A Troubling Toy Trend

Movie and television licensing has all but taken over the toy aisle, popular characters and series dominating sales and leaving little to no room for non-character toys. So what does this mean for our families when we shop for toys?

This spells trouble for those of us looking for imaginative, open-ended toys that wait for the child to create the story line and character. Gender balance and diversity will leave much to be desired, as heroes are almost always white males and licensed characters come with easily identifiable gender roles. The negative, myopic influences from Hollywood are now packaged up for our kids. And the flip side is, we get less interesting, diverse media because a consideration for green lighting a series is “Can it sell toys ?”

Play time should be an exchange of ideas from child to child, not Hollywood to child. Toys are losing their imagination, instead turning kids into trained consumers.

Toys are losing their imagination, instead turning kids into trained consumers.

Toys are losing their imagination, instead turning kids into trained consumers.

Families will have to work even harder at not allowing media to become all-consuming lifestyle brands as kids will want every product that follows the theater release from toys to backpacks, t-shirts to toothbrushes (that always come at a higher cost, to boot). We’re going to find ourselves saying a lot of “No’s” as we walk through the toy aisles and bug-eye at the cost of the base command ship needed to complete the play experience of the dozen plastic action figures for which you spent fifteen bucks each. How many kids are going to settle for a cardboard box as you say, “Here, make a spaceship out of this”?

And finally, independent toy makers will have an even more difficult time getting into stores because retailers will want to give shelf real estate to lucrative licensed products that are sure to sell. The toy industry is moving farther away from creating amazing play time as its focus is profit driven for corporate shareholders.

In the land of creativity and pretend we have nearly lost the desire to take risks and introduce new, exciting ideas. And that is the exact opposite of what childhood is all about.

Read more about this toy trend from the New York Times’ Hitching a Toy to a Star: Superhero Movies Create Opportunity for Toymakers.

(Hat tip to our friends at Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood for the article link.)


Melissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can read her blog at: www.pigtailpalsblog.com or connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals).


  1. We don’t allow any licensed character toys or movie tie-in books/activities. And we only shop for toys online or in independent toy shops.

    This is a great solution to this problem for my family, and probably for many others, but obviously it’s a great privilege to be able to make these choices.

  2. Cassie Thompson says:

    We received our school ‘book club’ order today (in Australia, every term kids can order books from a catalogue). I had accidently over-charged my credit card by $2 so when the school secretary was placing the order she took it upon herself to add a couple of $1 “frozen” placemats to my order (because the company wouldn’t refund $2).

    I told the secretary that I didn’t mind at all (it was only $2), but it would be better if she gave the placemats to another child. My kids haven’t learnt about frozen yet and I am kind of happy that way.

    I still have kids that scream “Perfect” when I offer them an empty plastic container, the type of kids who never let an empty toilet roll go to waste. More and more in our house we have reduced all toys in favour of recycled rubbish that I dole out from the kitchen “Who wants this empty cereal box” I yell and listen for the running to collect it.

    …. well, except I do have a weakness for Octonauts, but that show is awesome.

  3. Hello – I love this article. I agree with it 100%. I just returned from the NYC Int’l Toy Fair, a trade show where all the “newest” toys are debuted to the industry and buyers each year. We are a company with 8 games and 24 craft products, none of which are licensed, and we are proud of that. But most “industry awards” given at Toy Fair-related events seem to award those in the licensing areas of the industry. The toy industry is, at the end of the day, a business – a billion dollar one – it’s full of businesspeople who see the money in pushing TV/Movie characters to kids, as opposed to educational or well designed, or otherwise non-character toys and games. BUT – there is still a market for the quality toys and games, which is why we have grown from 3 games in 2012 to 8 games this year.


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