The first payday loan shop especially for children opens in Finsbury Park today. The store, which offers kids advance loans on their pocket money at rates as low as 5000% APR*, hopes to attract young people from across the capital to take advantage of their wide range of credit products.
The company, which uses the bright, cartoon-filled graphics synonymous with payday lenders, wants to allow children of any background to be able to “buy what they can’t afford”. As well as pocket money loans, the shop also offers kids ‘logbook loans’ secured by their toy cars, sub-prime ‘bouncy castle mortgages’ and rent-to-buy deals on gobstoppers.
As you might have guessed, the shop is in fact a work of satire created by London based artist Darren Cullen, who says he wants to draw attention to, among other things, the way the consumer credit industry preys on the vulnerable and targets children with marketing.
Cullen says that the aim of Pocket Money Loans is to “take our consumer debt culture to its logical conclusion.”
“Almost all payday loan companies have cartoon mascots, animated characters or sing-along jingles in their adverts.” 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 both a means of persuading their parents, but also as a way to groom the next generation of indebted customers.”
He claims that the insidious nature of advertising means we are trapped into cycles of living beyond our means, “Advertising 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 a part of their personality.”
But it is advertising directed at children which 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. There is a giant industry of vastly intelligent 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’s website (pocketmoneyloans.com) contains such slogans as “Get out of debt with a loan” and while Cullen blames consumer culture for a lot of debt problems he admits that most people aren’t using payday loan companies to buy new things, and that many are forced to rely on such companies because they are simply in dire economic straits.
He claims the main issue is that financial deregulation has led to the poor being ripped apart by vulture-like lenders who are able to charge eye-watering levels of interest to those least able to afford it. “Payday loan customers who repay on time are in the minority and they offer the smallest profit margin to the company.” Cullen says, “It’s the people who can’t afford to repay on time who rack up charges and compound interest over weeks or months. That’s where the real profits lie, built upon the backs of the poorest, most vulnerable members of society.”
The shop which will open for two weeks, also features art prints deriding cash-for-gold pawn shops, (“Tooth Fairy – Healthy Teeth Bought for £££s”) and an advert for ‘Nivea Pro-Aging Cream’ (“Dramatically Reduces the Appearance of Childhood”) which the artist claims is part and parcel of the insidious nature of youth consumerism, “The momentum of child marketing is towards “age compression”, where products previously the domain of older kids are advertised to younger and younger age groups,” he says. “This strategy not only brutally robs children of their childhood for commercial gain, but it also leads to a decrease in imaginative play, as children feel pressured into acting more grown up. Not to mention the disturbing trend of sexualising young girls in tween fashion.”
Despite all this however, the artist, who initially studied advertising before changing to fine art at Glasgow School of Art, says that, apart from a ban on payday loan companies or advertising directed at children, he’s pessimistic about there being any meaningful change to consumer culture as many of these problems are inherent to the system. “Modern capitalism has to relentlessly grow or die, it constantly needs new markets of consumers and it needs those consumers to increasingly buy more. Obviously that eventually reaches a limit of what people can afford, and when you have a recession, where people have low wages and very little savings, the economy needs them to go into debt in order to keep consuming. ”
The shop is the first installation to take place in Finsbury Park’s new Atom Gallery, 77 Stroud Green Road, and runs from the 27th October until the 8th November (Mon-Sat, 10am-6pm), with a closing exhibition private view on the 7th November, from 6pm.