By Nik Shultz
About a year ago, as I was perusing the toy aisles at Walmart, as I am want to do, my roommate at the time pointed out something interesting to me.
“Starting the kids off early with the gambling addictions.” She said, in reference to the many blind bag style toys on the shelves.
These are toys that don’t tell you which character or item you’re getting, and come with a list of the possible options, often times encouraging the consumer to try and “collect them all!” Of course it’s not exactly gambling, by the typical definition, but it’s still a sort of game of chance, and buying them can be quite addictive. In addition to wanting to complete a set, something about the human brain loves the risk of not knowing what you’re going to get.
I myself can’t help seek a bit of dopamine in buying a “mystery” toys. This sort of thing is pretty common for people with ADHD. In high school I bought many Steven Universe blind bags in hopes getting a figurine of the character Rose. If you read my last blog you may be able to guess at my love for the Zuru “5 Surprise Mini Brand” balls. I have to try very hard not to buy the pricey Calico Critters blind bags every time I go to Reny’s and the ninety-four cent Barbie mystery accessory packs are impossible for me to resist.
It seems that these mystery toys are quite popular these days. Trading card packs of course have been on the market for a while now and toy capsule machines have been hanging out next to gumballs machines as long as I can remember. But now almost any popular cartoon or toy line or fandom has some sort of “mystery” or “surprise” line. Small plushies, figurines, keychains, trading cards, pins, and more can all be found in mystery packs by the registers in stores. As I’ve mentioned before, one of the most popular toys on the market are the L.O.L. Surprise dolls. Bath bombs come with surprise colors or even trinkets inside.
From a capitalist perspective, any product that makes you want to buy more is a good product. But once again, you can’t help but wonder how these marketing techniques are impacting children, especially when the main appeal of these products is buying them and finding out what you got. Once you open them up much of the excitement fades. For this reason they’ve also been criticized for their environmental impact; a bunch of small plastic things that mostly serve the purpose of being collected and might not actually be what the collector wants, create a lot of plastic waste, not to mention that each of these trinkets are individually packaged of course.
Once again I find myself unsure what conclusion to leave you with. I feel that this trend of blind bag style products is unhealthy for consumers of all ages, but I am sure there are arguments that it is just harmless fun and a good marketing strategy. But is it harmless? Is good marketing healthy, for kids or anyone?