Toys are advertised all day every day. Children experience advertising on TV, YouTube, apps, radio, billboards, magazines, newspapers, movies, the internet, text messages, social media, and more. This is because advertising works on children: the more TV a child watches, the more toys that child is likely to want and ask for.
One common advertising strategy for children is the “bribe”: you get a free toy when you buy a product. The “game” invites them to play a game and win a prize if they buy a product. The “big claim” promises that a product is the best in the world or will make your life better.
The “super-person” makes you think you can be just like this famous or popular person if you have the product they are selling. Cartoon characters also sell toys to kids. Special effects and catchy music are employed. Ads use jokes or interesting stories to engage children.
As you can see, advertising toys to children is a big business. Think of all the toys made famous by ads over the years, from Barbie and Ken to video games and Beanie Babies.
But which toy was the first to be advertised on television? Mr. Potato Head, who made his television premiere on this day in 1952.
Here’s my question: who thought up the idea of putting body parts on a potato and calling it a toy?
A Brooklyn-born inventor named George Lerner, as it turns out. But it wasn’t easy. Lerner came up with his idea in the early 1940s, when food rationing from World War II was in the public mind and using fruits and vegetables to make toys was considered irresponsible and wasteful. Toy companies consistently rejected Lerner’s creation.
He persisted, finally bringing his invention to the market on this day. His was the first advertising campaign to be aimed directly at children. It revolutionized marketing and caused an industrial boom. Over one million toys were sold the first year. Mr. Potato Head made his film debut with a leading role in 1995’s Toy Story; he was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame five years later.
Two facts all parents should remember
Why am I writing about a potato that became a toy? To make two points.
One: We need to teach our children and grandchildren to interpret the media as soon and effectively as possible. The first article I cited has specific age-related tips for doing this. Christians have a special responsibility: the sooner we can help children think biblically about themselves and their world, the better. We are to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), remembering that the Christian faith is always one generation from extinction.
Two: Success nearly always requires perseverance. The “overnight sensation” seldom is. Scripture encourages us: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
The two points are related. Parents are to help our children grow in Christ for as long as we or they are alive in this world. The harder our culture makes our job, the more essential it becomes. It is always too soon to give up on our kids or our Lord.
Mr. Potato Head is now a ubiquitous part of our culture. But ten thousand millennia after he and every other invention are forgotten, our eternal life will have only begun.
Charles Spurgeon: “Train up a child in the way he should go—but be sure you go that way yourself.”