Toys and clothes based on TV characters tend to provoke strong opinions from parents, but those opinions differ depending on the age of their child.
If you don't have children yet, or your child is too young to express an opinion, it's easy to see the bad side of licensed products. They're generally made of plastic and tend to come in garish colours. They squeeze out non-TV, simpler toys. They come with a pre-told story, so the child's imagination has less work to do. They turn your child into an advert for a TV show – part of the marketing process.
But as our children get older and can express their own opinions, the demand starts, and even parents who dislike licensed products find themselves searching for the latest version of Upsy Daisy.
And there are many up-sides to TV character toys and clothes. They provide common ground and social glue for children – it's easy to make friends if you're both wearing a Bob the Builder t-shirt. And using character underwear is a great aid to potty training – the child is then more motivated to try and keep his Thomas the Tank Engine pants dry. Recent research by Child Psychologist Dr Amanda Gummer found that licensed toys can be good builders of children's confidence, as the child progresses from the 'safe' TV world and progresses into other forms of play. Far from stifling play, Dr Gummer feels that TV toys can "encourage development and prolong play by providing children with models to copy which, in turn, provide a launch pad for a child's own imagination."
So far so good. However, the other down side to TV toys is the effect they have on the programmes themselves. It's quite rare these days that a children's programme will get made without a range of licensed products following in its wake. A show like Peppa Pig is quite unusual in that it became popular on Five's Milkshake, and the range of toys followed because of demand from children.
Normally it's the other way round in that the programmes are shaped around potential toy sales – it's no accident that Postman Pat now has several vehicles, where once he used to only have a van. Effectively, many children's programmes are now glorified adverts for the the toys they are designed to sell. The days of a bloke in a room having an idea and coming up with Bagpuss has long gone.
What do you think? Do you buy TV character toys or not? Leave a comment and have your say: