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Our Story Begins: Are Toy Ads Hurting Our Kids?

kidwatchingtvOur Story Begins:
Are Toy Ads Hurting Our Kids?

There’s an article going viral up there from the Huffington Post this week.  It’s all about Legos.  Not the movie, it’s about an ad from when I was about 10-years-old.

The author of the article picks this specific ad (though there were many) and points out the disparity in what Lego, well, let’s face it, what all companies promote today as opposed to what they advertised in 1980. It’s a lot like the controversy Disney faced when they tried to change the character of Merida from the movie Brave to a much more, shall we say, curvaceous woman.  Missing were the leaves in the hair and unruly red locks and those were replaced with body curves and a windswept mane.  This is pretty much the same thing.

Related:  Our Story Begins: My College Bound Kid and the Lessons I’ve Learned

I don’t dispute the message the author posits.  She’s right: there are too many pigeonholed, in-the-box thoughts in advertising today.  I totally agree with her message: Legos are for all kids, all builders, all types, quarters and creeds.  You need not have a gender check at the door.  One of the reasons?  Lego switched to “sets” like “Lego Friends” girl-oriented and “Lego Star Wars” or “Avengers” and other branded sets because they needed a marketing strategy.  And that’s what it is: marketing.

The problem is this, like so many other articles, gets you to click, points out the differences and then ignores the next step in the message.  Or maybe they don’t even think about the next step: Parents are just as important in this equation.  Sure you could buy your daughter a Lego Friends set.  You could also buy the Lego City ones instead and those are fairly gender-neutral.

Hannah

Hannah

Take a look here at my middle daughter, Hannah.  Now 14, she’s the epitome of the girl in that 1980’s ad.  She’s got thick, dark hair that sparks the jealousy of all the women in our family.  She doesn’t care one lick.  It’s unruly, she jumps out of the shower, brushes it slightly, puts on a stocking cap and flannel shirt, and says she’s ready for school.  She wears little or no makeup.  She loves movies where things blow up and wants more than anything to just go to her room and play guitar. Girls in her class ask why she doesn’t wear makeup. Parents ask why she doesn’t curl her hair and accentuate her chocolate brown eyes.  The reason is, she’s more like Merida than Barbie.

My point here is simple: sure there are ads, there are Lego sets that change the perception from “builder” to “girly builder.”  If I’d bought that set for the girl you see she’d have tossed it, unceremoniously, into a corner.  Parents, we’re the ones who, at least at this age, control the message.  We buy the toys.  We tell them what’s proper and improper. 

IMG_0004

Like most houses, every single Lego brick in my home is in a giant container and they’re all mixed together.  Often my son makes his own creations for stop-frame animated movies on the computer.  Sure, Madison Avenue, the Mad Men of today, pummel us with messages about sex, virility, masculinity, and femininity.  But in reality, people – parents – are buying them.  It’s that simple.

Related: Smack in the Middle: Why My Parenting Has to Change and Me With It

But at the end of the day . . . we control the purse strings.  That helps us control the message.  When I sit with my tomboy daughter and we play guitar together or watch a Lego movie my son made…none of us thinks about Madison Avenue.  It’s the message they get from us as parents that has the most impact.

What are your thoughts?  Do you agree?  Do you have discussions about what your kids do and don’t want or how they act?  Do you try to push them to the advertiser’s norm or do you let them be who they are?

Dave ManoucheriDave Manoucheri is a writer, musician and journalist based in Sacramento, California.  A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog, Our Story Begins is a chronicle of their daily life after the loss of his wife Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan.

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