Attend a wedding expo, and you’ll likely walk away astounded at the sheer volume of highly specific crap people seem to think brides need. It seems like peak unnecessary hard sell—that is, until you start shopping for babies.
Racked did a deep dive on the baby product industry, a wild world that is huge and growing rapidly. Sales were $23 billion in the U.S. in 2013, and many companies are posting record numbers. If you’ve recently stopped by a Babies R Us to birthday shop for tiny new relatives, this might sound familiar:
“This stuff just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” says Dana Wood, an analyst with the Robin Report. “A decade ago, there was one baby carrier. Now, there are dozens of them. Whenever someone in the market has something new, you can be sure there will be 10 more coming down the pipeline.”
Many of the advances these days are iterative, like creating more luxurious versions of staples or tailoring a stroller that much more closely to a particular environment. Which makes sense—a parent who’ll have to scale subway steps may very well have different priorities from one who lives somewhere car-centric. Also, I’m told those bandana bibs are great if you’ve got a drooler.
But plenty of the stuff available is unnecessary, or doesn’t live up to its hype. Josh Golin of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood called out educational toys specifically, with their grand claims about helping kids’ development. Saying that “Ii’s very important to read those kinds of claims with a grain of salt,” he cautions parents: “The more specific the claims are, the more I would be wary of them.”
It’s not that different from the marketing swarm that is wedding planning. But while pitches to brides often harp on the one perfect day—implying that anything less is a damning verdict on your whole life—baby marketing’s head trip is even more straightforward. Nothing’s too good for baby, and if you won’t (or can’t) shell out for the supposed latest and greatest, you are a monster:
“Families who are pregnant are particularly vulnerable and the marketing industry knows this,” adds [psychologist Dr. Susan] Linn. “From peer pressure to the anxiety of being a good parent, parents are vulnerable in so many ways. Really, the most important things a newborn baby needs is to be safe, loved, fed, cuddled, and played with. But the messages given to new parents today are that if you don’t have the latest, most updated products, your baby won’t be safe and you won’t be a good parent.”
Which is precisely what makes all this crap so irritating. If you’re loaded and you want a bunch of non-essential futuristic nonsense, go with God! It’s your money! If it makes your life even a little easier, have at it! But terrified new parents barely clinging onto the emotional roller coaster shouldn’t feel obligated, either.
Anyway, you can get what’s essentially a Keurig for baby formula now.
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