This past weekend I was able to relive a part of my childhood. My brother and I were able to get tickets to go watch the re-release of Star Wars Episode I. I must say that I was extremely excited to go watch the movie, but when I got there I realized that I was now the “old geeky guy” as I was surrounded by children and teenagers. As I sat next to my older brother in the theater awaiting to watch Star Wars, I could not help but feel old. My brother and I were reminiscing about the first time that we saw this movie and then we realized that it was almost fifteen years ago. Back then my brother was sporting the typical 90’s gelled up hair and I was still watching Power Rangers. I felt old when I realized this, I can’t imagine how he felt now that he is almost 30. Nevertheless, the movie was awesome and I was glad that my brother and I were able to relive our glory days once again. On the ride back home, he and I were talking about how much publicity the movie had made, both good and bad. Personally, when I first heard that they were going to re-release all of the movies I was ecstatic. But of course there are those hardcore fans who were outraged when the movie came out the first time, I not being among them. But that is the beauty about Star Wars, you will always have people fighting over which movie is the best, that George Lucas destroyed the originals, who Shot first, etc. But no matter what side they choose, light or dark, every fan will still go watch the movies.
Our discussion and reading of marketing toys directly to children made me consider advertisments that I was exposed to growing up. Almost all of these advertisements for toys, movies, and video games were directed at children and not at adults, a development that Gary Cross finds originated in the early twentieth century., citing a 1913 article in Toys and Novelties that advocated marketing to children “to cause their wonderment, their desire for ownership and their immediate pleas.” (52)
This marketing tenet seems to still hold true in advertising toward the very end of the 20th century, as exemplified by these advertisements between children’s programming on Nickelodeon in 1999, specifically the two Star Wars ads. I remember the first one specifically because it advertised the connection of two things very dear to my seven-year-old self: Star Wars and Legos. These advertisements were crafted specfically to run on a children’s network and are completely geared toward the imagination and playfulness of a child audience. There are no adults buying or giving toys to children, just children playing within the “Star Wars universe,” fulfilling their own desires to be a part of a galaxy far, far away.
Cross states that “toy companies recognized that in an era of growing permissiveness, children had influence of parent’s spending,” and cites this as a cause for marketing to shift towards children. Although this may be the origin of this idea, I believe that the increase in media consumption of American youth in the pass few decades has been the most significant factor in the use and success of advertisements geared directly toward children. The source of this clip shows this phenomenon, as the almost entirely youth-oriented Nickelodeon television network, a relatively new media development, enables advertisement blocks to directly target younger demographics. As mass media has spread throughout all facets of American life, advertisement has been able to capitalize on very precise niches that in ways that it couldn’t’ one hundred years ago.
This is the course website for Rebecca Onion's American Studies seminar at the University of Texas at Austin, convened during the spring semester of 2012. You can see the website for last semester's version of this course at this link.