Saturday, November 29, 2008

Turn off the TV!

There is a movement afoot to stop toy companies from advertising their toys directly to the kids. Many parents have written letters on behalf of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood to the leading toy manufacturers asking them to stop running ads aimed directly at children.

Unfortunately, I believe their efforts will be about as successful as asking McDonald's to stop putting special sauce on the Big Mac.

Why do toy manufacturers market to children? Because it works! And it works well. TV-advertised toys outsell their less-marketed brethren by astonishing rates. Without TV advertising for toys, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target and Toys R Us would probably get out of the toy business. (Hey, maybe banning ads is not a bad thing at all). The big stores only want toys with quick turnover. That's why most of the toys found in the national chains are either licensed with some TV or movie character or heavily advertised first on TV and then in their Sunday ads.

Of course, nowhere in that equation is there room for discussion on whether the toy is actually good or not. Nowhere in the math does any of those mass merchants consider things like play value, creativity, or imagination. Nope, the only question they have is, "How fast will this move?" And if it's on TV, the answer is fast enough.

Now, I believe it is fair of parents to be concerned about how these toy companies market to children. But asking them to change is pointless. If you don't want the fatty foods of McDonald's you eat elsewhere. The same is true with toys. If you don't want your children bombarded with toy ads, TURN OFF THE TV.

Yes, it's that simple. Be the parent, take charge, and limit your child's exposure.

Some people say that all those ads just help children learn to deal with the marketing realities of this world. I'm not fully in that camp. I do believe that there is a learning process, but I also believe that we, as parents, must control that learning process. We do that by controlling the exposure. We do that by setting limits. We do that by being proactive and explaining to our children how advertising works.

That's what my family has done these past 60 years while running a toy store. In fact, growing up we were taught that most TV-advertised toys were bad toys. The good toys didn't need TV ads to sell. My cousin took this lesson to heart so much that one Christmas he complained saying, "Santa screwed up. He brought me some bad TV toys."

If you are tired of hearing your kids yell, scream, beg and plead for the latest, hottest toy, don't write a letter to the company. Just turn off the TV and go find a toy store that specializes in non-advertised, fun-laden, high play value toys - a toy store like Toy House and Baby Too or any of the hundreds of independent specialty toy stores around the country.

-Phil

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