Toy advertising is the promotion of toys through a variety of media. Advertising campaigns for toys have been criticised for trading on children's naivete and for turning children into premature consumers. Advertising to children is regulated to ensure that it meets defined standards of honesty and decency. These rules vary from country to country, with all advertisements directed to children banned in some countries.
As with all advertising campaigns the intention is to sell a company's product. Adverts for toys frequently promote the sale not just of one individual item but an entire range of toys.
Toy advertisements are aimed at three particular groups: children, parents/grandparents, and toy retailers, with different methods for each. Products are often brightly coloured, fast moving, or associated with famous characters from film, TV, or books. Packaging can enhance the attractiveness of a toy. When advertising toys to adults, the educational benefits to the child are often promoted.
Children up to the age of five can find it difficult to distinguish between the main program and commercial breaks. This is particularly so when a toy range is linked to a television series they are watching. Many children do not understand the intentions of marketing and commercials until the age of eight. Media literacy programmes such as Media Smart are being used to help children understand and think critically about advertising.
Children are not easily persuaded to want something. Advertising is only part of the picture. Children's interests in a particular toy are likely to arise from word of mouth and peer pressure. Two-year olds spend about 10% of their time with other children. This rises to 40% between ages 7 to 11. The term "pester power" refers to children nagging their parents to buy a product. Some children will repeatedly ask them to buy a toy they want, and such insistence often leads to a purchase. There is regulation  in place that bans advertisements from directly exhorting children to buy advertised products or persuade their parents to buy the products. Advertisers sometimes try to stimulate word of mouth promotion of products.
Many toys are directed towards one specific sex and advertising is tailored to meet their particular needs. There are biological as well as social and cultural reasons for boys' and girls' different toy preferences.
Like other consumer products, toys may also be offered as sets. While each one may be affordable, it may be an investment to "collect them all".
Toys are advertised in shops and on product packaging.
The educational benefits of toys are also explained on packaging for the benefit of parents. Skills which a child will gain, such as hand–eye coordination, exploration and problem solving are made explicit.
Channels of advertising
Common methods of advertising include:
- Television commercial campaigns
- Print media campaigns
- Billboard campaigns
- Product placement in films and television programs
- Various forms of branding, including clothing
- Online marketing
- New media
The Internet has created new opportunities for advertisers and new strategies have been developed to take advantage of the new media technology. Now a significant part of youth culture, new technologies enable marketing campaigns to reach children in a different way. Interactive games are a new medium which can be used to advertise toys to children.
In response to the perceived dangers of advertising to children some countries and districts have highly regulated or even banned these marketing avenues. In Sweden all advertisements aimed at children under the age of 12 have been banned and they[who?] are lobbying the European Union to do the same. Similarly Quebec's Consumer Protection Act includes provisions to ban print and broadcast advertising aimed at children under the age of 13.
Advertising impact can be lessened if parents and teachers talk to children about the purpose and nature of advertising.
- Patti M. Valkenburg & Joanne Cantor. (2001). The development of a child into a consumer. Journal of Marriage and Family 63, 655–668.
- K. A. Updegraff, et al. (2001). Parents' involvement in adolescents' peer relationships: A comparison of mothers' and fathers' roles. Journal of Marriage and Family 63, 655–668.
- Gerianne M. Alexander, Teresa Wilcox, & Rebecca Woods. (2009). Sex differences in infants’ visual interest in toys. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 427–433.
- BusinessWeek. January 29, 2007. "Hardly Babes In Toyland". Accessed August 22, 2007.
- See sections 248 and 249 of the Quebec Consumer Protection Act
- Moniek Buijzen. (2009). The effectiveness of parental communication in modifying the relation between food advertising and children's consumption behaviour. British Journal of Developmental Psychology , 27, 105–121.
- Television Advertising and Children by Brian M. Young ISBN 9780198272809