Elmo vs. Grover: My Ambiguous Disdain for Licensed Character Toys

Elmo vs. Grover: My Ambiguous Disdain for Licensed Character Toys

Carrie McBride
Feb 22, 2012

As I walked the aisles of the Toy Fair this year, I was more aware than ever how dominated the toy industry is by licensed characters. As a self-described toy snob, of course, I hate them. Toys are supposed to be what childhood memories are made of, not marketing propaganda for a mega brand that is already plastered all over your television, kids' clothes, and food. But, oh wait, I love Charlie and Lola, and Huckle and Lowly and plenty of other characters and would barely hesitate to buy a toy with their image. Hmmmnnnn...a chink in my toy snob armor?

According to the Toy Industry of America, licensed toys made up 26% of toy sales last year. Meaning that one in four toys sold had a licensed character on it. The Toy Industry even hands out an annual award "recognizing a property that has had the greatest success spreading its brand throughout the industry." This year's "Property of the Year," if you're curious, went to Angry Birds.

I was confronted with my own disdain for licensed characters recently when this aversion went head-to-head with my deeply held regard for frugality. Having been on the lookout at the thrift store for a used Candyland game for months, I finally spotted one - Dora themed - and just couldn't bring myself to buy it. Even for a dollar.

Thinking more about the licensed characters I feel okay about, it was apparent that they fit one or more of these criteria:

1. originated in a book
2. induce nostalgia for my own childhood
3. are cool (very rare)

Then there are some I can't quite explain. Elmo? No, he drives me crazy. Grover? Awww, of course. He's lovable...and furry.

My son, of course, is excited to see characters he knows and likes on pretty much anything - underwear, juice boxes, games, etc. And what's the harm? Why begrudge him this? For me, because it's a stark reminder that children are a marketing commodity. A modern, unavoidable reality, but one worth resisting where I can.

Unless it's Miffy. Who doesn't like Miffy?

What do you think? Do you avoid licensed toys or is this a futile mission? Any characters you really love or really hate?

Worth a Read: Influence of Licensed Characters on Children's Taste and Snack Preferences (Pediatrics)

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