Toy advertising

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 usually regulated to ensure that it meets defined standards of honesty and decency. These rules vary from country to country, with some going as far as banning all advertisements that would be directed to children.

Brief historyEdit

Mechanical Tin Toy Locomotive, as pictured in a 1900 wholesale catalog

The commercial sale and marketing of children's toys only became popular in the mid-18th century. Prior to this, children had access to relatively few toys, and of those toys in use, most were hand-made, either by the child or a close relative.[1] Toys that were in common use from at least medieval times were very basic items such as hoops, tops, balls and dolls which could be turned out by local carpenters or coopers. A scattering of toy shops traded in 17th-century London, but were virtually unknown outside the capital. A small quantity of mechanical toys were imported from France and Germany, but these were expensive and beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest families.[2]

A broader interest in children's toys and games coincided with the emergence of a middle class when fewer children were expected to work. The 18th-century attitude to toys was that they should educational. Accordingly, toymakers designed their products to prepare children for adult life.[3] For example, a rocking-horse taught children to balance and prepared them for horse-riding. A doll prepared girls for motherhood and child-rearing while toy soldiers taught young boys about the military. Virtually, from the outset, commercially produced toys were remarkably gendered.[4]

Dinky die-cast truck with 1937 catalog

By the mid-nineteenth century, technological developments such as the invention of sheet metal stamping machines facilitated the mass production of inexpensive toys, notably tin toys or penny toys. Other technological developments included the advent of papier mache and "India" rubber moulding machines which effectively lowered the costs of manufacturing dolls. To stimulate demand for toys, it was necessary to encourage parents to purchase toys for their children. However, to do that, it was necessary to change attitudes to toys; to promulgate the idea that children were children rather than 'adults in training' and that toys were developmentally useful.[5]

Toy manufacturers were late-comers to modern marketing and advertising techniques. The earliest commercial toymakers relied on standardised mass production manufacturing techniques, with its emphasis on achieving economies through long production. Designs and models were changed rarely. Toy design was conservative; and always aimed at securing parent approval. Toymakers rarely attended the international exhibitions.[6] Early advertising appeared in wholesale and retail catalogs where advertisements appeared alongside mousetraps and match holders. Advertising messages were targeted at parents and spoke of the educational value as well as the toy's durability. Toy advertising rarely showed children using the toys. The tenor of toy advertising and marketing was that adults decided what toys were appropriate for children.[7]

Demographic and social changes were beginning to affect attitudes to toys and children's play throughout the 19th-century. The decreasing size of families meant that children had fewer siblings and that toys became an important diversion and source of entertainment. Rising living standards and wages meant that parents had more disposable income. Middle-class children remained in education for longer periods, with the implication that they had less time to make their own toys, and were more reliant on commercially manufactured toys.[8] By the late 19th-century, parents were beginning to appreciate the special needs of childhood and that toys were more than just the preparation for the real world, but that they could also offer a retreat from mundane realities.[9]

In the 1890s and early 1900s, a toy trade press emerged on both sides of the Atlantic. In England, the Toy Trades Journal first appeared in March, 1891; the Sports Trader appeared in 1907 and the short-lived Games, Toys and Amusements journal appeared in 1908.[10] In America, Playthings magazine was launched in 1902. These trade-oriented journals began to publish articles advising toymakers and toy retailers on methods for optimising sales of children's toys.[11]

By the late 19th century, toymakers were beginning to adopt modern marketing practices. Manufacturers and distributors began using mail-order catalogues to reach consumers directly. Montgomery Ward, for example, produced a catalog listing 23,000 items including toys. The new department stores began to include toys in window displays in which goods were featured as part of an artistic fantasy. Toymakers began to develop a unique style or personality that could be linked to a company name or brand. Advertising for toys began to appear in consumer magazines. Advertising messages encouraged mothers to take their children shopping with them, and to watch how the child interacted with toys in order to identify the child's preferences.[12]

By the mid-20th century, the traditional approach of marketing through mothers (also known as the "gatekeeper model") was waning. Children, who by this time, were the recipients of pocket-money, made individual purchasing decisions, as part of their education in the world of consumption.[13] Television broadcasting in the mid-20th century provided toymakers with the ability to reach national children's audiences.[14] In the late 20th century, the merchandising of film and TV characters in the form of dolls or figurines, gave toy marketers access to international audiences.[15]

Campaign intentionsEdit

During the post-war period, toys were frequently advertised through comic books and children's magazines.

Toy advertisements are aimed at three target audiences: children, adults (especially close relatives such as parents or grandparents), and toy retailers. Different message and media strategies are used for each target group. To gain the attention of children, advertising messages might focus on products are often brightly coloured, fast moving designs; or associations with heroic 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. When promoting toys to retailers, the ability of a product range to generate store traffic and profits is likely to be mentioned.

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.[16] Media literacy programmes such as Media Smart are being used to help children understand and think critically about advertising.[17]

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.[18] 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 [19] 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.[20]

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".


The natural credulity of young children means that advertising to children is almost always a sensitive issue. The average child is exposed to approximately 40,000 commercials a year.[21] 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.[21] 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.[22] 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.[23] 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’.[24]


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.[25] 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,[26] 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.[27] 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 Barbie's 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.[citation needed]


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;[21] The marketing practice in which a business pays for its brand or products inclusion throughout a film or television programs.[28] Theory suggests that the limited cognitive process which occurs when a child engages in television inflicts a feeling of familiarity to stimulate preference.[29] 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.[30] 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.[31] 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.[31] Using this particular advertising strategy Disney in theory doubled their targeted audience.

Celebrity and character endorsement

The influence of famous characters 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.[32] 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.[21] 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 [33]

Ryan Kaji, the main visual representation of Ryan's World on YouTube is said to be the highest-paid creator of videos in the year 2019.[34] He uses his big following of 23 million subscribers [35] to advertise and endorse specific toys that appeal to children and parents everywhere. Nearly 90 percent [36] of his videos include at least one paid recommendation of a toy. His method of advertising is by giving these toys a good review so people will feel the need to buy them.[37]

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.[citation needed]

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 showcased in separate aisles. Children begin to develop stereotypical, gender based knowledge during preschool and by the age of seven they have strong, established views on toy gender.[38] 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.[39] Self-identity makes toy's distinctly gender bias progressing sale transactions.


Toys are advertised in shops and on product packaging. The colour on the packaging of a children's toy is often carefully selected in order to appeal to a certain demographic. 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.[citation needed]

Channels of advertisingEdit

Common methods of advertising include:

The first televised toy commercial to be shown in the United States was for Hasbro's Mr. Potato Head in 1955.[40] 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.[41]

Advertising impact can be lessened if parents and teachers talk to children about the purpose and nature of advertising.[42]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Kline, S., Out of the Garden: Toys, TV, and Children's Culture in the Age of Marketing, London, Verso, 1995, p. 145; Brown, K.D., The British Toy Business: A History Since 1700, London, Hambledon Press, 1996, pp 12-14
  2. ^ Brown, K.D., The British Toy Business: A History Since 1700, London, Hambledon Press, 1996, pp 12-14
  3. ^ Cross, G., Kids' Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood Harvard University Press, 2009, pp 17-19
  4. ^ Cross, G., Kids' Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood Harvard University Press, 2009, p. 52; p.67 and p.80
  5. ^ Cross, G., Kids' Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood Harvard University Press, 2009, pp 18-20
  6. ^ Brown, K.D., The British Toy Business: A History Since 1700, London, Hambledon Press, 1996, p. 45
  7. ^ Cross, G., Kids' Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood Harvard University Press, 2009, pp 20-23
  8. ^ Brown, K.D., The British Toy Business: A History Since 1700, London, Hambledon Press, 1996, pp 52-53
  9. ^ Cross, G., Kids' Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood Harvard University Press, 2009, p.51
  10. ^ Brown, K.D., The British Toy Business: A History Since 1700, London, Hambledon Press, 1996, pp 61-62
  11. ^ Cross, G., Kids' Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood, Harvard University Press, 2009, pp 18-20
  12. ^ Cross, G., Kids' Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood Harvard University Press, 2009, p.30; Brown, K.D., The British Toy Business: A History Since 1700, London, Hambledon Press, 1996, pp 31-32
  13. ^ Schor, J.B., "The Commodification of Childhood," in Stephen J. Pfohl, Van Wagenen, A., Arend, P., Brooks, A. and Leckenby, D. (eds), Culture, Power And History: Studies in Critical Sociology, Lieden, Brill, 2006, p. 100
  14. ^ Holz, Jo (2017). Kids' TV Grows Up: The Path from Howdy Doody to SpongeBob. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. pp. 51–52, 69–71, 94–95, 133–135. ISBN 978-1-4766-6874-1.
  15. ^ Cross, G. and Smits, G., "Japan, the U.S. and the Globalization of Children's Consumer Culture," Journal of Social History, Vol. 38, No. 4, 2005; Kline, S. “Toy Marketing and the Internationalization of Children’s Television,” in Paul Rutten and Monique Hamers-Regimbal, Internationalization in Mass Communication and Cultural Identity, Holland, Sommatie, 1995
  16. ^ Patti M. Valkenburg & Joanne Cantor. "The Development of a Child into a Consumer. Journal of Marriage and Family Vol. 63, 2001, pp 655–668.
  17. ^
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^
  20. ^ Gerianne M. Alexander, Teresa Wilcox, & Rebecca Woods. (2009). Sex differences in infants’ visual interest in toys. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 427–433.
  21. ^ a b c d Donald L. Shifrin, M. C. (2006, Dec). Children, Adolescents, and Advertising. American Academy of Periatrics , 2563-2569.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ Statista. (2015). Statistics and Facts on the Toy Industry. Retrieved from Statista:
  24. ^ McDermott, L., O'Sullivan, T., Stead, M., & Hastings, G. (2006). International food advertising, pester power and its effects. International Journal of Advertising, 513-539.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ Lanka, S. (2011, July 7). Ethics in marketing and advertising to children. Colombo.
  28. ^ Russell, C. A., & Stern, B. B. (2006 ). CONSUMERS, CHARACTERS, AND PRODUCTS: A Balance Model of Sitcom Product Placement Effects. Journal of Advertising , 7-21.
  29. ^ Auty, S., & Lewis, C. (2004). Exploring Children's Choice: The Reminder Effect of Product Placement. Psychology and Marketing , 697-713.
  30. ^ QUARTZ. (2014, August 05). Disney will keep milking "Frozen" for all it’s worth. Retrieved from QUARTZ:
  31. ^ a b Kline, D. B. (2014, May 14). How Disney Will Make 'Frozen' a Billion-Dollar Franchise. Retrieved from The Motely Fool :
  32. ^ Adrian, F., & Barrie, G. (2008, January ). A Psychological Analysis of the Young People's Market. Children as Consumers, 224.
  33. ^ Ministry of Health. (2015, December 10). Annual Update of Key Results 2014/15: New Zealand Health Survey. Wellington , New Zealand.
  34. ^ Noor, Poppy (December 20, 2019). "The highest YouTube earner this year? An eight-year-old". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  35. ^ Berg, Madeline. "The Highest-Paid YouTube Stars of 2019: The Kids Are Killing It". Forbes. Retrieved March 2, 2020.
  36. ^ Hsu, Tiffany (September 4, 2019). "Popular YouTube Toy Review Channel Accused of Blurring Lines for Ads". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  37. ^ Spangler, Todd (December 18, 2019). "YouTube Kid Channel Ryan's World Pulled in Estimated $26 Million in 2019, Double PewDiePie's Haul". Variety. Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  38. ^ Perry, L. C., & Sung, H.-y. A. (1993). Developmental Differences in Young Children's Sex-Typing: Automatic versus Reflective Processing. 18.
  39. ^ Francis, B., Power Plays: Primary school children's constructions of gender, power and adult work, Trentham Book, 1998
  40. ^ BusinessWeek. January 29, 2007. "Hardly Babes In Toyland". Accessed August 22, 2007.
  41. ^ See sections 248 and 249 of the Quebec Consumer Protection Act
  42. ^ 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.

Further readingEdit

  • Young, Brian M., Television Advertising and Children, Clarendon Press, 1990 ISBN 9780198272809
  • McClary, Andrew, Toys with Nine Lives: A Social History of American Toys, Linnet Books, 1997