I suspect this this a question as parents we have asked ourselves a lot, do we buy certain toys / presents for our children through the results of marketing or pester power by our children themselves and are they really needed?
We at home have an undeniable large amount of toys for the two boys from larger things like electric bikes to the very small single Hot Wheel’s car. If I am honest they have too much, and I suspect around 90 plus percent have not been played with more than sixty minutes each. So why then do we keep buying things? Is it the fact that we as parents get pulled in by the numerous ads as we are forced to watch with children’s programs or is it the influence brands have on our children which turns into pester power at home or while out shopping?
Children nowadays are bombarded much like ourselves through numerous channels with a far greater range of brands and products than we ever were as children, when Action Man and Tonka were it. Consider what happens now? They play a game on the tablet and an ad pops up, they sit on the internet searching educational YouTube videos and ads pop up, they watch children’s TV and every 5 minutes there is an ad break and Christmas its seems is brought forward every year, so now it just merges into one long event. On top of this you have seasonal activities like Halloween, Easter, it’s no wonder they seems to constantly desire more and more.
All of this has an effect. When I was a child presents happened twice a year; on your birthday and at Christmas, in between you got treats not presents. This however does seem to be the case anymore for a lot of children, and this has meant that the joy of birthday and Christmas seems to have been lost to some extent. It certainly has been diminished for ours with toys being given all year round.
I have therefore found myself asking more and more why, and did we let this happen? Are we one of a multitude of families reacting to the multiple marketing messages we get every day? Do they need these toys, are we victims to a certain extent of the ‘must have’ complex built by marketing and pester power?
Believe me it’s not like we massively spoil our children and compared to other children we know, we might even be considered restrained. However things like travelling a lot has had an effect, with ‘guilt presents’ from the returning daddy (not good if you used to travel virtually every week) and being an expat with visitors and family giving presents, have all accumulated to toys becoming a regular occurrence.
Add to this the world of children’s brands and for them becoming a norm to our world, something I certainly did not realise till an old friend visited and wanted to bring a gift for the boys. I mentioned they like Ninja Turtles and Power Ranges to an answer of ‘What are those?’ I had forgotten there is a world outside of children’s brands that people actually exist in! However a quick Google and our friend was well informed and actually got 2 great gifts that lasted well over the hr. and are still favoured today!
So why did I start to think about this and question ourselves? Well yesterday we were having a BBQ and a game started with the boys which literally consisted off an empty Tropicana container and throwing it to each other in different ways; up high, spinner etc. This lasted well over an hr and they had as much fun as the most expensive toy they have with their pile of toys was not even looked at through this game.
To add to this it’s also been a long weekend here in Jamaica with the boys at home for 4 days and the younger one entertaining himself for hrs. over several days with literally a large cardboard box, toilet tissue and plain sheets of paper on which he drew scary faces to create a booby trap to avoid us getting his things.
We have always known it and perhaps lost our way a bit with the multitude of toys now available, but surely the power of a child’s imagination is the best toy they have got.
So should we not try and forget sometimes all the marketing and brands we are bombarded with on a regular basis and get back to good old basics. A simple object and their imagination. It’s not that they will never get another branded toy but next time I know I will be making more effort in thinking about how we can get them to use best toy they have and it’s for life – their imagination
This year rather than stressing about have they got what they have seen on TV or an ad while playing on an app, perhaps the biggest surprise could be a cardboard box and the fire this stirs in their imagination...
Just wonder how many of us would be brave enough to do this? Try doing s search on 'cardboard box children activites' and you will be surprised the volume of content that exits.
In summary brands have already realised this insight with several commercials based on it and perhaps the reason why toys are always placed in cardboard boxes? The one I like best is from a courier company where you see the child unpacking the present at Christmas, only to place aside the contents and play with the empty cardboard box. A classic and one that says all I have above in 30 seconds!
In my last blog I wrote about my children’s first love of brands, how they fell in love and became lifelong advocates of a yellow horse and a simple tick, with no marketing gimmicks but purely through the innocence of a child’s mind and what they felt gave them something.
At this time of a child’s development is it fascinating seeing how they respond and interact with brands, there is nothing but innocent product desire. With both our children when we were buying them things like walkers, toys etc we would show 2 choices and let them decide. Which one they pointed to was the one we purchased, did they understand what we were asking, we could not say. What we can say though is that they always used these products extensively, there was no outside force affecting their decisions. I can safely say this innocence has now been lost forever and there is no going back.
Years ago I used to work on a children’s brands, it was the time when the term tweenagers had materialized, basically pre-teens having a desire to act and have the brands and products teenagers have. In short a desire for the child to become older as quickly as possible, however we all know we then reverse our psychology to wanting stay younger for as long as possible. Are we never happy for where we are in our stage of life?
Working on these brands it was all about creating a desire in the playground where every child wants what the other one has and turns this into pester power when they go home to the parents. At this stage we are talking about 8 to 11 year olds, nowhere near where my children are yet but it seems I am suffering the same fate and can understand how this story from my past is now me.
To cut a long story short, we had ran a Jurassic Park 3 promotion on a major FMCG brand, while out grocery shopping little did I realize it at the time but I witnessed my future! There was a poor mother with a child literally screaming they wanted the product I ran the promotion on as their friend had it at school, the mother clearly did not want the product but finally gave in just to keep her child quiet. How many times have we experienced this?
What age does the change happen and does it happen to early? The innocence of a brand has already been lost to my 4 year old, who will see an advert on television and just blurt out, ‘Daddy can I have that please’, not even knowing what it really is and why he even might want it. It’s not just that, even now it’s all become about what his friends have and why he has not got the same and then we add another layer which is his older brother. Of course he looks up to his older brother (18 months) and cannot accept why he cannot have the same even if it’s not right for him at that stage of development.
So what does this all add up to? Well, what I am experiencing is that my children literally from about the age of 2 or 3 started to be directly influenced by outside forces that creates a false desire for a brand or product. Imagine if I showed them a choice of 2 products now, it would not be based on innocence of youth but what have their friends have or what would make their friends jealous in the playground or has my brother got it? It’s no longer the innocence of seeing a flashy red sports car and falling for that yellow horse or the simplicity of a logo that is a tick.
It’s now all about a flashy ad, what their friends or brother have. I can understand completely why their school insist on all non-branded attire, they have official uniforms but for example the sports day shoes have to be plain white with no branding. At this sensitive age where they have lost the innocence and now it’s all about everyone else, it saves us parents a considerable amount of headaches.
The question is, are we marketing too early to children and not allowing them to be children and just revel in their basic product desire, rather than creating this false desire of what everyone else has. I just wonder how many toys, cereals, clothes etc they have that they only wanted for reasons beside their own and we as parents have given in and purchased them?
Food for thought and one that could have saved me and countless other parents a lot of money…
My name is Daymonde and I am a multiple award winning international marketer. After graduating in Applied Economics, I started my career In London working in Market Research. Graduating during the financial crash meant it was not the best degree to have but my passion was always marketing and advertising so I looked to move into that field.