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Barbie and clones attack

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Why do smart kids ask for silly toys from Baby Jesus? Because there is a commercial guerrilla ambushing Czech households. But only when the parents are asleep.

Mireček is an intelligent, well brought up boy. His parents won’t allow him to watch The Clone Wars since he is still too young. All the same, he pines for overpriced film characters and a plastic sword that beeps and flashes and costs a thousand crowns. Where did he get the idea from? I was trying to find out last week (as preparation for an article focused on commercials for children which will be published 8 December). The results of my investigation show that an effective toy guerrilla is attacking Czech households, fighting for kids’ attention and parents’ money.

Other children confirmed this discovery. All of them were smart, well brought up; they displayed quick judgment and their own opinions – so long as toys were not concerned. They wish for “a Barbie doll with a flashing diamond” or “with a walking horse”. Or, for example, “My little pony”, a bright pink plastic creature, apeculiar cross between a baby and a horse. When you press the heart button(!) on his body, it says “I have a bellyache” or “I love you”. Another dream toy is “Flippin’ frogs” or, a different version, “Tumblin’ monkeys” (these are their actual names). Followed by Transformers, Lego City and Biscuit My Lovin’ Pup that jumps on its hind legs and squeaks just like the magic sword and so on.

Accidentally, I have experienced two more encounters with toys recently: One took place at Ikea. There, they did not have any monstrous crosses of humans and horses but nice, well-designed and accordingly educational stuffed toy animals such as a beaver, a guinea pig, small hand puppets you put on your finger, etc. The second encounter was at a presentation of two young designers (at Pecha Kucha Night). Jerry and Anna Koza designed a plane, a torpedo and a bunker, merry and simple toys, for their son. And it’s not that only adults liked them. Photographs from the “test session” where kids play with the toys and have genuine fun, were presented. The toys only exist as prototypes since no toy producer picked up the idea.

Why don’t kids want to get a multi-purpose torpedo or hand puppets for Christmas but prefer much more boring and ugly plastic toys? There are two reasons. One is that adults sleep longer than kids. So they often send the kids to watch TV, which is full of toy commercials on Saturday and Sunday mornings between 6am and 7:30am. Small children innocently trust the commercials. And this is the second reason: The child population is untouched by experience with media and commercials.

The children’s situation is somewhat similar to that of adults at the beginning of the 1990s. Back then it wasn’t obvious to everyone yet that commercials should not be taken literally and so people were buying coffee “with Vašut” because their favourite actor recommended it. They believed that the knives from the shopping channel will be sharp forever and demanded houses resembling those of Barbie dolls. Small children suffer from the same naivety and they like Barbie houses too.

This shows that history is repeating. The children will learn, within a couple of years, and understand that the commercials exaggerate and will develop an adequate resistance, which is shared by all more experienced media consumers, according to current media theories. They will understand that if an overpriced thing says “I love you”, it must not be taken literally.

Commercial guerrilla warfare is not completely without casualties and should not be accepted. It interferes with parents’ upbringing of their children. And it’s they who are affected. They get an extra educational problem. They have to buy a pink plastic thing and search for arguments against ugly toys, which broke into their homes when they just wanted to sleep on a Saturday morning.

Translated with permission by the Prague Daily Monitor.

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