Hasbro Advertises Toys on Television Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Recognizing children as a large audience of television, the toy company Hasbro aired the first television commercial for a children’s toy, Mr. Potato Head, inadvertently beginning the evolution of a multibillion dollar industry for commercial tie-ins in which toys, entertainment programming, and games would all come to be based upon one another.

Summary of Event

Hasbro was the first toy manufacturer to advertise on television. After realizing how lucrative the children’s market turned out to be, many toy manufacturers followed suit. At first, televised toy advertisements went relatively unnoticed, but eventually the effectiveness and abundance of the advertisements resulted in numerous rules and regulations concerning children’s programming and advertising. Hasbro Television;advertising Advertising Toy industry [kw]Hasbro Advertises Toys on Television (Fall, 1952) [kw]Toys on Television, Hasbro Advertises (Fall, 1952) [kw]Television, Hasbro Advertises Toys on (Fall, 1952) Hasbro Television;advertising Advertising Toy industry [g]North America;Fall, 1952: Hasbro Advertises Toys on Television[03880] [g]United States;Fall, 1952: Hasbro Advertises Toys on Television[03880] [c]Radio and television;Fall, 1952: Hasbro Advertises Toys on Television[03880] [c]Marketing and advertising;Fall, 1952: Hasbro Advertises Toys on Television[03880] Hassenfeld, Merrill McGowan, Sean Helfgott, Dr.

For many years, children were not recognized as important potential consumers, primarily because of their limited ability to purchase products on their own. Their parents were viewed as the potential customers, and most types of advertising for children’s products were aimed at the parent rather than the child.

As television grew as an advertising medium, some companies realized that children themselves were prospective indirect consumers. The way to capitalize on this fact was to advertise directly to them and then let them convince their parents to make purchases. This seemed to be a roundabout way to achieve sales, but the skeptics grossly underestimated the effect of children on their parents.

Cereal companies were the first television advertisers to aim their efforts at children and to find their efforts to be successful. The president of Hasbro, Merrill Hassenfeld, and several other executives observed the potential of extending television advertising to toys. After noting the success of cereal advertisements directed at children, Hasbro decided to develop a television advertising campaign for a children’s toy. In the fall of 1952, in an effort to start the flood of Christmas sales, Hasbro created the first television advertisement for a toy.

The toy featured in the advertisement was Mr. Potato Head Mr. Potato Head (toy) , already a popular product. It consisted of a set of plastic facial features that could be attached to a potato or other fruit or vegetable by means of pegs built onto them. Children could thus give Mr. Potato Head different faces. The theory behind advertising the product on television was that children could be influenced to add Mr. Potato Head to their lists of Christmas requests. The ads would serve as a reminder to children to ask for this popular toy. The results of the advertising test exceeded expectations.

Television had been rejected by toy manufacturers as an advertising medium because it was so much more expensive than most other media. Once Hasbro achieved a large increase in sales from television advertising, toy manufacturers were convinced that the extra cost was worth the investment. Before long, it became apparent that a child could be an effective and persistent disseminator of the desires created by advertising.

Toy sales created by advertising to children were even more important to advertisers than cereal sales created the same way. Logically, toys seem far more important to children than is cereal. In addition, there is only so much cereal a child can consume; the number of toys a child can accumulate has more elastic limits.

Children proved to be more easily convinced to buy than any other consumer group. Although children did not have much money to make purchases, they proved to be excellent conveyors of sales messages to their parents. Previously, parents had little trouble disregarding toy advertisements, which were aimed at them. As soon as children became involved, things changed. Parents could easily ignore a magazine advertisement for a toy but found it more difficult to ignore or deny the specific requests of their children.

Children were not discriminating consumers. They wanted almost every product that they saw advertised, especially if the advertisement showed a child enjoying the toy. Even when toys did not live up to the excitement seen on television, children seldom learned to apply that lesson to other commercials.

In an effort to inform their children that things seen on television may not be as wonderful and as easy to use in real life, some parents showed their children a program depicting a child who had seen a toy advertised on television. The child convinced his parent to buy the toy, which proved to be a terrible disappointment. The toy did not operate as shown in the advertisement, and in fact did not do much of anything. The child was angry and upset. The parent explained that toys are not always what they seem to be on television. After viewing this program, rather than having increased sensitivity to the ways in which advertising can mislead, most children wanted the toy advertised. Children simply were not sophisticated recipients of advertising messages and therefore were tempting targets.


Once children were recognized as a means of encouraging parents to make specific purchases, a flood of television commercials aimed at children was produced. As the industry grew throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, parents became outraged at the perceived exploitation. Many rules and laws governing children’s commercials and programs followed.

Many toys were advertised on television in the 1970’s, primarily dolls and accessories, miniature cars, and games. Children were the targets of many commercials because they proved to be good consumers, despite their parents’ arguments. The best-selling toys were the ones promoted the most on television. Many toys remained top sellers for two or three years. Parents were grateful for some sort of consistency; it meant fewer purchases and prolonged interest in the toy by their children. As long as “old” toys were advertised, children were less likely to become bored with them and at the same time were not attracted to new toys. Manufacturers latched on to accessories and add-ons as a means of generating new sales based on products already sold.

The lack of sophistication of children prompted calls for restrictions on ads aimed at them. The National Association of Broadcasters National Association of Broadcasters responded with a television code for children. The rules stated that there would be no confusing of program content with commercial content, and no commercial could use celebrities, cartoon characters, or program hosts. Advertisements were not allowed to instruct children to ask their parents for a product or imply that a toy came with accessories when in reality they were sold separately. Other guidelines prohibited mixing of fantasy with reality; suggesting, for example, that a toy car worked like a real car. These guidelines were strictly voluntary.

The effectiveness of advertising can be judged by the amount that advertisers choose to spend. In the last six months of 1973, for example, toy manufacturers spent more than $64 million on television advertisements and programs for children. The rest of the advertising media combined, including radio, newspapers, billboards, and magazines, received only about one-seventh of that amount.

Parents lost many battles with their children, as evidenced by a huge increase in toy sales, but they were not going to lose their battle against the advertisers of children’s products. The Federal Communications Commission Federal Communications Commission (FCC), regulator of the television industry, held many hearings featuring debates between angered parents and children’s television advertisers. In these highly controversial hearings, Dr. Helfgott, a psychologist and advertising agent, stated that television commercials aimed at children helped children to become more discriminating consumers. His opinions were somewhat discredited by his affiliation with an advertising agency, a direct benefactor of lack of regulation. The FCC hearings resulted in rules that, by the mid-1970’s, limited the effect of advertising.

Television programs themselves were not allowed to promote any children’s toys or products. There was a limit to the number of advertising minutes allowed per hour of programming. Regulations for programs and advertisements airing on Saturday mornings, the prime viewing time for young children, were particularly stringent.

One of the ways television advertisers for children combated all these rules was by switching the time they advertised from Saturday mornings to weekday evenings. Many studies reported that children, except for the youngest, watched more television on weekday evenings than on Saturday mornings. One aspect that pleased both parents and advertisers was that parents were more likely to be viewing with their children on weekday evenings. Parents were pleased that they could regulate what their children viewed and watch their children’s reactions to commercials. Toy advertisers saw advantages in having not only children view the commercials but also the prospective purchasers, their parents.

After the debate quieted, toy manufacturers were eager to get rid of regulations. Most of the parents that had risen to oppose advertising to children were no longer as concerned with the issue, since their children were teenagers. New parents were accustomed to advertisements aimed at children. In the 1980’s, almost all the 1970’s regulations set by the FCC were set aside. The most important one eliminated was the separation of commercial from program material. With this regulation nullified in 1984, toy manufacturers were free to create programs based on their products. None of the previous toy commercials could match the sales created by promoting toys through programs. Children wanted to own the same characters that they watched on television. Toys and programs were created as a package, each promoting the other.

As toy sales became directly related to expensive television programs, many smaller companies either were sold to larger companies or went out of business. In the 1980’s, Hasbro, the inventor of children’s toy commercials, acquired Milton Bradley and PlaySkool, among other companies. Hasbro produced the G.I. Joe G.I. Joe (toy) doll and accompanying television program. The president of Hasbro reported that the line of G.I. Joe products contained more than fifty items and that Hasbro intended to revamp those fifty items every two years.

One way for toy manufacturers to increase profits was to sell licenses to other companies. Hasbro sold licenses to companies producing G.I. Joe sneakers, pajamas, and lunch boxes, among many other products. Band-Aid even purchased the right to market G.I. Joe flexible adhesive bandages. As another example, more than fifty companies produced approximately 120 products related to the Transformers toys popular in the 1980’s. The selling of rights worked synergistically. Purchasers benefited from the popularity of the original products and television shows, and the original products benefited from increased exposure.

The marriage between television shows and toys for children has been one of the most profitable events in the history of the toy industry. From a small beginning, child-targeted advertising blossomed. Although some parents though it disturbing and launched protests, advertisers found ways around the various guidelines and regulations that were promulgated. The power of children as conveyors of desires to parents was irresistible. As for the first toy advertised on television, Mr. Potato Head remained on the market more than five decades after its pioneering commercial. Hasbro Television;advertising Advertising Toy industry

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Blake, Richard A. “Children’s TV: Ethics and Economics.” America 127 (October 21, 1972): 308-311. A slanted report on the debate about rules for children’s commercials and programs, with many statistical analyses. Some examples of specific commercials.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bryant, Jennings, and J. Alison Bryant, eds. Television and the American Family. 2d ed. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001. Compilation of essays on the family’s reception of, representation by, and relationship to television. Includes an essay by David M. Boush about strategies for mediating the effects of advertising on children. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carlsson-Paige, Nancy, and Diane E. Levin. “Saturday Morning Pushers: The Toy Industry Takes Over Children’s Television.” Utne Reader 49 (January/February, 1992): 68-70. Discusses the removal of restrictions on television programs and advertising during children’s programming.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Comstock, George, with Haejung Paik. Television and the American Child. San Diego, Calif.: Academic Press, 1991. A review of research on the effects of television viewing on American children. Examines patterns of behavior identified through various studies of children between 1950 and 1990. Although the work is not focused on advertising, several of the topics relate to advertising and children’s perceptions of it. Extensive bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Harrington, Stephanie. “Crazy in Toyland: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Barbie, Spiderman, Baby Alive, Evel Knievel, and a Whole Planet of the Apes.” The New York Times Magazine (December 15, 1974): 16-17. A mother’s account of how her children react to the many commercials on television. Many statistics included. Covers the debate over rules for commercials aimed at children.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Miller, G. Wayne. Toy Wars: The Epic Struggle Between G.I. Joe, Barbie, and the Companies That Make Them. New York: Times Books/Random House, 1998. Analysis of Hasbro’s competition with other toy manufacturers, including the importance of advertising to the companies’ success. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Moog, Carol. Are They Selling Her Lips? Advertising and Identity. New York: Morrow, 1990. The author, a clinical psychologist and advertising consultant, explains the psychological effect that advertising has on consumers. Discusses the use of children in ads, stereotypes, and use of sex. Uses familiar advertising campaigns as examples. Speculates on the future of advertising. Recommended for general readers as well as undergraduate and graduate students in marketing.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ward, Scott. “Kids’ TV-Marketers on Hot Seat.” Harvard Business Review 50 (July, 1972): 16-18. A detailed study of the effects of advertising on children and their parents. Contains pertinent information on the most effective advertising times.

Kukla, Fran, and Ollie Pioneers Children’s Television Programming

Captain Kangaroo Expands Children’s Television

The Flintstones Popularizes Prime-Time Cartoons

Sesame Street Revolutionizes Children’s Programming

Public Broadcasting Service Airs Its First Program

Categories: History