In The Morning News archives Mike Deri Smith introduces us to KidZania, an international theme park where the theme is seemingly “capitalism” and kids get to play-work at having a job and earning a living:
Each child receives a bank account, an ATM card, a wallet, and a check for 50 KidZos (the park’s currency). At the park’s bank, which is staffed by adult tellers, kids can withdraw or deposit money they’ve earned through completing activities—and the account remains even when they go home at the end of the day.
The kids go work at pretend gas stations, factories, construction sites, and factories. But these aren’t just any workplaces. They’re corporate-sponsored:
But when the children are learning factory work, it’s in a job bottling Coca-Cola, and when they’re working at a restaurant, that “restaurant” has golden arches. The dentist office is sponsored by Crest. The plane fuselage visible from the airport-style departure gate through which you access each KidZania franchise is branded, too. Corporate sponsorship is crucial to the KidZania concept. Companies can sponsor generic job activities, and other jobs are specifically built around the participating brands. Some sponsors fit awkwardly in the park: Selling Chevrolet to children is tough. The answer in these situations is often to put up a few computers in a booth where children can interact with the brand—in the Chevrolet case, by designing a customized Camaro.
Corporate sponsors have been there since the start, providing 55 percent of the initial investment for the first KidZania, built in Mexico in 1999. At KidZania Dubai, these deals account for 35 to 45 percent of the revenue stream; sponsors have paid an initial sum of $2.6 million to be part of the planned KidZania Kuala Lumpur.
KidZania originated in Mexico City in 1999 and has 15 branches around the world (in Tokyo, Dubai, and Kuala Lumpur, among others). It costs $150 for a family of four to enter KidZania Tokyo, for instance, and they were completely booked for the first three years they were open.
As bleak as corporate-sponsored play might be, I have to admit that I still have fond memories of going to the Louisiana Children’s Museum as a kid and pretend-shopping at a Winn-Dixie-sponsored grocery store.