Toy advertising

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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.

Campaign intentions[edit]

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.[1] Media literacy programmes such as Media Smart are being used to help children understand and think critically about advertising.[2]

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.[3] 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 [4] 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.[5]

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".


It is widely recognised that corporations are capitalising on a sensitive market when advertising to children. The average child is exposed to approximately 40,000 commercials a year.[6] These messages are channelled through television, the internet, bill board campaigns and print media. Toy marketers are also known for more direct approaches, targeting schools.[6] Doing so by producing toys that are advertised with ‘educational benefits’ throughout primary school catalogues and news letters. A study on child advertising during Dec 2007 examined the relationship between television commercials and children’s requests to Father Christmas. Throughout the findings there was a significant correlation between the items requested and the commercials viewed. Proportionally there was a greater number of brands requested when associated with higher television viewing time.[7] These findings reflect the impact marketers have on children. Through the use of advertising, brands are shaping the opinions and beliefs of young children every day thus generating an unrelenting appetite for branded merchandise. The intentions of toy manufactures are to influence children while they are young to gain brand loyalty, devolving premature consumers. The consumers of the future. Marketing strategies towards child advertising are paid high attention to as the market is generating approximately 21 billion dollars into the United States economy each year.[8] This is possible due to the influential amount of purchasing power children have when pressuring their parents, through what marketers refer to as ‘pester power’.[9]


Persuasive commercials achieve such proportionate amounts of revenue, as children under the age of twelve have less cognitive ability to recognise the purpose of the advertisement.[10] Brands sell a life style, presenting to children the idea of happiness. Children at a vulnerable age believe that the life style being sold to them is the truth,[11] and by obtaining the products viewed they will mirror these impressions. The mind set that purchase equals an acquired identity can be dangerous. It can present low self-esteem amongst youth because their reality is not compromised by their materialistic gain. The journal of Social and Clinical Psychology conducts a model proving the relationship between materialistic values, compulsive buying tendencies, self discrepancies and low self-esteem that acts in a spiralling effect.[12] This is due to the fundamentals of human nature which involves an endless amount of wants which contrasts with a disappointing reality. An example of this is Barbie, who is globally advertised as a best friend for young woman. In commercials Barbie comes to life portraying personality. Marketers use idealistic settings to falsely advertise the lifestyle that comes with Barbie; either on the beach or in a night club. Settings are designed to convince children of this idealistic reality and an experience that they too can share with her. Yet, in reality Barbies potential relies on a child’s imagination. The setting is not included. Mainly she has no relatable characteristics for children to look up to, establishing the argument of social pressures and self-esteem. For toy companies however this is parallel to revenue.


Marketers adopt certain strategies to create demand behind their products. Physically, toy packaging is generally bright attractive colours and interactive textures. They have recognisable logos and slogans which children can familiarise themselves with easily. They also have convenient shelf access in stores. Many companies also target children based on their genders.[citation needed]

Product placement

Effective advertising strategies also heavily involve product placement;[6] The marketing practice in which a business pays for its brand or products inclusion throughout a film or television programs.[13] Theory suggests that the limited cognitive process which occurs when a child engages in television inflicts a feeling of familiarity to stimulate preference.[14] Toy Story, a famous all time Disney movie worked in association with toy makers, basing the movie characters off real life toys. Mr Potato Head, Slinky Dog and Etch a Sketch original sales needing refreshing. After the release of the film in 1995 the sales of the toys that featured in the Toy Story movie skyrocketed. In correlation, the Disney Movie Frozen is a franchise within itself generating a net worth of $2.25 billion.[15] Disney has capitalised on the films wide audience by constructing a profitable franchise supplying Frozen Character dolls, teddies, lunch boxes, clothing, duvet covers and more. According to Dave Hollis, executive vice president for distribution at Walt Disney Studios, Disney had troubling marketing to males. To over come this Disney found that boys respond more to humor therefore Olaf, the comedic Snowman was advertised as much as the two female lead characters were.[16] The success of this strategic marketing was reflected in the exit polls which read that 43% of the audience during opening weekend were in fact male.[16] Using this particular advertising strategy Disney in theory doubled their targeted audience.

Celebrity and character endorsement

The influence of famous charters in commercials haze the lines between programmes and advertisements. An example throughout the journal Children as Consumers explains how celebrity endorsements in commercials have positive effects on a child’s response throughout the sales of toy cars.[17] Cross-promotions of businesses heavily involve celebrity and character endorsements. For ten years Disney worked in collaborating with McDonald's, promoting the latest Disney films throughout the McDonald's Happy Meals. The connection between toys and fast food for young children creates a fun experience. Evident in the American Academy of Paediatrics journal, 20% of fast food restaurants advertisements now mention a complementary toy in their ads.[6] The consequence of this illusion, that fast food is fun, holds businesses accountable for exploiting children and contributing to the global epidemic of child obesity. Where one in three children are classed as obese throughout New Zealand alone [18]

Toy premiums, games and collectibles

Contest and give away prizes are effective practices marketers use to entice children and increase the sales. Cereal companies are renowned for contest and giveaway prizes, directly targeted at children. Similar to fast food, cereal companies generate excitement around their brand through the use of toys and games. Competition based advertisement can increase sales traffic as consumers believe the more they buy the higher their chances of winning are. This is also effective when the prized toy is a mystery and children have to buy the product to find out what it is. An example of this is the Weetbix All Black campaign, where Weetbix released All Black collector cards. Weetbix was able to engage their targeted audience, young boys, to want to purchase Weetbix so they can get the nationally loved rugby team's trading cards. By collecting and trading the cards also enhances social benefits for young children. By using rewards schemes Weetbix has encouraged children to choose a healthier cereal for breakfast. This is counteractive towards competitive sugar based cereal brands thus benefiting both Weetbix and children.

Exclusive kids only

Marketers have been known to entice children through the use of exclusion. By directly advertising products as ‘kids only’ builds the experience feel special. This type of advertising is common throughout food companies, promoting that this drink or snack is just for kids making it immediately more engaging. The company Trix, an all-time favourite American cereal slogan reads "Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids." Promoting the impression of exclusion and importance. For toy company’s exclusion is established through gender. Toys are specially designed for boys and girls and are exclusively show cased in separate isles. Children begin to develop stereotypical, gender based knowledge during preschool and by the age of seven they have strong, established views on toy gender.[19] Research found that when children aged seven to eleven were asked to choose a toy, most selected traditional gendered based occupational toys, reflecting role play. Children throughout this age group were also more likely to create rivalry with the opposite sex.[20] Self-identity makes toy’s distinctly gender bias progressing sale transactions.


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[edit]

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 first televised toy commercial to be shown in the United States was for Hasbro's Mr. Potato Head in 1955.[21] Since then television has been one of the most important media for marketing toys.

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.[citation needed] Similarly Quebec's Consumer Protection Act includes provisions to ban print and broadcast advertising aimed at children under the age of 13.[22]

Advertising impact can be lessened if parents and teachers talk to children about the purpose and nature of advertising.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Patti M. Valkenburg & Joanne Cantor. (2001). The development of a child into a consumer. Journal of Marriage and Family 63, 655–668.
  2. ^
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Gerianne M. Alexander, Teresa Wilcox, & Rebecca Woods. (2009). Sex differences in infants’ visual interest in toys. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 427–433.
  6. ^ a b c d Donald L. Shifrin, M. C. (2006, Dec). Children, Adolescents, and Advertising. American Academy of Periatrics , 2563-2569.
  7. ^ Pine, K. J., Wilson, P. B., & Nash, A. S. (2007, December ). The Relationship Between Television Advertising, Children's Viewing and Their Requests to Father Christmas. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 28, 456.
  8. ^ Statista. (2015). Statistics and Facts on the Toy Industry. Retrieved from Statista:
  9. ^ McDermott, L., O'Sullivan, T., Stead, M., & Hastings, G. (2006). International food advertising, pester power and its effects. International Journal of Advertising, 513-539.
  10. ^ Rozendaal, E., Opree, S. J., & Buijzen, M. (2016, Jan). Development and Validation of a Survey Instrument to Measure Children's Advertising Literacy. Media Psychology, 72-100.
  11. ^ Lanka, S. (2011, July 7). Ethics in marketing and advertising to children. Colombo.
  13. ^ Russell, C. A., & Stern, B. B. (2006 ). CONSUMERS, CHARACTERS, AND PRODUCTS: A Balance Model of Sitcom Product Placement Effects. Journal of Advertsing , 7-21.
  14. ^ Auty, S., & Lewis, C. (2004). Exploring Children's Choice: The Reminder Effect of Product Placement. Psychology and Marketing , 697-713.
  15. ^ QUARTZ. (2014, August 05). Disney will keep milking "Frozen" for all it’s worth. Retrieved from QUARTZ:
  16. ^ a b Kline, D. B. (2014, May 14). How Disney Will Make 'Frozen' a Billion-Dollar Franchise. Retrieved from The Motely Fool :
  17. ^ Adrian, F., & Barrie, G. (2008, January ). A Psychological Analysis of the Young People's Market. Children as Consumers, 224.
  18. ^ Ministry of Health. (2015, December 10). Annual Update of Key Results 2014/15: New Zealand Health Survey. Wellington , New Zealand.
  19. ^ Perry, L. C., & Sung, H.-y. A. (1993). Developmental Differences in Young Children's Sex-Typing: Automatic versus Reflective Processing. 18.
  20. ^ Francis, B. (1998). Power plays: Primary school children's constructions of gender, power and adult work. . Trentham Book .
  21. ^ BusinessWeek. January 29, 2007. "Hardly Babes In Toyland". Accessed August 22, 2007.
  22. ^ See sections 248 and 249 of the Quebec Consumer Protection Act
  23. ^ 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.

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