Monday, September 28, 2009

The Commerce of Life

It's easy to be cynical when the omnipresent advertising and entertainment industries twist every heartfelt emotion to their own advantage. My pet peeve is commercially packaged aw-shucks cuteness that exploits our tender ideas about the innocence of childhood. The lemonade stand comes to mind . . . and imitation naive handwriting, with backwards letters. These are things that kids do naturally, but they have become cliches to sell bad product.

The real thing: My son played shopkeeper with a bake sale
(the backwards cents symbol was a genuine mistake on his part).

My son has been trying to play shopkeeper for over a year. He started with "plant" sales in our driveway, but his merchandise was actually weeds that he pulled out of the woods, and we don't get much traffic in our neighborhood besides. Obviously, he never got any takers. After a bake sale fundraiser at his school, he hit on the idea that sweets had a market. He planned what to make (chocolate chip cookies), where to sell (the only street in our town with enough shops and restaurants to get some good foot traffic), and how much to charge. He thought maybe free was a good price, since "people shouldn't have to pay a buttload of money for a cookie." Aw, shucks.

But really, while I agree that overcharging is disrespectful of others, undercharging is disrespectful of oneself and one's own efforts. We agreed on 25 cents. He made a sign; we put together some change in his toy cash register, tossed his art table and chair in our car, and went to set up shop. He was in business!

Within half an hour he had sold all of his three dozen cookies to good people who were not cynical. I surprised myself by having a ton of fun, and I found the answer to my question about why my little boy wanted to be a salesperson in the first place. He views commerce as social dealings between people, and he made cookies so that he would have something to share. Ninety percent of the people we saw that day stopped and made a purchase, because the thing itself and the interaction had value. I think it's analogous to the explosion of interest in craft fairs and sites like Etsy. People want to make things and share their stuff and themselves (by selling, by blogging); on the other side of the exchange, people want to buy handmade, know the maker, and maybe even have a genuine — dare I say heartwarming? — interaction. There's hope for the human race yet!

Alethea Morrison, Creative Director


GodfreyKate said...

Brilliant post.

Something magical happens when we get out of the way of children. Your son has a very sophisticated view of what commerce can be like and good-on you for steering him right on the pricing.

I'm not for the branding of children, but pure kid power gets my dollar every time.

Deb Burns said...

Beautiful! A gem.