Toy advertising

Another greater problem is also apparent in this connection and this is the question of children’s “consciousness of authenticity” when faced with toy advertising and technological/electronic toys and games.

When toys (which have to communicate play and imagination) and when play and games (as imaginative simulations of reality) also have to be good things to play with, the following questions are relevant:

  1. Children must learn to distinguish between authenticity and illusion. How do children process realitythrough toys?
  2. Despite the distortion of realitythrough toys, children have an unbelievable ability for finding and seeing “the truth”!
  3. Children must learn how to deal with advertising. How do children learn to deal with toy advertisements?
  4. Children must learn how to experience things. How do children gain experiencethrough toys?
  5. Experience sharpens realistic thought: What kinds of toys and technological/electronic gamesare particularly well-suited to helping children develop this process?

In all five areas, attempts ought to be made to stimulate toy development and research. Seen from the researcher’s perspective, toys are distributed over five domains:

Within the family - within development/teaching - within technology/science - on the market and in Art.

In all five domains toy manufacturers attempt to advertise their products in different ways but the best advertisement for a toy will always be the toy’s own play value.

We have to bear in mind that the five domains have different foundations because the idea of producing a toy and the play value the toy can have in the free space/imaginative space in which play takes place, can be apportioned variable codices.

It is therefore very difficult to draw the line between what to permit and what not to permit in toy advertising because the toy’s play value has to demonstrate the free space/imaginative space in which play takes place. However, it will under no circumstance be realistic to evaluate a toy’s play value on the advertising platform the manufacturer has set up. The very nature of advertising (the advertising world) has undermined and distorted any objective basis for evaluation.

Utopia or necessary measures:

Regulations can however contribute to limiting a) the manufacturers’ imaginative attempts to present the toy in an entertaining and interesting way and b) the children’s free space/imaginative space in the play situation.

In the following paragraphs, I have both interpreted and rewritten the international attitudes to advertising directed towards children: The International Chamber of Commerce’s (ICC) Code of Advertising Practises, article 13. These codes are intended to protect the consumer, the children, and to suggest some limits for the imaginative lengths to which one can go when advertising toys.


Due to children’s particular vulnerability, TV advertising for toys or TV spots on video in the stores must be clearly and efficiently labelled. Toy advertising must never be confused with authentic events or realistic editorial material or programmes in or from TV.


Toy advertising must never give the impression that violence is tolerated in situations or events which can be seen to break the law or to contravene the generally accepted national norms of social behaviour.

Social values:

Toy advertising must not undermine social values by communicating the idea that ownership or use of a certain toy in itself will give a child physical, social or psychological advantages over other children of the same age - or that not owning the toy could lead to the opposite result.

The toy must not undermine parental authority, responsibility, judgement or taste, taking generally accepted social values into consideration.


A toy must always have a safety value so that children cannot do damage to themselves or to others during play with the toy. The toy must not be part of a statement or photographic material which could have the effect that children might be brought into danger, encouraged to make contact with strangers or to visit unfamiliar or dangerous places.


Toy advertising must not contain or involve any direct appeal to the children to persuade others to buy the product for them.


There must be no references to the toy’s size, value, type, use, durability or performance which can mislead children.

If accessories are required for the toy to work or to achieve the result described, this ought to be clearly stated. If the toy is part of a series or of a system, the presentation must also clearly state the facts - and how the rest of the series can be obtained.

Advertising must give an impression of the capacities necessary for using the toy as intended. In cases where the result of the product is either shown or described, a play instruction ought to be produced so that the result can reasonably be achieved by an average child in the relevant age group.


Price indications should not mean that children are given an unrealistic understanding of the true value of the toy. No advertising may suggest that the price of the toy means that every family can afford it.

All in all, these codes - for and about the evaluation of toys - express some incredible paradoxes:

  • They are formulated to protect children’s interestsand at the same time they set limits for play with toys and reduce the children’s free space/imaginative space.
  • Toys are copies of adult instruments but the regulations for use and the ways in which these instruments can be used and the way they may be produced are constantly breached - by adults.
  • Play, in its myriad of forms, is unique. But this too goes against all the instructions listed in the codes- because it is only play.

When play with toys meets controversy, we need the balancing skills of a tightrope walker: “On the one hand to imagine that you do what you’re not supposed to  - on the other hand to imagine that you won’t do what you can - and do - do.”

Considerations re the evaluation of toys must end in the question: “How far does the toy challenge the child to stereotyped and mechanical play? How far does it encourage innovation and experimentation on the periphery?”

Sutton-Smith (1986:259) says that “toys are like play, they are a cultural form of communication” and that opinion also forms part of the backbone of this book’s investigations and toy evaluations.



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