Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Marketing Crap: Children's Products

After almost three years of being exposed to the world of children's products, I've become terribly cynical. I just can't believe how much garbage is out there and the incredible marketing ploys companies will go through to make people feel they NEED to buy their stuff. Here's an example: Last week I went to
ToysRUs to buy a new small toilet seat for Liam (I have had enough of cleaning poo out of his potty thank you very much) and a little step stool. I had two criteria. 1) It must be a neutral colour to match our bathroom and 2) It must not have a squishy separate cushion (for hygienic reasons, and the reason mentioned in Look Mommy! I made a Snail!). I was shocked that the store carried no less than 15 different potties. Potties that are obnoxious colours and princess themed, king themed, Cars, Sesame Street, Dora and Diego. Convertible potties (It's a throne! It's a stool! It's a potty! No, it's a toilet seat!). Potties that SING!, potties that "flush", potties that have more bells and whistles than my car! The toilet seats themselves were no better, there were 10 different seats with all the themes as well, plus some had handles and all had "super comfortable" squishy seats. An entire aisle dedicated to going on the toilet and not one plain, white toddler seat or step stool in the bunch. I was overwhelmed by the marketing effort companies are going to, in order to get people to spend more money to buy a simple product that their kids are going to cover in piss and shit.

So, once again, I'm off to my trusty local children's store (I should have just went there first), where in general they tend to care about quality, design and safety a hell of a lot more than any big box store. I discovered these stores while walking in Toronto and going inside and browsing became my little obsession. You won't find their selection of toys at ToysRUs for several reasons, first they are extremely high quality. Solid wood, eco-plastic, generally made in smaller batches, some made or finished by hand. Second, they are well designed. For example, I have found that companies like Melissa & Doug or Haba have beautifully designed, gorgeous products that are not covered in obnoxious marketing of some superhero movie. Finally, and most importantly, they are very safe. These smaller companies generally go above and beyond the safety standards required, do third party quality testing and rarely have recalls. Can you say the same for Fisher Price? Mattel? I think not. So why doesn't every big box store carry these brands too? Because they cost a little more. Like with food, cheaper ingredients are substituted to lower the price. Lead paint anyone? Mmmm so delicious on your infants chew toy. Why aren't parents simply demanding the best quality and best safety of the products their kids put in their mouths? Some are, but most parents trust that if it's on the shelf at a store "someone" (ie our government) has assured its quality. Really? No. Here is a quote from Health Canada: "Toy makers must make sure that their toys meet these regulations, and Health Canada's product safety officers regularly check stores for unsafe toys. Sometimes unsafe toys do make their way onto store shelves and into homes." The companies are responsible. The ones who want to sell you the toy. Should we trust all of them to self-police? No. There is no "government approval" of toys before they make it to the shelves - the safety officers check AFTER! After it hits the shelves, after parents have purchased them and given them to their precious kids and the kids have put it in their mouths or broken a piece off and swallowed it. Recalls happen after kids get hurt or there were enough close calls that someone paid attention.

So what is a parent to do? Well, just don't buy cheap crap for your kids. Wherever you shop, you have to be the filter. Criticize the toys. Ask questions like: what is it made of?, where is it made?, how is it made?, how long will it last?, can it be safely mouthed/chewed? etc, etc. If it doesn't pass the Mommy filter, don't buy it. Don't be afraid to be critical. Because, really, what else will you purchase, besides food, that is more important to the health and safety of your kids? And the government expects you to be critical. Don't expect them to keep your kids safe.

Start with the right supplier. The dollar store is generally not a place you should purchase things for your children. If you shop at the big box stores, beware that these are just one step up from dollar store quality. These stores just want to make a buck. They sell you product lines (Dora, Spiderman, Buzz, insert movie character here) so you have to buy more (backpack, lunchbag, thermos, cars, shirts, action figures, houses, POTTIES, etc etc etc until you are broke). [On a side note, did you ever wonder why these stores sell "coordinates"? Like when in the hell is your stroller, car seat, playpen, crib and highchair ever going to be in the same room together? Why do these need to be coordinated in the same pattern? Oh, so you buy them all together from the same company, at the same store...right, big box just got all your money.] Instead, purchase from your local children's toy/specialty store. The little guy! They have access to the best available children's products and toys, from better manufacturers! Yes, you may spend a few dollars more, but you are paying for quality, good design and superior safety. I'll take it! And I'll support my local retailer, who has my kid's best interests at heart, any day.

And finally, that very important question of "Do we need it?". Do you really NEED to buy the superhero toy? Does any child need a superhero toy? Or did the marketing/commercials tell them they did? Are you being sucked in to their product lines? Does your kid NEED to look at Elmo's face while taking a dump? Or is this another opportunity for your kid to be exposed to marketing? We try to limit characters at our house. We have yet to find a character (superhero, monster, etc) that we would like our kid to idolize or look up to. If our kids are going to have heroes, they are going to be people. People they know. And I still won't plaster that person's face on our toilet seat.

So that's my little rant about how I just wanted a damn simple toilet seat and once again ToysRUs bombarded my senses with marketing ploys and garbage.  If you get anything out of this article I hope it is this: Take a moment and visit your local independent children's store and examine the quality and selection of products there.  You won't be disappointed. Your children will thank you.

I'm off to mine right now! I called and they have a lovely white toilet seat and step stool for Mr Liam.

Here is a list of some great independent children's stores that I love:

Hello Sunshine www.hello-sunshine.com
Macklem's  www.macklems.com
L'il Niblets & Baby Sprouts www.lilniblets.com
Diaper-eez www.diaper-eez.com

The Toy Shoppe of London toyshopoflondon.com
Tummies to Tots www.tummiestotots.com
Children's Furniture Gallery www.childrensfurnituregallery.com
Cheeky Monkey www.cheekymonkey.ca

St Thomas
Vesta www.vestaparenting.ca

Bump Maternity and Baby www.bumpmaternityonline.com

1 comment:

  1. extraordinary baby shoppe in Ottawa and Waterloo. I'm just a customer, not the owner in disguise, but they too seem to have the child's and customer's interests at heart. Mostly for cloth dipes but carriers, potties, toys, nursing gear, ladies' products (heehee), pregnancy products, bath and body for mama and babe, etc etc.


I loooooove comments!