Advertising toys to children is fair play

A recent BBC article criticised a toy manufacturer for daring to build brand loyalty among its key demographic. ISBA represents the UK’s responsible advertisers. Here its public affairs director, Ian Twinn, explains why toy advertisers should not feel bad about doing their job well.
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In the same way that National Obesity Awareness Week kick-started a cavalcade of hand-wringing medical professionals seemingly hell-bent on banning ads to reduce the country’s rapidly expanding waistline, it seems the toy industry’s main event – the British Toy and Hobby Association's Toy Fair – has been enough of a peg on which to hang concerns over how toys are advertised, as evidenced from the BBC headline: Toy firms aim to get children hooked on brand loyalty.

Yes, the broadcaster that brought the world Tellytubbies seems to have a problem with toy companies that want to forge strong brand loyalty with... shock horror... their target audience.

And as we gasp at the craven manipulation of the formative minds of our most vulnerable, let’s not forget the poor parents who may... bigger gasp... have to say ‘no’ to their progeny’s plaintive cries for more stuff.

Of course, I am being deliberately provocative. But this is a situation that inspires ridicule. Not least because without advertising to drive competition – and let’s heed the words of Natasha Crookes, director of the BTHA, here that "The toy sector is fast-moving and innovative, launching thousands of new products to market every year," – then won't the products themselves be far more expensive and hit parents even harder in the wallet?

To be fair, the article admits that encouraging repeat sales is not a new phenomenon. But the implication remains that it is somehow wrong.

Let’s be clear, just like adults, children are consumers. We live in a consumer-driven society that values competition and choice and children, as a part of that society, have a right to choose – within certain parameters of course.

But, crucially, it is ultimately their parents’ or their guardians’ responsibility to teach them how to exercise that right.

In chastising toy advertisers for doing their jobs well we are veering dangerously close to saying advertising to children is wrong, let’s ban it!

But isn’t the alternative worse?

After all, without advertising we might find our children playing with the ‘people’s toy’ of Soviet-era planned economies.

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