Parents and product endorsements

As a parent, I guess I'm a marketer's aide. The other day I asked my 6-year-old to identify a sandal I pulled out of the closet. She called it "a Teva," then called me silly for asking.

Like others in our family, she has conferred special status on the Velcro-strapped footwear.

In Luna's world, like everyone's, there's already a list of brand names – Q-Tip, Play-Doh (Velcro, for that matter) – that serve as shorthand for an entire category.

What gives certain brands that household clout? Sometimes it's an endorsement passed down from one generation to the next – based on a comfort that comes with, say, that familiar Quaker Oats canister.

Sometimes it's survival of the fittest that keeps other brands at bay: Crayolas keep finding a place in my home because those other crayons just seem so ... waxy.

Yes, plenty of shallower factors creep in. Media-mauled teens are particularly susceptible to the kind of competitive brand buying that many adults have turned into an Olympic event. Now preschoolers in my town, to cite another footwear example, boast to one another about their Merrell slip-ons – even pointing out "fakes."

For now, my daughter has no idea what make of minivan she rides in, who built the bike she pedals, or what labels are stitched into 99 percent of her duds. Last year's Halloween costume is as beloved to her as any one of her "better" outfits. Teva is simply a moniker, in other words, not a must-have, anointed by a seller.

That's a charming obliviousness parents are sorry to see erode. But the erosion may worsen. The training-wheels set is now a target for marketers, who hope to win their loyalty with goods that critics say are no more than vessels for logos.

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