My 7 year old is passionate about a particular make of toy animal families. She adores everything that goes with them and can spend hours absorbed in play. Last year she joined their Fan Club; a decision I was happy to support. However, six months in, I wrote this letter to the company expressing disappointment that their stated ethos is so undermined by their business model and the implicit aim of their fan club. For the sake of this post, lets call the toys Sylvantic Animals.
Dear Sylvantic Animals Fan Club,
Having been a fan of your toys for over 30 years, I was thrilled when my daughter starting enjoying them. They are the perfect fodder for her fertile imagination. She can spend hours creating scenes and stories like this one.
Dont you want to go on this holiday?
Last year, when she became aware of your Fan Club I was happy for her to join. However, having received emails and magazines now for several months, I am writing to tell you why I am decidedly NOT a fan of your fan club.
You claim the toys have a strong ethos about enjoying nature, and they are ‘evergreen toys’. This is not a term I am familiar with. However, the implicit messages you send out through the Fan Club communications is entirely at odds with a love of nature: It seems to be all about promoting sales. Here are some examples; Your emails seem to only feature product promotions, as a result of which I no longer show them to my daughter,; your events are marketed as a way for fans to buy the new products: (we will therefore not be going),; you profile fans who have amassed significant collections and say how much they love getting new toys; you use the magazines to showcase ever new products which are only a slight variation on the existing ones: My daughter has the otter family, (amongst several others). Now she wants the ‘splashy otter’ family because she saw it in the magazine.
This messaging seems to reinforce a business model based on promoting sales of new, packaged toys which are then discarded. The Fan Club appears to be a way to manipulate the childrens’ desire to consume, which, when magnified, is at the root of the over consumption that is driving the destruction of the natural world.
But that’s not all. The focus on acquisition is not only at the expense of nature but is also at the expense of the other values of creativity and family that you say you seek to promote. My daughter used to think up lovely names for the animals but since getting the magazine my she has to wait until she sees the name you gave them. Her desire to acquire more leads to dissatisfaction: she can sometimes spend more time poring over the products in the magazine she doesnt have than playing with her already extensive collection. And her desire for more leads to family tension: The toys are expensive. I don’t want her to consume for the sake of it. She already has a lot and my timelines are longer than hers. In a few years time they will be discarded and I will be left with the hassle of selling them on ebay for a fraction of their cost and at no discernible value to you, the company that created them.
I am telling you frankly that at the moment, my stated aim is to minimise her acquistion of your products and persuade her not to rejoin the Fan Club. However, if you managed things differently, my purse strings towards your company would loosen significantly. This isnt just about my purchases, it is also about what her pocket money and what I encourage wider friends and family to buy for her.
What if the Fan Club operated more like a toy library? What if membership granted the option to borrow different families and buildings or accessories? (obviously with a provision for loss or damage). What if you could subscribe to your company for 4 or 5 years during which time you had access to all sorts of different toys? Then you as a company would get the value from the second hand use of the good quality toys currently lost to you via ebay. You could focus more on the imaginative aspects. Your magazine could have competitions for pictures of scenes, or stories or accessories created by the children so that it is creativity rather than consumption that is rewarded and celebrated. You would minimise your contribution to landfill whilst maximising customer loyalty and brand visibility. And you could promote your ethos of loving nature, family and creativity with integrity.
And some other requests; please please can you sell outfits without having to buy the toy that comes with it? At the moment the need to always buy the toy flies in the face of any commitment to nature or imagination. And as a visible commitment to reducing plastic, please can you adopt the playmobil aproach of cardboard packaging with pictures rather than vaccum packed. It would save a huge amount of space as well.
There is such a desperate need for toy companies to show leadership on protecting nature, to demonstrate that mindless acquisition is not the only way and that decent toys and good companies can be built on this. You would get far more revenue from me and others likeminded if you took a different approach. The children of your Fan Club now are the generation who will suffer from mindless consumption. Please help them forge a different path. And then I would be a fan.