Jane Bradley: TV advertising fuelling kids’ toys drive

WHETHER it’s Disney figures or Peppa Pig, TV advertisers should be banned from targeting our children, writes Jane Bradley

Elsa from Frozen is among the toy figures children are clamouring for. Picture: Contributed

‘Dear Santa, I want some Frozen things, please can I have some ­Frozen things, please Santa?” So went my three-year-old’s letter to Santa this year. Of course, when I say her letter, she merely dictated it. The writing skills were all mine.

The content, however, was 100 per cent her. Frozen. Frozen, Frozen, Frozen, Frozen. And more Frozen.

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Of course, Santa will listen. Under the tree this year (don’t tell her) will be an Elsa rag doll, a Frozen colouring set, a Frozen shadow torch and Frozen stickers.

I thought we’d got away with it when, a year ago, at two and a half, we had still managed to avoid this Disney phenomenon. Then, in a move for which she will never be forgiven, her evil godmother (you know who you are), bought her a copy of the DVD for Christmas last year. Frozen Fever ensued.

My daughter’s godmother bought one of 1.66 million copies of the DVD sold in the 18 months from when the film was released to the end of September past, making it the best-selling film to give as a gift in the past five years.

That statistic, released last week by Kantar WorldPanel, does not even count the copies which will have been purchased as Christmas presents in the run-up to this year’s festive season – or all of the children who saw it when it was first released at the ­cinema.

Terrifying numbers. Is there anyone left in the country who has not seen Frozen? A friend of mine, who gave birth to her third daughter, Elsa, just weeks before the film was released in 2013, doesn’t believe so – tired of explaining that she did not name her child after the Queen of Arendelle.

Despite the hype, it seems to me like a fairly typical Disney film. Princesses with impossibly tiny waists. Handsome princes. Annoying ear-worm songs. A sequel planned for next year. Hooray.

But it is the marketing which goes along with it which has captured the imagination of the under-8s. My daughter, who is yet to learn to read properly, can recognise the word “Frozen” immediately – along with only her own name and a handful of other regularly used words.

The “Frozen things” she has asked for this Christmas don’t matter in themselves. She would be just as happy if Santa had brought her a stack of boxes with the word written on it in the recognisable icy writing.

For what she wants is not Frozen toys, but Frozen branding.

Indeed, the opportunity for firms to advertise to the pre-school market is terrifying.

In Britain, adverts for children are regulated, so that unsuitable products cannot be marketed specifically at youngsters – while there are also restrictions on junk food ads for young people. All very laudable, but in my opinion, it doesn’t go far enough.

In Sweden, where they generally seem to get things right in terms of bringing up youngsters, advertising to children at all is considered unacceptable and is banned for the under-12s. Greece has a ban on advertisements for children’s toys between 7am and 10pm and a total ban on advertising war toys.

But while junk food advertising is categorically unacceptable and the ban to be welcomed, so is the blatant marketing of toys in a bid to create pester power.

The other day, I switched on the TV for my daughter to watch her daily quota of two programmes and froze. I’d been watching a trashy documentary on Channel 5 the previous night and the set had automatically switched on to that channel. It was 8am, which only meant one thing: Peppa Pig was playing.

She was beside herself with excitement.

“Mummy! Peppa Pig is on OUR TV!” she screamed. (Yes, she is a deprived child. She is usually restricted to watching ad-free CBeebies, usually on iPlayer so she can get her Peter Rabbit fix at any time of day.)

Now, I haven’t anything against Peppa Pig. We watch Peppa and her friends regularly on DVD. What I do have a problem with is the advertising which accompanies programmes shown on Channel 5’s morning Milkshake slot, specifically aimed at the under-5s.

Watch one five-minute episode of Peppa and get an extra five minutes free of Fisher Price (the official sponsor of PP, natch) and every other toy maker under the sun, flogging their expensive plastic wares to a captive audience – your child.

And it works.

“Can I have that?” she asked, pointing as happy-looking children pushed plastic In The Night Garden characters around a lacklustre miniature version of the TV show’s set, as my husband glared at me and muttered under his breath about my trashy TV watching habits resulting in the commercialisation of our innocent child.

“Oooh, can I ask Santa for one of those?” she added as a pricey, garish craft set made up of nothing more than a few plastic beads but in an enormous colourful box, appeared on screen.

She is the same with drinks. Give her an ordinary cup of water or juice and she’ll sip at it reluctantly. Offer her a branded Innocent Drinks for Kids carton with a straw and she’ll down the lot in one go.

Yes, at three years old, despite our best efforts, she is a sucker for ­marketing.

It is time for this to stop. What with Black Friday and Cyber Monday and now with the January sales looming, is it not time to take stock and accept that this crazy season of commercialisation has become too much?

And while the excitement on a child’s face is priceless when they see a much-wanted toy under the tree, shouldn’t we let them make that decision themselves based on their interests and passions, rather than pushing marketing and branding on them before they can barely talk?

Advertising aimed at children should be banned.

And I’ll definitely make a bigger effort to veto Channel 5 and its Peppa Pig screenings until it is.