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Why are there so many back-to-school ads on TV – in midsummer?

Student in a hallway

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We are barely midway through the dog days of summer, so why is everyone in such a rush to get back to school?

Anybody who has even randomly sampled primetime television lately will have noticed the proliferation of commercials from retailers imploring parents to start hitting the stores to buy backpacks, pencil crayons, sneakers, laptop computers and various other items designed to further the education of grade-school kids and high-schoolers.

And no, it's not your imagination. According to Advertising Age, the back-to-school ad campaigns by Wal-Mart and other retail chains began a full month earlier this year. Apple kicked off its back-to-school promotion on July 2, barely three weeks after the kids finished classes for the previous school year.

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As should be expected, some of the back-to-school prodding is accompanied by dubious research. A recent U.S. survey by the optimistically named consumer group fatwallet.com revealed that nearly 40 per cent of high-school kids want new clothes for the upcoming school year and most of them would really like a new smartphone. They needed a survey to tell us that?

The real downside of all this advance consumerism? Family stress and general conflict, you betcha. According to a recent Time story, 1 in 5 high-school students say they desperately need a new smartphone or laptop for the new school year. 0 in 5 parents are in agreement.

All the power to greedy corporations and early planners, but it's still far, far too soon for parents to be thinking about back-to-school shopping. Why, the Toronto Blue Jays haven't even been officially eliminated from playoff contention yet. Some children have yet to even spend their week at Hunger Games fantasy camp.

And while this midsummer mad dash toward consumerism might be good for the economy, it can't be doing the kids any good. Think of the children! So far this week, while watching the usual reality-show regimen (The Amazing Race Canada, So You Think You Can Dance, MasterChef, et al) with my own 11-year-old, we've been subjected to no fewer than a dozen TV spots for back-to-school shopping. Each time one comes on, I can feel her cringe.

In our house, we're taking the endless summer approach, wherein we enjoy each sunny day as it comes and firmly refuse to participate in any back-to-school activity until Labour Day weekend.

Just to be safe, though, I'm digging out my old slide rule and calculator for the kid. You never know.

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