The first payday loan shop especially for children opens in Finsbury Park in north London on Monday. The store, which offers kids advances on their pocket money at rates as low as 5,000 per cent APR, says it hopes to attract young people from across the capital to take advantage of its wide range of credit products.
The company, which uses the bright, cartoon-filled graphics synonymous with payday lenders, says it wants children of any background to be able to "buy what they can't afford".
As well as pocket money loans, the shop offers kids "logbook loans" secured on their toy cars, sub-prime "bouncy castle mortgages" and rent-to-buy deals on gobstoppers.
That last one should be a giveaway that the whole thing is a spoof. But it's a clever spoof with a serious message. The man behind it is artist Darren Cullen, who says he wants to draw attention to the way in which the consumer credit industry preys on the vulnerable and targets children with marketing.
"Almost all payday loan companies have cartoon mascots, animated characters or singalong jingles in their adverts." Mr Cullen says. "Their high-street shops often have play areas full of toys and some of them hand out balloons and sweets to kids at the counter. It's a clear fact they target children, as a means of persuading their parents, but also as a way to groom the next generation of indebted customers."
He's also angry at the insidious nature of advertising. "It is so powerful that, without us realising, it makes us define who we are through objects. People end up identifying with the products of industry as if they were part of their personality."
And it is advertising directed at children that he finds most disturbing, "Marketers are putting kids in MRI scanners and showing them adverts to see which areas of the brain light up to certain words, colours or shapes," he claims.
"There is a giant industry of incredibly smart psychologists and advertisers who are using every advance of modern science to make your child feel like they need and love certain products and brands."
The shop, which will be open for two weeks on Stroud Green Road, Finsbury Park, will highlight other aspects of youth consumerism by selling art prints deriding cash-for-gold pawn shops – "Tooth Fairy, Healthy Teeth Bought for £££s" – and an advert for "Nivea Pro-Ageing Cream, dramatically reduces the appearance of childhood".
It's a very interesting way to highlight some of the wrongs that young consumers face. In fact the whole campaign is so convincing that, after a Twitter teaser this week, the shop's website at pocketmoneyloans.com very quickly generated some angry comments.
We are so used to high-cost credit companies targeting the vulnerable that if Pocket Money Loans were a real business, it wouldn't come as much surprise. And that's a sharp reminder of how low the activities of some firms has been.
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