At a restaurant the other day, my four-year-old son was drawing while we waited for our food. He handed me his latest work of art and said, "This is what they wear at the Olympics." I expected to see a facsimile of the rings, or perhaps even the American flag. I wouldn't have been surprised to see a rendition of the female beach volleyball team, who piqued my son's interest because they were "playing in their underwear." (This from a kid who never draws people without including nipples.)
But, to my horror, the symbol of the Olympics that my son decided to draw was the Nike (NYSE: NKE ) swoosh. Not the five interlocking rings symbolizing the five continents, but a whimsical logo designed in 1971 by a graphic arts student Nike founder Phil Knight found in a college hallway while he was teaching accounting classes.
There's something disturbing about the symbols of the Olympics being supplanted by a corporate logo -- "Swifter, Higher, Stronger" being surpassed by "Just Do It." What's next? "This Presidential Inauguration brought to you by...." Well, actually, that is the case -- corporations just don't get to put their logos on the president's lapel... yet.
This reminds me of Supersize Me, the movie about Morgan Spurlock's 30 days of eating nothing but food from McDonald's (NYSE: MCD ) . In one of the movie's best scenes, Spurlock showed elementary school kids pictures of historical figures. The kids had trouble recognizing such people as George Bush and Jesus Christ (one kid confused the two), but had no trouble recognizing Ronald McDonald and Wendy of Wendy's (NYSE: WEN ) . Perhaps that's why McDonald's has a line of children's clothes, games, books, and DVDs. It works.
Speaking of George Bush, the Republicans will be heartened to know that their campaign is working. I was watching the Sunday morning talks shows and their rehashing of the presidential debate, and my two-year-old daughter made up a song with one lyric: "Flip-flop, flip-flop, flip-flop." Since I'm a political independent, I thought it was only fair to teach my daughter a criticism of the other side, but she had trouble making a song of "biggest increase in discretionary government spending in 40 years."
I guess it shouldn't be surprising that marketing works on kids. After all, during the first three years that Reynolds American (NYSE: RAI ) , then RJR Nabisco, ran Joe Camel ads, Camel's market share of the under-18 crowd leapt to 32.8% from 0.5%. But it wasn't supposed to work on my kids. My wife and I fiercely guard what our kids watch on TV, limiting their viewing to such commercial-free programs as Sesame Street. Oh, wait -- Ernie and Bert are underwritten by McDonald's. Shoot.
I don't have anything against advertising per se. We here at The Motley Fool benefit from the marketing biz, so I don't want to bite the waving, pointing, grasping, and popping-up hand that feeds me. But there's something insidious about influencing children. And shouldn't some things -- e.g., the Olympics -- be kept commercial-free?
Unfortunately for Nike, its influence on my children won't earn them any more of my money. That's because my kids are doomed to get the most reasonably priced clothes available, not the coolest. As I've written before, I already eat my children's scraps. I'm not about to delay my retirement so my kids can have $100 shoes. Spending is a huge determinant of our financial futures, both before retirement and after. (See "Your Dam Retirement" and "How Much Will You Need to Retire?") Even directing just $100 a year to an IRA instead of a Sports Authority (NYSE: TSA ) cash register can grow to $25,000 over a few decades.
So take that, Nike! You may have made an impression on my son, but not on my wallet. Now, I have to get back to work -- I'm developing a Motley Fool line of pacifiers. And maybe I can get Santa to switch to a jester cap.
Robert Brokamp is the editor of the Motley Fool Rule Your Retirement newsletter service. Receive a 30-day free trial, and the 8 Ways to Supercharge Your Retirement special report, byclicking here.