child’s play

Oh, to be a kid again.

I got a lot of great toys as a kid: Cabbage Patch kids, Barbies galore, and even a pound puppy.  After years of begging I finally even got a Charlie McCarthy doll, which I ended up thinking was really creepy and never once played with it.  Mom still has it, and apparently I’m not the only one who thinks it’s creepy because my cat, Madeline, won’t go on the bed when Charlie’s on it.  Ha!

But one thing I always wanted and NEVER got was an Easy Bake Oven.  Oh, how I fantisied about having control over baking my own treats, in my own room and eating them at my own pace (read: as fast as I could).  Maybe mom and dad had the insight that this was NOT the ideal toy for a girl who spent all over her allowence on candy ($3/week and it all went to Skittles, York Peppermint Patties and Brach’s Candy in bulk).

I can recall the commercials – happy, thin girls playing with the oven, baking, laughing smelling delicious aromas of tasty treats….a sugar junkie’s fantasy.

Today I came across this interesting article about food marketing to kids: not just direct marketing from food companies, but toy companies as well.  Turns out most companies get a big fat “F” for their efforts to promote healthy behaviors with kids.  It saddens me that one company isn’t stepping up to the plate and creating a brand promise around healthy foods.  I know its all about the almighty dollar, but there has got to be one company with money in the bank who is willing to just do the right thing and not worrk about making so much cash.  Just one…. It might even turn out to be the cash cow of the century as moms and dads struggle to find creative ways to get junior fired up about healthy eats without sounding like a naggy parent.

Now that I think even deeper another toy fav of mine was my Barbie McDonald’s.  I loved putting Barbie’s trays to gether with fries, a Big Mac, and a coke (or in my mind a milkshake, of course).  It never occurred to me that Barbie couldn’t possibly maintain her impossible figure by eating at Micky D’s everyday, so she never cooked at home in my Barbieland – she put on a hot outfit, picked up Ken and the girls and headed to the Golden Arches.  Well, that is one creative marketing scheme by Matel.  Too bad I didn’t like McDonalds – they did not gain a valuable customer from my Barbie adventures, but I’m sure they gained some kind of brand identity or maybe my friends who came over to play in Barbieland were reminded of their McDonald’s love and asked their mom’s to go there at the next outing into town…who knows..

…and that is the issue.  Who know’s what the long term exposure to junk food marketing, direct or indirect, does to our moldable young minds.  What happens to us later in life?  How does making Chuck-E-Cheeze pizza at home in your plastic oven influence your relationship to Pizza?  I could totally see a perfect storm brewing from this combination:  kids eager to be ‘cool’, to have fun and to fit in making associations between ‘junk food’ toys and the good life.  Translation later: they find themselves drawn to certain foods/brands because those neural pathways that gave them the ‘feel good’ response to these toys as kids, still gives them a little kick as an adult.  Maybe they don’t even know why, or that it’s happening.

Hmm….this one certainly gives me some good food for thought!