Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Play nicely

Last Christmas, my office ran a charity programme to buy gifts for the children at a local women's refuge. All we knew about the kids we were buying for was their age and gender - so it was up to us to find something appropriate. Browsing the toy aisle for the first time in several decades, I was reminded of how many hours I used to spend gazing at the colourful packaging, and imagining the hours of fun that could be had with their intricate plastic contents.

If I'm completely honest, they were never actually that much fun once the initial novelty had worn off. There's only so much enjoyment that could be derived from piling items of luggage on a skittish mule, or attempting a gall bladder removal without activating the patient's buzzing nose. But the TV ads which cluttered the Saturday morning schedules managed to make them seem like the most exciting toys in the world, thanks to their shouty voice-overs, overacting kids and spinning captions.

Flogging toys to kids must be one of the easiest jobs in the world. As long as the ad is loud enough, fast enough and broadcast every 12 minutes, your toys will be flying off the shelves quicker than your Chinese factory with dubious safety practices can crank them out. So it's nice to see that even toy manufacturers can sometimes get it horribly wrong. And thank goodness for the internet, which enables us to endlessly revisit their errors whenever we need a good laugh. Here's my pick of the three weirdest toys, and the marketing campaigns which failed to rocket them to number one on every child's Christmas list.

Baby Laugh-A-Lot

In the world of toys, dolls are a no-brainer. There are dolls that sleep, cry, feed, crawl and even piss themselves, so a doll that giggles should have been an easy sell. So why does the ad for Baby Laugh-A-Lot seem like a portal to hell has opened in your web browser? Maybe it's the terrifying kids, who give the kind of shocked reaction that suggests they've just found John Wayne Gacy standing in the corner of their bedroom, wearing a blood-stained clown suit.

Then again, I'd be pretty fucking frightened too if I heard the blood curdling noise that emanates from this grinning demon. The sound of children's laughter is supposed to be intoxicating - this is like a tortured soul edging ever closer to insanity. By the time the kids start laughing along with the doll, and the voice-over is screaming with hysteria, you're convinced that their maniacal grins are the last thing you'll ever see.

Milky, The Marvellous Milking Cow

The fun never starts when Milky is around. Because it's a plastic cow that drinks water and expresses milk. I know kids are supposed to have a boundless imagination, but I just don't understand how a lactating bovine could be incorporated into any kind of play activity. If it was supposed to educate children about where milk comes from, Milky should also have come with a range of different sized udder attachments. "Mummy, why is Milky groaning in pain and leaking puss into my toy box?" Even more worrying is the fact that the cow has an enormous pair of Brigitte Bardot lips - is it supposed to be sexually alluring?

The Oozinator

Water pistols aren't just great summer fun, they're also an effective way of disciplining unruly dogs. But today's water pistols bear little resemblance to the pocket-sized shooters we used to brandish as kids. Now they come with pump-action, dual tanks and plastic mouldings, so your pre-teens are packing enough firepower to clear-cut a rainforest.

The Oozinator adds an innovative new wrinkle to the concept, as its curious alien head hides a tank full of white slime. Now you can 'gunge' your friends with a viscous fluid that resembles something you'll be shooting plenty of when you get a little older. As for the ad, well, someone clearly thought it was a good idea showing a ethnically diverse cast of kids getting an enthusiastic splattering. It's hard to believe that no-one piped up on set and said "Hang on a minute, isn't there a danger that this might look a bit suspect?" as another kid took a double load right in the kisser. Hopefully, some of these juvenile performers grew up to parlay their skills in similar specialist film work.


  1. Wow, you have such better toys in the UK! Why didn't I get Milky, The Marvellous Milking Cow!?!?

  2. I would have thought you'd prefer the Oozinator!