Late, Great: “Zillions”

Unfortunately, I missed the hard-hitting journalism of 1992's binder issue.
Unfortunately, I missed the hard-hitting journalism of 1992’s binder issue.

I know. I’ve neglected this blog. My excuse is that I’ve been busy writing for another blog that’s part of a class I’m taking at UNC Chapel Hill. My life is barely exciting enough for one blog, not to mention two. This blog, though, still serves its original purpose as an outlet for things I don’t always get to express in real life.

Like my interest in marketing/advertising. It goes way back. The true origin is my introduction to Zillions magazine in the mid 1990s. Zillions was a magazine published by Consumer Reports as a kid-oriented offshoot of its flagship publication. There were reviews from kids who tested similar kinds of toys and snacks from different brands.   There were articles about saving money and keeping a budget. Then there were the articles that told you exactly how companies tried to take advantage of you. Sometime between the ages of 9 and 11, I learned why candy was sold at cash registers and displayed to meet a child’s eye level. I learned the reason why, in the movie Cool Runnings, the only soda they were shown drinking was Coke. I learned why you had to walk to the back of the store to find less expensive items while the newer and more expensive ones were kept near the entrance. There was one Zillions issue that had a diagram of a shopping mall and pointed out all the common strategies involved with attracting each type of customer. It was an education that I wouldn’t have received anywhere else.

This enlightenment sometimes came at a price. Being told that adults are targeting you for money is a little like being told there’s no Santa. It makes sense and it explains a lot, but it’s still a letdown. That could explain my aversion to product placement. I’m not opposed to the idea of product placement. It’s just that most of the time, it’s distracting, and it takes away from the illusion that a movie or TV show is in no way a calculated grab at consumers’ wallets. I thought about this the other day while watching reruns of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia from what I like to call the Early Coors Period.

Always Sunny in Philadelphia Coors
How am I supposed to focus on this action with all that Coors in the way?

It’s a good strategy: the show largely takes place in a bar, so featuring Coors seems only natural. The problem is that whoever was in charge treated the Coors logo like a 6-year old treats unicorn stickers. They’ve toned it down a bit since, but it’s still obvious. (More subtle product placement is possible: in the movie The Blind Side, it almost looked like a coincidence that everyone wore Under Armour.) I’m not sure if it was Zillions that made me extra-sensitive to product placement, but I’m sure it helped.

Not that I’m complaining. Zillions took apart product marketing and pointed out how everything functions, like taking apart a toy car to see how it works. Sometimes it seemed cynical, but it was also a way to show  kids how the world works while keeping it interesting. It stopped its publication in 2000. Trying to start it up again in the current state of magazine publishing is a bad idea, but I’m sure there’s a place for a Consumer Reports-type website for kids, if there isn’t one already. To twist a quote misattributed to Eva Perón: It will come back and it will be Zillions.

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