ControverSunday: Licensed Merchandise

So it is ControverSunday time! And Whoohoo I am hosting. So, here is what is going to happen. Once you write your own ControverSunday post (and I know you are all working on it right now), then head over to Accidents to get your official “ControverSunday” badge. Put it in your post. Then, go visit Perpetua– our regular ControverSunday host. Who has added all your awesome topic suggestions to the official ControverSunday page. The plan going forward is that we are going to tackle these topics every two weeks. Say hello. Say Thanks! Then, come back here and put a link in the comments to your post. Then I will update this post with your links (I am at my parents place on holidays right now, so it may not happen speedy speedy.)


ControverSunday: Licensed Merchandise

The Arbolog

Our Lady of Perpetual Bread Crumbs

Partial Disclosures

So on Friday we went on a pre-trip quest to find a shiny new toy for our flight to Victoria. I was flying with Audrey sans husband and was stock piling all forms of travel appropriate distraction.

We went to the store which strikes fear into the heart of this slow food tending , free range-ish , simple is better, trying to buy less ‘stuff’, wannabe environmentalist. You know, the store that starts with a wall and ends with a mart. Well I can readily admit to being a full Superstore convert, despite it’s big box ways, I just can’t get on the bandwagon with that store. Nor its Canadian counterpart (the one that starts will a Z). This doesn’t mean I never go there, but it does mean I regret it when I do. I always leave frustrated and with a headache.

Anyway, we went there because my husband had the car and it was the only thing in walking distance.

For someone who is used to a) not buying a ton of toys and b) doing a lot of our shopping at used stores, I am still no stranger to licensed merchandise. Although, when buying used you end up seeing more old school licensed merchandise, and it seems rather different. I don’t know, I notice less that it is branded merchandise when it is an old school Micky mouse or Winnie the poo toy rather then a Dora or Thomas one. Maybe because I remember the Micky and Winnie from when I was a kid and so the vintage aspect of it makes it seem less materialistic.

BUT. But. WOW was that store full of branded crap. I wanted to find a simple, small etch-a-sketch and my only options were a Toy Story one. Um no. She hasn’t even seen Toy story. I wanted simple. But all I could find was branded.

You probably guessed- I am not a big fan of the licensed merchandise. Yes, I would go out of my way to buy a non-branded bowl, hat, pair of shoes or etch-a-sketch. Why? Because.

Actually, that is a good question. Licensed merchandise kinda offends my sensibilities, but I don’t quite know why. Maybe I just feel that way because that’s the way a greenish, slowish parent is suppose to think. That being said, I am not a big fan of just going along with what I am suppose to think or do based on some oversimplified categorization of my parenting style. I mean, I don’t like tv much for kids (but will resort to it on a plane to save my sanity), but there are pretty clear studies re: the not so good effect of tv on the under two crowd. I have good reasons to back up my choice. Can the same really be said for licensed merchandise?

What is the harm?

Let’s discuss this brainstorm list I came up with to try and explore just why I feel this way.

Imagination: I wonder what Licensed Merchandise does for kids imagination. I mean, think about it, if I hand my kid a plain bowl it can be anything she want’s it to be; boat on the high sea, hat, flower pot, ect. ect. If my kid has a bowl which shows a scene of a particular familiar character and a familiar story line- then is that bowl always just that story in my kids head? It seems to me it would be harder for imagination to take hold if it is being constricted by connecting a particular story with an item. So many things about child hood are diminishing their ability to imagine. Too much video games and TV come to mind. I want my kid to have a wide imagination. How else is she going to solve the worlds problems? (I am NOT saying that if your kid is surrounded by licensed merchandise that they can’t save the world- come on, you know I am in the camp of there being more then one good way to parent.)

Marketing to kids: Wow, did the advertiser that first came up with licensed merchandise have a brilliant idea. It is the ideal way to market to kids because they get it. Like right away. It works. There are a lot of documentaries out there right now about the negatives of marketing to kids. I have seen bits of a few and yeah, I get it. I do think it benefits kids, especially really young ones, to not be bombarded with brand messages before they are old enough to recognize them as brand messages. They don’t evaluate them the way we do. To them it is truth. It makes me uncomfortable.

Temptation for stuff: You see, you may know you don’t need an other toy or bowl or book or pair of shoes or sunglasses or ball or whatever. But if you see something that is licensed and ‘matches’ with something else that matches, there is a temptation to ‘complete the set.’ And, once the kid is old enough to ask, they want to ‘complete the set’ too. We all end up buying too much stuff for kids (as I learned when the shiny new toys we ended up buying at the store on Friday were rejected for a coffee cup sleeve on the plane. HA!). But I suspect when we buy licensed merchandise that is even more the case.

Role models: There are some (some) kids characters out there that are good. Audrey doesn’t watch TV yet, so I don’t know much about them (so you can correct me if I am wrong), but it seems, for example, that Dora the Explorer is pretty good in principle. I mean, she explores. Doesn’t sound like the type of character to call a boy over if she sees a bug or something. So, probably a pretty good role model and a decent show. BUT. Do I want a Dora everything? If I had a Dora everything would Audrey be more of an explorer? Probably not. Just because the character is a good one, doesn’t mean there is any benefit to buying into all the merchandise around it.

BUT. Here is my but. I can see, in the future, a day that this tendency to stray away from licensed merchandise will fade. Why? Because Audrey can’t ask for it yet. Or if she is asking, she is doing so inarticulately. However, I can anticipate a time where maybe a Dora toothbrush might be enough to convince her to brush her teeth. Or a Dora bed might convince her to stay in bed. Or whatever. All I am saying is, I don’t judge and whatever works. I don’t think having or not having licensed merchandise is the be all and end all of good or bad parenting. Just like any other of our ControverSunday topics. To each their own.


9 responses to “ControverSunday: Licensed Merchandise

  1. Brooke August 1, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    I didn’t have much to say about this… or couldn’t form a coherent thought. Mostly it annoys me that all the Pull Ups have Toy Story 3 characters on them when Kellen is WAY into Cars (which his underwear thankfully are and excites him a LOT). I want a choice of which licensed merch to buy!!

  2. Megan August 2, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    I don’t know. You make some good points, but this just isn’t one of those things that bothers me. In fact, I rather encourage Charlotte’s fascination with characters like Abby and Elmo from Sesame Street because, well, it’s fun. She gets excited when we go out with her Elmo backpack or when she eats out of her Abby bowl.

    She watches a little TV. No more than twenty minutes at a time (usually), and not everyday. I know it’s not ideal, but I’m pretty confident that she’s going to be okay. She plays well by herself for short periods of time. She and her dad do lots of make-believe stuff with her stuffed animals, she “reads” books out loud to us and her animals.

    I guess I just don’t see why it matters if she carries a licensed character around, along with her generic toys. And, yes, she will want all the princess stuff or all the Dora stuff someday, but she’ll want all the toys, no matter what. Either way, I’d better become adept at telling her “no” and teaching her to be grateful for what she has.

    As for role models, I think some characters are good, and some aren’t. Just like everything else, I will have to be involved and pay attention to what she’s watching/reading/listening to, and guide her towards the good role models, while always supplementing the values she’s getting from them with our own.

    I have fond memories of my Rainbow Brite dolls and my Grover sweatshirt, and I imagine Charlotte will feel similarly about some of the characters in her life. Or not. Either way, not a big deal to me!

    • amoment2think August 2, 2010 at 7:25 pm

      I hear you, I do. You know me, I may have opinions, but I don’t have a lot of hard and fast rules. Part of the reason that Audrey doesn’t watch TV at home is that I think she watches a bit at the Day home. I don’t worry about it.

      With the licensed character, I agree with you, I have very nostalgic memories of certain characters (Minnie Mouse in particular!). And it’s not so much that I have an issue with one thing here or there. Nor would I throw out a gift or ban something from our house. Furthermore, if I can get something used and it happens to be licensed, then whatever. I just don’t like the uber branding that goes on to market to kids. Obviously we parents pay a role in mitigating the effects, but it just turns me off a bit to see shelves and shelves of stuff covered in characters.

      I didn’t actually make my point very well in this post. Call it traveling brain. I think my point was that I have a gut reaction against, which I can brain storm real reasons to support. But it is all about balance. And if my kid wants some character covered lunch box, I probably won’t deny that, so long as she doesn’t already have a lunch box. I just wish there was a little more simplicity out there, a little less stuff and a little more room for imagination.

  3. Cheryl August 2, 2010 at 4:03 pm


    I am so far into this, I can’t even tell you! We have everything from Thomas and Lightning McQueen to Spiderman and Toy Story. Sadly, my husband and I can’t be held responsible for it all. I have very giving family members who all feel the need to buy “fun” things for B all the time. They see something with a character they know he likes, and, next thing we know, there’s a package in the mail.

    I am not innocent, however. I just haven’t thought about it to the extent you have. I didn’t analyze buying a Spiderman toothbrush versus a plain soccer one. (In all honesty, I gave B the choice. He’ll pick licensed merch every time, lol.)

    I understand your frustration about wanting to buy simple things. I just think for me, the issue is about not having too much stuff and what or who is on the stuff isn’t a big concern. We have a child who knows he doesn’t get every thing that looks fun at the store. (Thankfully, since, as you noticed, it’s all from some movie or tv show!) While on vacation, the kid was asked if he needed new t-shirts, shorts, pyjamas or socks. To all of the above he replied, “No thanks, I have some at home.” That’s good enough for me.

    • amoment2think August 2, 2010 at 5:12 pm

      Fair enough, with all the things to worry about, this is certainly not the tops of the list. And we don’t have a total ban, just a tendency to avoid.

  4. Perpetua August 3, 2010 at 9:06 am

    I picked up and ran with your “I don’t know why it bugs me” sentiment. You raise some points I never thought about, especially regarding imagination. E can turn a box into anything at all, but it seems like the character merch is especially limited in function…moreso than even the non-character toys.

    And, I posted!

  5. Sophie August 7, 2010 at 8:28 am

    What’s interesting for us is that since we don’t have a TV, our son doesn’t know any of those characters. So he really doesn’t care – yet. We take advantage of it because we know as soon as peer pressure kicks in, he’ll be into whatever the other kids are into.

    What bothers me about this is the marketing aspect. It’s the fact that I know they make movies JUST so they can sell licensed merchandise to kids. I don’t like to be encouraged to buy things I don’t need just because they want to make money off of me. But that applies to a lot more than licensed merchandise. My husband has already started telling our son, when he asks about ads, “Oh, they’re just trying to sell us something”. And the other day, he actually asked: “Papa, what are they trying to sell us?”. He just turned three…

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