FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Monday, October 04, 2004

Mastercard Targets Pre-Teens with Debit Cards

MSNBC reports that Mastercard is issuing debit cards featuring the popular "Hello Kitty" character in an effort to attract pre-teen and teenage girls.

Mastercard is marketing the card as a tool to teach kids financial responsibility, and points out that kids need their parents' permission to apply for the card. These cards follow a trend established by Visa in 2000 when it introduced its Visa Buxx card.

Critics have slammed Mastercard not only for exploiting such a young market, but for charging high fees in the process. Unlike bank-issued debit cards that are essentially free to account holders, these debit cards carry a $14.95 setup fee, a $14.95 annual renewal fee, and a $2.95 monthly maintenance fee. That's over $50 a year in fees. Ouch!

These cards highlight a number of trends, not the least of which is the targeting of teenage and pre-teen girls by marketers. (Question: Who's targeting teen and pre-teen boys?) Whether or not this is truly a dangerous trend is debatable. On one level, it's in questionable taste. But on another, we live in a consumer society, and the sooner kids understand how it works, the better.

Another trend this brings to light is the growing importance of debit and credit cards in our economy. Many futurists like to speak of a "cashless society" in which consumers no longer carry bills and coins, but it's already happening -- except rather than being driven by the government, the drive is coming from the private sector. Rare is the retailer who refuses to accept Visa and Mastercard these days. Debit and credit cards are also safer in that payments made by them are refutable, and they can be cancelled and replaced if lost or stolen, unlike cash. And, of course, one needs a card to make purchases online.

Yet another trend this card brings to light is the speed with which we bring kids into the adult world. Psychologists bemoan the "loss of childhood" as younger and younger kids are marketed to, dress like Britney Spears, engage in sex and substance abuse, and assume adult responsibilities at an earlier age. At the same time, adults have become more childlike, refusing to grow up. Middle aged "kidults" dress like teenagers, play video games, listen to youth-oriented music, and more frequently shun adult responsibilities like marriage, child-rearing and even jobs. Kidults are a target market in themselves. Many of them might even want Hello Kitty debit cards...