“The saddest customer, the one you feel the most for, is the customer who pokes their head in and says ‘Do you have this?’ They’ve got their list and they’re on a mission to find that item to please their child,” said Brooke Galster-Boston, owner of Silver Spoon children’s boutique and specialty toy store in Spanish Springs.
Although reports by the National Retail Federation (NRF) suggest Christmas sales will fall 2.2 percent below the 10-year national average, marketers will once again launch heavy ad campaigns to boost holiday sales.
In response, the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) has launched a letter-writing initiative aimed at persuading major retailers to freeze advertising targeted at children.
The organization has gained the support of roughly 1,400 members in contacting 24 leading toy companies and retailers. Among them are Mattel, Leap Frog, Hasbro, LEGO, Disney and Nintendo. Major toy retailers K-Mart, Wal-Mart, Target and Toys R' Us are also being targeted.
"It's cruel for companies to dangle irresistible ads for toys and electronics in front of children when parents everywhere are worried about their financial future and paying for necessities," CCFC's Director Susan Linn said in an October statement. "A barrage of holiday marketing will create unrealistic expectations in children too young to understand the economic crises and will make parenting in these uncertain times even more difficult."
The Target company, which has structured its advertising campaign around the slogan "Expect more. Pay less," has tailored its advertising campaign to cater to a depressed economy.
"Our campaign is structured to maximize dollar savings," Target spokesperson Jana O'Leary said. "We are focused on guest perception of our value statement: ‘Expect more. Pay less.'"
In response to the CCFC's efforts, O'Leary hopes their new advertising campaign will make Christmas more affordable for parents, adding, "We respect the group's efforts."
Regardless of advertising, some believe the toy industry is recession-resistant due in part to the powerful parent-child dynamic.
For many parents, even those in the most dire financial situations, Thomas Harrison, a University of Nevada, Reno professor who teaches courses in family counseling, says eliminating gifts is not an option.
"There is also a sense of tradition and denial operating here," Harrison said. "The holidays, although stressful, are a time to celebrate. Parents want relief from the stresses of everyday life, too. In that way, unless in dire straits, parents can give into their children's requests for toys as a means of gaining temporary relief of the stress, figuring that they can always cut back next month."
As a retailer, Galster-Boston has some sympathy for the large stores. She is closing her Spanish Springs store after the holidays to avoid falling victim to the economy’s downward spiral.
“I anticipate that the economy is not going to be as strong as it was two years ago inside the next two years,” Galster-Boston said.
Silver Spoon carries unique toys as opposed to the “it” toys, as Galster-Boston calls them, but she says she still gets parents poking their heads in the door looking haggard as they desperately search for a particular item. As a parent herself, she understands the pressures children can put on parents to deliver what they “want” under the tree.
“My chilren will see a commercial for this that or the other and they’ll say ‘I would like that for Christmas,’ ” Galster-Boston said. “I’ll say to them, ‘Just because you’re seeing it during your favorite show and you say you’ll love it, how do you really know?’ ”
Cutting back on television ads won’t necessarily take the heat off, either, Galster-Boston says.
“The playground is a nice marketing avenue for kids,” she said.
Kelly Verner, owner of Lil' Diggs, a Reno children's boutique, thinks that parents need to learn to say "no" to their children.
"When did we decide that we can't say no to our kids?" Verner said. "Why should we be worrying about denying them Christmas presents when we should be ensuring they grow up knowing important life lessons."
Verner believes parents can bypass ads by turning off the television and encouraging reading. She also suggests that children make a list of all the items they want for Christmas and put a star by their favorites.
"My kids always want something new," Verner said. "Are you going to always give them what they want? Just think when they get to high school and their best friend has a really expensive car, are you going to just give it to them because they want it?"
Harrison says children today have more of a sense of entitlement, adding that parents often find it easier to just purchase the toy to diminish stress over the child.
"This would be especially true for those kids whose parents might think that their kid is already disadvantaged by being fat, too short, not smart enough, not handsome or beautiful enough," Harrison said. "In these situations, parents would not want to disadvantage their child even more out of fear of their kid getting more rejection."
Verner says that parents need to do the parenting, rather than becoming frustrated with advertising.
"Why should we have our kids keeping up with the Joneses?" Verner said. "We are spoiling our kids helpless and if we can't say ‘no’ we are just setting them up for failure."