Before 1952, television didn't advertise directly to kids as it does now, so you didn't see toy adverts on television. All advertising was for the parents, and they decided if they wanted to buy anything. At the time, the logic of this made sense. Children didn't have money, and they certainly could not go to a store and purchase something themselves.  However, in 1952 that all changed when Hasbro decided they would remove the middlemen and advertise directly to kids via television. 

So what was the first toy ever advertised on television? It was Mr. Potato Head who is still a well-known toy that continues to sell well, and you even see it in television and movies today. 

If you're curious about whether this advert was a success and how it changed advertising, keep reading to find out more, as well as some more information on Mr. Potato Head.

The video shown here is not the first commercial, but is a similar example.

Was the Mr. Potato Head TV Ad a Success?

We know that Mr. Potato Head was the first toy advertised on television, and the advert was explicitly designed to entice kids to ask their parents to buy them a Mr. Potato Head. Of course, direct marketing to kids is commonplace these days, but in 1952 it was a radical idea.

Mr. Potato Head was created in the late 1940s and had minimal success. The lack of initial success was partial because the original product was just accessories that kids were meant to pin into an actual potato. If you've ever taken care of kids, you probably know that this resulted in many moldy potatoes. However, Hasbro was able to change this with a great marketing campaign.

In 1951, Hasbro bought the rights to the product, and in 1952 the first TV advertisement went out.

The commercial was a huge success, and in 1952, Hasbro was able to sell one million Mr. Potato Head kits. It continues to be a huge success despite its political controversy in 2020.

Before Mr. Potato Head, Hasbro was a small company mainly focused on modeling clay and doctor and nurse kits. Today, they are the 3rd largest toy company in the world. 

The Mr. Potato Head TV ad revolutionized how marketers sold toys and other products worldwide. Children saw the toy on television, then asked for the toy repeatedly until their parents caved. This strategy became known as 'Pester Power' in the UK and the 'Nag Factor'  in the United States. 

Is Advertising Directly to Kids a Problem?

The Mr. Potato Head advertisement told the kids to go and ask their parents to buy a Mr. Potato head kit for them, so the parents are stuck in a position of telling their kids no and then being nagged constantly as the kids keep seeing these adverts.

Today, this advertising practice is commonplace, from commercials to the actual placement of products in stores. The next time you go grocery shopping, you may find many products advertised to kids that are colorful, have a friendly mascot character, and are actually placed at an eye level in the store.

The controversy comes in because of children's lack of life experience. They are especially susceptible to advertising and don't necessarily understand the concept of money and its consequences.

The nagging and constant exposure to advertising strains the relationship between parents and kids and can be more harmful in other areas. Over the years, parents have pushed for increased regulations on what can and can't be advertised to kids.

What are the Harmful Effects of Ads on Kids?

Advertising aims to make people buy products or do something; not much thought goes into whether that's good for the people you're advertising to. Kids are easily influenced, and advertisers take advantage of that. However, advertising can cause long-term harm to kids that can even last into adulthood.

Encourages More Buying and Demands to Parents

Researchers have found that the more TV a kid watches, the more toys and products they demand and the more stressed parents are. This behavior makes sense because the advertisements children are seeing are specifically designed to elicit this reaction. Some researchers have suggested that parents turn off the TV because advertisements are unavoidable. 

Until kids reach their teens, their brains haven't fully developed, and they may not truly understand that adverts aren't always telling the truth. For example, an advert may show a kid that you need the new Air Jordan to be a better basketball player and make more friends. As adults, we know this is just marketing, and a pair of shoes isn't going to do anything special for us, but kids may not understand that.

Encourages Bad Habits

Adverts for tobacco, alcohol, and now vape products are a little harder to see due to regulations, but they're still prevalent and visible to kids. In most situations, kids are being shown that smoking will make you cooler, alcohol makes life more fun, and all the cool kids are vaping, so they should be as well. Many advertisers have gotten into trouble marketing these types of products to kids because they're incredibly unhealthy for you.

Take JUUL, the vape company, as an example; they bought advertising space on kids' websites and provided fun flavors that kids would enjoy in their vaping products. Whether intentional or not, their advertising attracted teens and preteens to become addicted to nicotine, and the US courts have now fined them 40 million dollars.

While blatantly unhealthy things like drugs and alcohol are banned from children's advertising, you'll notice that sugar is still highly prevalent. There is a reason sugary cereals, candy, and snacks are marketed so heavily to children. Once the child is hooked, they will likely be a customer for most of their life. 

Promotes Unrealistic Beauty Standards

As adults, we struggle with some of the advertising and other media in portraying how we should look, and that is an even bigger issue for kids who are still developing and trying to figure the world out. Kids are growing and going through awkward stages, and not everybody looks the same in life.

Adverts, in most situations, are pushing specific beauty standards for both men and women. The set standards are difficult to achieve in many cases and may even be impossible. You then need to consider how much photoshopping, lighting, and other unique enhancements are done for adverts that are just not realistic.

Exposing kids and young adults to these adverts is a significant reason for many eating disorders and other mental health issues that can stick with people throughout their lives.

Final Thoughts

The Mr. Potato Head television advert started the trend to advertise directly to kids, and advertisers have had almost 70 years to improve their skills in encouraging kids to buy things. 

Unfortunately, it's often in the hands of parents to educate their kids on advertising and help their kids pick healthier options than what advertisements are promoting. Parents need to understand that ads are everywhere and are bombarding their kids through social media, television, movies, games, and anywhere advertisers believe children are.