Commercialism Creeps In


Brandy King

Do you ever look around your house and realize that despite all your good intentions, commercialism has somehow crept in?  When my son was born in 2008 I vowed to keep commercialism out of our house.

Five years later, I've got two kids (ages 4.5 and 2), vehicles from Cars strewn about our family room, and the Thomas the Train theme song bursting out of an engine I just stepped on. So sometimes I look around and think:

How did this happen???

Some of these items were gifts that I hesitantly let in, but the kids took to immediately. Others are items I actually purchased myself like the tiny die-cast Guido and Luigi from Cars that fit just perfectly in my son's Christmas stocking. Most recently, I even let my 4 year old purchase a Thomas train he had asked for because it was a good first lesson in money -- we talked about saving up for things he wanted, figured out just how many quarters he would need from his piggy bank, and headed to the store.

So what difference have commercialized toys made in my children's play?

Something that CCFC's director Susan Linn said has been resonating in my head as the reason these toys have not changed the way my children play: "A good toy is 90 percent child and 10 percent toy... [These kinds of toys] encourage play that is driven by a child's interests, needs and experiences."

Instead of seeing my children act out media scripts like I feared they would,  I see them imbuing these commercialized toys with their own “interests, needs and experiences.”  I think (and hope!) this is because of the other efforts we have made to resist the influence of the media in our house:

  1. We integrate the licensed-character toys into a wide variety of other playthings.  Only four of the 20 trains we own are from Thomas. When they need another character in the mix, we grab the closest generic train and call it whatever name they need. This stretches their imagination and teaches them how to be resourceful.
  2. We keep their media use to a minimum.  Because they do not watch a lot of TV, their play with licensed characters does not stick to a script they have seen repeatedly. Their trains behave in all kinds of ways instead of having the one personality a show has created for them (and I am often informed that James and Edward are girl trains).
  3. We continue to resist the vast majority of commercialized items.  Do I feel guilty that I've let the commercialization creep in? Yes. But I think that happens with a lot things we say we'll never do when we are parents, then find ourselves doing when we face reality. I still feel proud that we've resisted the majority of items that could have entered our home, and try to focus on creating active imaginations that encourage them to use all their toys in novel ways.

Has commercialism crept into your house? What difference has it made? Would love to hear about your experience in the comments below. If you're attending the 2013 CCFC Summit, I'll be leading a lunch discussion called "Conversations with Your Kids: How to Keep Them Commercial-Free" and hope to see you there!

This post was written by guest blogger Brandy King of Knowledge Linking. After spending eight years working with research on children and media, Brandy now faces the challenge of raising two young boys in our media-saturated and commercialized world.



Blog Category: 



We have successfully kept commercialism out of our home, with two daughters now ages 9 and 13. The only places it crept in a bit, was when I would go through the bank drive up window, the tellers would give out Disney stickers. But they were not interested in the stickers. The only tv my girls would watch was Kipper, Calliou on occasion. I am fortunate not to have relatives who would give Barbies or video game systems, they have always asked me what the girls would like. We would shop at small local toy stores, or Magic Cabin catalog, we never set foot in a Toys R Us. My daughters spent their time creating art, playing the guitar and violin, dancing, swimming, and reading, and playing. As a result, my daughters are incredibly creative and well-read, and never bored. They don't need to be fed imagery to be entertained.

Not really, save a couple of exceptions

My kids have a strict limit of 1 hour of supervised (for content) screen time per day that is often the first privilege lost for misbehavior or shirking responsibilities, and we subscribe to Netflix which (so far) is commercial-free. The only really "commercial" thing they have are Legos. We have managed to avoid most of the licensed and specialized sets, opting instead for generic sets that can be made into anything, and my boys, 8 and 4 1/2, have been pretty impressive with what they can come up with. In addition, shopping is a family affair. The boys are expected to participate when we comparison shop and see how licensing and commercialization raises the cost of otherwise identical items, for example.

We are not a superior parents. My wife and I have merely trained ourselves to remember just two things, basically: first, that we are on the same team, and second, that being a parent is harder (and more important) than trying to be your kid's best friend or the "coolest dad/mom in the world." Remember this and it's not that hard to stay the course.


Great post! My daughter is still young. She's two and a half, but so far we've only purchased toys that are wooden or cloth, have no connection to television or movies, and aren't made of plastic, and no batteries. We don't go to big toy stores...and so far, if she wants to be a princess she's perfectly happy putting together her own royal outfit from the generic dress up things we have. She has only one doll at the moment, and enjoys playing Mommy with it without it having a brand name attached to it, or color changing hair...or cartoon to match it. I hope with all my heart that this lasts as long as possible.


My kids watch shows, not commercials but netflix cartoons, they know who the characters are, sometimes they like the toys, but they always make their own stories and their own rules when they play. I've never seen them play scripted things. Doesn't matter if it is a box or a disney castle, it all becomes invaded by dinosaurs battling their petshop enemies. Or a zoo. Or whatever they are interested in creating at the moment. I find the important thing is to relax and let them decide what they want to do with it. It's a different adventure every day.

Very nice article. I'll just

Very nice article. I'll just add that it really feels unfair that it has to be such an uphill battle all the time. Not with the kids, but with society. The commercial influences are just so much bigger than us, and it is exhausting.

commercial toys

I was initially worried when my 3 year old daughter wanted a tiny Disney princess clip-on dress toy from a garage sale, but that concern eased as I saw the princess treated as a little girl, and incorporated into play with Little People, trains, horses, and Magna-Tiles. I'm still concerned about the constant, inescapable bombardment of princess images everywhere even though we do not watch television, but I'm happy that we've (so far) at least been able to avoid the princess screenplays, so she is able to imagine the princess in her own ideas of play, rather than the screenplay version.

Dora and Diego versus Wooden Blocks and Rainbow Scarfs

The battle of Dora and Diego versus the wooden block and silk rainbow scarf rages daily in our house -- at least in my head. In reality, the plastic Dora doll seems quite happy in her plain wooden house and Diego is snug in a cloak of silk. I too have tried to keep licensed characters from intruding upon our home. Alas they have snuck in through the chimney, encased themselves in plain brown packages left at our doorstop, and even followed me home from the mall. My daughters, almost 3 and approaching 8, don't differentiate, of course, between the "good" toys and the "bad" ones. But they certainly do hear the disdain in my voice when I am unable to tell them the Disney version of Snow White or I don't know what they are talking about when they use a Disney-made name for Cinderella. I can only hope that I am able to pass on my values and give them opportunities to play freely and creatively, in this culture awash in the waters of the Little Mermaid. In the end, I am heartened by their ability to mesh the worlds of their own creation with the worlds presented to them -- like when Thomas the train is talking to a wooden tree or Diego is rescuing a handmade teddy bear. It is at those times that I remember that the battleground is really more like a forest.


Congratulations to you All. I remember my father saying he will never buy advertising clothes and unfortunatelly I see my own family and children overwhelmed by such Stuff. We have some good News for you too: in BRAZIL it will be forbidden children advertising and marketing, as you may read next (it's in portuguese, but if it is necessary we could translate).

Brasília, 25 de fevereiro de 2013.

Em visita à PFDC, Conar anuncia veto a merchandising infantil

Em reunião com o Procurador Federal dos Direitos do Cidadão, Aurélio Rios, o Conselho Nacional de Autorregulamentação Publicitária (Conar) anunciou que, a partir de 1º de março, o Código Brasileiro de Autorregulamentação Publicitária contará com novas e mais severas recomendações para a publicidade que envolve crianças, em particular em ações de merchandising (publicidade exibida fora do intervalo comercial), que não serão mais admitidas quando dirigidas ao público infantil.
Segundo o órgão, crianças de até 12 anos não poderão participar de qualquer tipo de ação de merchandising em TV, rádio e mídia impressa. Também fica proibida a utilização de elementos do universo infantil ou outros artifícios publicitários com o objetivo de chamar a atenção de crianças. As normas do Conar têm adesão voluntária por anunciantes, agências de publicidade e veículos de comunicação.
As novas orientações do Conselho estão em consonância com posicionamento do Grupo de Trabalho Comunicação Social da Procuradoria Federal dos Direitos do Cidadão. Em nota técnica sobre o tema, o GT classifica como ilegal o merchandising feito em programas voltados para o público infanto-juvenil. Segundo o Grupo de Trabalho, a prática fere "o princípio da identificação obrigatória da mensagem como publicitária" e o Código de Defesa do Consumidor, que em seu artigo 37 considera como abusiva a publicidade que se aproveita da deficiência de julgamento e experiência da criança.
Para o Procurador Federal dos Direitos do Cidadão, é extremamente importante a iniciativa do Conar, pois atende a uma importante reivindicação de entidades públicas e da sociedade civil de ampliar a proteção a públicos vulneráveis, especialmente crianças e adolescentes. Segundo Aurélio Rios, "a medida representa um avanço importante na construção de soluções conjuntas no que se refere à proteção da infância".
Interlocução - A fim de contribuir na medição de soluções no que se refere à publicidade dirigida a crianças, a PFDC vem mantendo interlocução com os diferentes segmentos envolvidos na questão. A proposta é ampliar o diálogo, de modo a contribuir para o cumprimento do papel de todos na responsabilidade de proteger a infância, conforme preconiza a Constituição Federal.
Além de reuniões com entidades ligadas à área, a PFDC promoveu audiência pública para debater o Projeto de Lei 5921/2001, que trata sobre a proibição da publicidade voltada ao público infantil. Na ocasião, representantes de grupos de mães, acadêmicos, profissionais da psicologia, do direito e da saúde, além de associações de propaganda e mídia e de órgãos do poder público, puderam compartilhar posicionamentos sobre o tema.
Saiba mais sobre o assunto em:


I use to shut the commercials off so then the children wanted Big Bird or and next thing I was almost hooked then I turned off the TV. So much more to do. Come on children jump rope play hop scotch baseball jacks just play tag and hide and seek Be Happy enjoy the sun.

The creep is upon us...

Yes, I once vowed to never allow licensed toys in our house. Now we have a couple of "Cars" cars, a whole slew of Thomas engines (gifted and saved-up-for), and even some new Brave figurines. I thought my boys would act out the movie Brave, parts of which they've seen multiple times, but they don't! They are so taken by the family dynamic of the characters; they spend a lot of time making sure the mommy, daddy, brothers, and Merida are all together on whatever adventure is on board.

I'm beginning to understand that part of making the toys "90% kid" is keeping the scripts at bay. They can't re-enact something they haven't seen! I bent on the licensed toys, but they're a small percentage of the overall imagination-driven ones. And I'm still holding firm on no licensed characters on clothes/shoes/ect. because that is one slippery slope I don't think I could climb back up...

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.