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Teen Culture Observation

August 31st, 2009 by Mike N · 8 Comments · Culture

Amy Mossoff at The Little Things has a post titled “These children are not my future” in which she links to a post at Scribbit. The ladies are fed up with teenagers going door to door selling stuff, mostly magazines, by appealing to the customer’s altruism. They pitch their need instead of their product which annoys a lot of people including me.

“I’m working my way through college, could you help me by purchasing…” is one I’ve heard a couple of times. I wanted to tell him that he can make more money at Burger King than soliciting D2D but I was so sure it was a scam that I just said “NO thanks” and closed the door. Others like “My class is trying to raise money for such and such so would you buy some of this (candy or whatever)? are getting more common. I want to step outside and say “Listen, if you want to make money then sell your product not your needs. You have to present your product as a value to the customer that will improve his life in some way. Never ever try to sell your product on the grounds that it will make the customer feel noble and virtuous.” Then again, I don’t think some of these kids would understand my words.

Who is telling these youngsters to sell like this? Their parents? School teachers? Does the promotional material for the product advocate this? Or are they just given a product and told ‘Here, go sell this’ without any guidance? Have they been so badly indoctrinated with altruism that they cannot comprehend the idea of appealing to some one’s self interest but must appeal to their guilt feelings? I’m not talking about elementary school kids on charitable fund raisers who really don’t understand the concepts of selling. I’m referring to teenagers who should know something about offering a value.

Anyway I recommend reading both posts at both sites.

8 Comments so far ↓

  • Jeff Tyrrill

    From my memory of a promotional program in my elementary school where the students could raise money for a school trip by selling promotional products door-to-door, the fundraising company that facilitated this for the school definitely coached us to play up “our” needs in this manner, to appeal to the potential customers’ altruism. I don’t think kids would do that on their own.

    One of the students sitting next to me whispered that this was silly–wouldn’t it be much more effective to not talk about our needs, since the customers wouldn’t care about that?

    Ah, how naive he was. 🙂

    (This happened in 1993, give or take a year).

  • Amy

    What I find interesting and what I was referring to in my post was that I’ve had pitches that appeal, not to altruism, but to appreciation of a work ethic, or to ambition. All the teens that came to my door in Michigan from 2002-2007 seemed to start with, “I work for an organization that teaches young people leadership skills…” and then they’d go on to explain how selling magazines was good practice for leadership. I fell for it because I thought these teens were involved in something ambitious that had more to it than the door to door sales. But no, it’s just a pitch and there’s nothing else to it. I suppose it’s nice to see that somebody thinks that ambition might sell better than need.

    Your point is also valid, but it’s a different phenomenon than I was referring to.

  • C.T.

    And then there’s the new Ford sales pitch, which completely cracks me up:

    Why Ford?
    Why Now? . . .

    Why Not?

    They challenge you to come up with reasons NOT to buy it. I can’t tell if that’s confidence or lazy indifference. They probably figure, “Hey, buy it, don’t buy it, who cares? Obama will bail us out anyway.”

  • Michelle at Scribbit

    If it’s not a product that I need at a price that is market competitive it’s not a service I’d care to support unless it’s a charity that helps feed the hungry or house the homeless. But then that’s kind of our stand on things based on our limited resources.

  • Mike N

    Thanks for that info. It’s a shame that fund raisers would promote their wares that way. Were I a businessman I would not want my product sold in this way. But perhaps fund raisers see themselves as aiding charity and not as promoters of product. Still, it seems to me that the best way to aid any charity is to make the most money and that would be to promote the value of the product instead of its cause.

    You’re right of course, I didn’t touch on the particular point you made about how some kids try to sell their work ethic. I should have for it’s a practice I have witnessed myself.

    Yes, it’s almost like the advertising world has lost interest or disdains the idea of promoting a value. Then again perhaps they feel self-interest is evil and they shouldn’t appeal to it.

    Hi Michelle, nice blog. I’ve been known to help local charities as well when I can afford it. I’m usually an easy tap for neighborhood kids whose parents I’m acquainted with. Usually.

  • jb

    I do door-to-door for a living.

    You have to sell yourself and what you do, or you don’t get paid for squat. People buy quality, something the Bamm-Bamm folks have yet to understand.


  • Katrina

    I never sold D2D as a teen, but I did as a kid. I remember being treated with suspicion by some adults if my work was clearly self-motivated i.e. dog walking for my personal profit. I never got any hostility if it was for my school or my Girl Scout Troop.

    In college I ran fundraisers for my dorm. We put together a few excellent short-term business ventures that did very well. However a handful of potential customers would ask what cause our fundraiser was supporting. We always lost those customers because our answer was ourselves.

    In all of my experience selling simple products like food or dog-walks, I have never lost a customer because I seemed selfless, but I have lost some for being selfish. I suspect that the selfish people already know if they want to buy some cookies and won’t inquire further, whereas the altruists will ignore your product and investigate your motives. It therefore may be profit-maximizing to fake a selfless motivation: you won’t lose the selfish costumers who already want your product, and you will avoid losing the selfless ones. Personally I would never do this, but perhaps this is the strategy of the teens in question.