week, and while her privacy choices are now up to her, I will remain an active participant in the products that she buys and the content she consumes. But if brands do take an active role in co-parenting this generation, I sure hope they adopt the same consumer compass as Kiehl’s.

— Phillip

P.S. No Shoptalk? No problem. We broke down the good, bad, and ugly parts of the opening day. Join Future Commerce+ to get full access, or catch the teaser clip on Apple or Spotify.

Sight & Sound. Just 18 months after exiting to Authentic Brands Group, Ted Baker prepares to appoint administrators, putting nearly 1,000 jobs at risk. Retailers seize on cellphone data to pinpoint new store locations. Visa and Mastercard agree to cap swipe fees for five years, settling a long-running lawsuit.

Touch. Washington State will use drones to restore areas affected by graffiti. Dupe discourse is back: Nikita Bier launches Dupe.com to find the best price for any item online by visual similarity. Anine Bing and Reebok to release Princess Diana-inspired capsule.

Image Credit: Liquid Death

The Palate. McDonald’s to sell Krispy Kreme Doughnuts across the US. Liquid Death and e.l.f. Announced “Corpse Paint”, a makeup kit in a coffin, featuring KISS aesthetics. Star Wars fans, blue milk is coming to grocery stores nationwide. Jimmy John’s drops a sandwich-inspired silk scarf. Costco cracks down on its food court; membership cards are now required. Distillery in Scotland uses SmokeDNAi technology to create limited-edition whisky. NHS doctor urges public not to eat a whole Cadbury egg in one go.

Image Credit: Steve Johnson via Unsplash

AI restrictions added to ad agency contracts amid growing trend. Kiehls fights back against the “Sephorification” of childhood with a new IG campaign. A new report on ‘The Hypercycle’ explores the chaos of tracking and identifying relevant trends.

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