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Are collectables like Ooshies and Coles Little Shop 2 cashing in on our kids childhood innocence?
Experts are saying the plastic collectible toys Australian supermarket chains are using to lure shoppers to its aisles aren’t just for a bit of fun, according to The Conversation.
These collectables have been connected to a black market among Woolworths staff, online trading resulting with death threats, chaotic crowds and feral behaviour at supermarket swap days, and even this shocking act live on breakfast television.
The plastic figures, based on characters in Disney’s new movie The Lion King, are aimed for kids but The Conversation says they are really intended to sway the shopping habits of parents (you get one for every $30 you spend). They have inspired some very bad adult behaviour.
Why we collect
An estimated 30% of the population collect something, according to noted consumer behaviour expert Russell Belk. Among children, collecting is even more common. In one study, University of Nebraska researchers Menzel Baker and James Gentry interviewed 79 primary-school students and found 72 (more than 90%) had some kind of collection.
Across generations, items commonly collected include rocks, shells, eggs, stamps, coins, sports cards, and figurines.
Collecting is connected to children’s natural curiosity. It’s a process of making sense of things through gathering and categorising. This can be seen in the enjoyment children get from counting and subdividing their collections into categories. Young children typically care more about the quantity of their collection than aesthetic considerations.
As they get older, more subjective values develop. Quantity becomes less important. This is what ultimately distinguishes the psychological motivation to collect from the compulsion to hoard, in which one is incapable of making an emotional distinction between what is valuable and what is junk.
Collecting can be both enjoyable and educational experience. Coins or stamps, for example, can spark an interest in geography, history and other cultures.
But there are aspects that also make the urge to collect exploitable by marketers.
Does it encourage gambling for kids?
Another aspect that businesses exploit in marketing to children is the “thrill of the hunt” through the use of so-called “blind bags”.
An astounding range of toys are based on the child not knowing what they are going to get until they open it.
The Conversation claims this practice makes use of intermittent reinforcement. When the outcome is uncertain, the process is much more exciting and a desired result much more pleasurable. It’s the same neurological mechanism that makes gambling so addictive.
Blind bags are highly conducive to marketers pushing sales through the scarcity principle, which makes some toys “more valuable”. In the case of the Ooshies, there are 24 different toys produced in different quantities. Some are very rare – there are just 100 “furry Simbas”, for example.
This can inspire strong fears of missing out in child peer groups, putting pressure on parents to secure missing toys.
The Conversation claims that younger children are innocent to the cynical ways of the world. They do not necessarily understand the persuasive intent of such sales promotions.
Children, even adolescents, don’t necessarily have the cognitive skills to recognise the manipulative aspects. They are the soft target. As one mother of three has put it: “Like most, I hate the fact they’re exploiting our children, but at the end of the day my kids love The Lion King…”
So what do you think? Do they make a good point? Are collectables like Ooshies cashing in on childhood innocence?
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