Did Ads for Mr. Potato Head Mess Up Our Kids for Good?

How toy marketing changed the culture

Mr. Potato Head is such a boob tuber. Turns out everyone's favorite spud, who just turned 60, was, according to Hasbro, the first toy ever promoted with a TV commercial. BBC News Magazine waxes philosophical on the subject, asking if the advent of advertising directly to kids—unknown before the early 1950s—launched the trend of children pestering their parents for material goods ("Mommy, I want it! Waaaaaaa!") and generally changed the culture. "You can't exonerate adverts, but they haven't been the primary factor," says ad exec Paul Kurnit, who helps market toys. "More and more parents are dedicated to being their children's friends rather than their children's parents. They can't say no. I think we have a parenting crisis." Sure, it's always the parents' fault. That's what I tell my folks when I call to ask for money. ("Mommy, I want it! Waaaaaaa!") Some argue that kids become "commercialized" at a ridiculously early age, grow up too fast, and that society's the poorer for it. We've reached the point where several generations have been raised on—some would say by—mass media, and while it's clearly had an impact, I don't think that's so bad. Kids weaned on TV didn't morph en masse into monsters and malcontents. Perhaps we're somewhat fussier and more acquisitive, but that's simply the price of assimilating a furious free flow of information, including commercial messages, which is only going to intensify. If today's kids can survive the notion of the Potato Heads doing the horizontal mash, they'll be just fine. They've already seen worse on the Internet. Cyberspace is their new playground. No worries there.