My Pocket Picked by a Mouse

By Jason Menard

Mar. 2, 2007 — Call CrimeStoppers, I’ve had my pocket picked! The culprit? A short, dark male with a propensity for wearing red pants and no shirt. He has overly large ears and a high-pitched, squeaky voice.

Aiding this crime were his female accomplice, an unintelligible duck – who should be approached with caution because his frothing at the mouth may indicate rabies – and a large, clumsy dog with an aw-shucks countenance and limited cognitive abilities. Amazingly, these clever bandits made off with my money while I was sitting in the comfort of my own home, as the real scene of the crime took place when my wife, daughter, and mother attended the recent Disney on Ice spectacle at the John Labatt Centre.

But let’s not blame Disney alone as this gang wasn’t alone in perpetrating the crime – the management of the local arena was more than a willing conspirator.

There is an expectation, at any event, that you will pay a premium for items and memorabilia. Like at amusement parks and sporting events, people are more willing to part with their hard-earned money once they’ve become caught up in the atmosphere. But the combination of over-the-top pricing and preying on small children is something that, while it fills the company’s coffers, should leave the recipients with an empty feeling.

In the end it may have been cheaper to take my family to Disneyworld , especially after considering the $15 program, the $20 wand, the $4.50 beverages, and the $10 popcorn — $10 for something that probably costs 30 cents in kernels. And we complain about movie theatre prices!

Now, the argument will be that you don’t have to buy these things, and that a simple no is enough. And we, as parents, do our best to show our kids what can and can’t be done on limited resources. Although all children will ask for everything, we try to show that you can’t have everything, and that things need to be saved up for or budgeted. We say no far, far more often than we say yes.

But at a celebration, specifically targeted to young children, you can forgive any parent for wanted to maximize the enjoyment. What seems like a cheap piece of plastic with flashing lights to an adult is, in essence, a magical experience for a young girl. To us, it’s a toy wand, to her it’s the embodiment of her dreams and a tool to use to create future memories and experiences. They say there’s no price you can put on those memories, but these cash-grabbers are certainly doing their best wring out every last dollar.

Unfortunately, the prices charged are only reflective of what the market will bear. If people weren’t willing to shell out these exorbitant rates, then they wouldn’t charge them. But there’s a subtle difference between fair market value for a product that’s targeted towards an adult, and what’s considered fair when your demographic is under the age of 10. And while parents have a responsibility to their own budgets, marketers abdicate any responsibility towards not exploit the dreams and imaginations of the youth that propel their product.

It’s not a matter of parents feeling that not buying something for their children makes them lesser parents, but rather it’s a desire to accentuate the experience by having something tangible to take home with you (or, in the case of the $4.50 Diet Coke, having something to ward off dehydration…) It’s a matter of helping to make memories last and being able to afford to do so.

The thing is, there is no legal obligation for producers and venue owners to change their price structure – it can be argued that there is only a moral one. If they can justify charging $20 for $3 worth of cheap plastic and circuitry, then so be it – they’re not alone in the market for inflating the value of their products. And, yes, adults should take a stand and fight back against price gouging. But must that stand be taken upon the foundation of our children’s imaginations?

And let’s not just base this argument on the consumer end. There are plenty of reasons why shows like this – and the venues that host them – should re-evaluate their pricing. First, the tangible: by lowering your prices, you would increase consumption. There have been many times I’ve heard people walk away from concessions and booths without spending a dime because the prices are too high. By lowering the prices a bit, while still respecting the margin, you would increase the number of consumers taking action. The key is to find that right balance to maximize profits – the same type of math we learned in high school.

Secondly, the intangible – and, by far, the most important. In large part, people aren’t offended by the total they spent, they’re irate at the individual prices. By providing better value-priced merchandise, you’ll stimulate spending, while leaving people with a better feeling about their purchases. They’ll feel they’ve received value for their dollar and will be more willing to return for subsequent events, thereby creating a self-perpetuating, steady source of reliable income. If morality doesn’t sway you, then cold hard business should.

In the end, yes, I was robbed (and thank goodness for generous grandparents – who were also robbed), but it’s an inflated price I – along with many other parents – am begrudgingly willing to pay to help my children live their dreams.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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